First Pitch: An Incomplete Observation on an Incomplete Trade

For some reason, the Pirates can’t make a move involving a relief pitcher without the deal dragging on unnecessarily for days. We first heard that Jason Grilli had signed on the final day of the winter meetings. Then we heard he didn’t sign yet. Then he did. Then he didn’t. Then a week later he signed for real.

Now we’ve got a Joel Hanrahan trade. The floodgate of rumors opened today, and quickly we learned that Joel Hanrahan was being traded to the Boston Red Sox, with Jerry Sands and Stolmy Pimentel coming back to the Pirates. After that we learned that the deal wasn’t done, and that three more players were involved — one from Pittsburgh and two from Boston. And that’s where we’re at right now.

It’s impossible to evaluate a deal that isn’t complete. It kind of comes across with a Bobby Hill type “Let’s wait until we see who the PTBNL is” vibe when you say this, but we really need to see the final three players in this deal. Right now all we can do is look at the players who are involved, and give an incomplete evaluation. I won’t even give this a final grade or draw any conclusions. Instead, I’ll just give some thoughts on each aspect of the deal.

On Trading Joel Hanrahan…

I’ve been calling for the Pirates to deal Hanrahan since he first had success as a closer in 2011. I’ve been open to the ideal of dealing closers for any strong return since I realized how over-rated closers were, and how volatile relievers were. A trade involving Hanrahan might be considered a salary dump, and it might be considered that due to speculation that the Pirates wouldn’t want to pay that much for a reliever. That’s not a bad thing.

Relievers are unpredictable. Just look at Hanrahan. He struggled last year, and was lucky that he limited the damage while walking over five per nine innings. He stranded almost 90% of batters and had a .225 BABIP. Both were extremely lucky. Based on his career numbers, he should have had a much higher BABIP (which reduced the impact of his walks) and he should have had a lower strand rate (which combined with more hits allowed can be bad).

Hanrahan is a great reliever and a great closer. There’s a reason why Boston wants him. But the thing about closers is that they can go from being valuable relievers to having no value at all in no time. Just look at Hanrahan. He had a lot of value following the 2008 season. He started off as Washington’s closer in 2009. After some early struggles, and two demotions from the position, he was traded to the Pirates. And his value at the time? He was swapped for Sean Burnett, in a swap that was supposed to balance the Nyjer Morgan/Lastings Milledge swap in Washington’s favor. Three and a half years later and Hanrahan looks like the best player in that deal. At the time he was considered the fourth best.

He’s not immune from that happening again. Very few closers become Mariano Rivera, dominating for years. Most have a few years where they dominate, then they fall off the radar. That makes Hanrahan a risk. A team like Boston can afford that risk. If they waste $7 M on a reliever who happens to have a down year, it doesn’t really hurt them at all. They’ll probably just go get another expensive reliever (which is kind of what they’re doing right now with Hanrahan). If the Pirates see Hanrahan struggle, that’s 10% of their payroll down the drain. The value of a closer isn’t big enough to risk 10% of your payroll.

The best time to deal Hanrahan would have been last year at this time. I understand that the Pirates couldn’t make a deal during the last two seasons because of their position in the standings during each trade deadline. But there was nothing stopping them from dealing Hanrahan last off-season, when teams were paying a lot for closers. The result is that his value is lower now. You’re not getting a top prospect, since he has one year remaining and that year comes at an expected $7 M. It does seem that his return so far is higher than the trade value I projected a few weeks ago, but the trade is still incomplete. So let’s look at the other parts of the deal so far.

On Jerry Sands…

I was in New York today, celebrating an early Christmas with my family. Side note, if you get the chance I highly recommend Spider-Man on Broadway. I’m a huge Spider-Man fan, and it did have some stuff that felt more like the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man and not the comic book Spider-Man. There was some stuff in there that probably had to be added to make it like a musical. But the backgrounds and settings were fantastic, and watching Spider-Man and the Green Goblin soaring all over the theatre and fighting over everyone’s heads was incredible. Even if you’re not a huge Spider-Man fan, it was enjoyable (as I confirmed with the non-comic fans in my group).

Starting a review on the center piece of the deal with one paragraph about a Broadway musical doesn’t say much about the return. That’s mostly because my knowledge of Sands was limited. I remembered him as part of the mega-deal between Boston and Los Angeles over the summer. Sands went to Boston in the deal that sent Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers. While doing some research today I noticed his power numbers, which were definitely intriguing.

Sands is far from a guarantee to have success in the majors. He’s not a top prospect, and technically isn’t prospect eligible. But he is intriguing. He looks similar to Josh Reddick last year. Sands has better numbers in the minors, and both were the same age at the time of their deal (Reddick was 25 in 2012, Sands will be 25 in 2013). The question here is: will Sands be more like Reddick, or will he be the next Lastings Milledge/Andy LaRoche type return? He’s an interesting guy, and considering Hanrahan’s lack of value, he’s the type of guy, value-wise, I’d expect as the center piece in any deal.

On the Other Shoe…

Aside from the issues with deals for relievers dragging on, another trend this off-season seems to be that we’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. In this case, the Pirates are acquiring Sands, who should be in the majors in 2013. They’ve got a crowded outfield with Starling Marte, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata, and Alex Presley. They’ve got a crowded first base spot with Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez as the projected starters, and Clint Robinson in Triple-A. Adding Sands to the outfield would cut into time from Marte or Snider. There wouldn’t be room to add him to the first base mix without a deal.

It seems that the other shoe in this case would be a Garrett Jones trade. Adding another potential power bat to the lineup could free the Pirates up to deal Jones. I’ve mentioned a few times this off-season that this might not be a bad plan. Jones is coming off a career year and his value probably won’t stay this high. He’s unlikely to repeat his 2012 season, with his 2010 and 2011 numbers more likely. Those aren’t bad, but they detail the reality, which is that he’s a platoon player.

Of course it could be someone else from the names above. One of those guys might even be involved in this deal. We’ll have to wait and see on that. But I’d be surprised if Sands is added and all of the above players remain in the organization following the move.

On Stolmy Pimentel…

I instantly recognized Pimentel as a former top prospect in Boston’s system. He was ranked 6th in the system in 2010, and 23rd in 2011. He’s fallen in the ranks the last two years due to struggles in Double-A. Sox Prospects (which was the original inspiration for this site) notes that he throws 92-94 with control issues, has a plus changeup, and a slider with plus potential. They called him a potential fourth/fifth starter or late inning reliever. He’s 22 years old, so there’s still some time to get his control on track.

What We Know So Far…

Both Sands and Pimentel are gambles with upside. Pimentel has reached the upper 90s with his fastball, but commands it better in the lower 90s. He’s got the makings of two plus off-speed pitches, with one of them already being there. The big thing will be his command, which is an area where the Pirates have had success in the minors. Sands has hit for a lot of power, but there were reports that he’s got a big loopy swing, which could be exposed. Then again, guys have hit for power in the majors with a big loopy swing, so that’s not going to prohibit him.

I could see a scenario where Sands has a breakout season carrying his power numbers over to the majors, and/or Pimentel turns his control around and becomes a major league starter one day. At the same time, I think there’s just as good of a chance of Sands becoming a 4-A hitter, and Pimentel never making it past Double-A. Both are gambles, and they’re very hit-or-miss.

We don’t know the rest of the deal, so I’ll hold off on judging whether those are the types of players the Pirates should get for Hanrahan. I’ll just repeat that I have no problem dealing Hanrahan. There’s relievers being too volatile and the Pirates being foolish if they spend 10% of their payroll on a reliever. But there’s also the Pirates’ track record of success in adding relievers for cheap and watching them turn in to valuable pitchers. It happened with Hanrahan, and it happened with Jason Grilli. If there’s any position they can deal from and easily find a replacement, it’s the bullpen.

Now we’ll just have to wait to see the rest of this deal.

Links and Notes

**The 2013 Prospect Guide is now available. Order your copy today!

**Pirates and Red Sox Agree on Hanrahan Deal.

**Winter Leagues Recap: Hernandez Finishes as DWL Hits Leader.

**The 40-man payroll will be updated when this trade is finalized. I usually wait on an update until I know the salaries. Since this deal is only half-reported, I’m going to hold off on any changes. Expect payroll to go down to the estimated $66 M range with Hanrahan gone.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • http://twitter.com/Spazaru Spazaru

    As much as I wish it were true, the Pirates aren’t legitimate contenders right now. Trading Hanrahan as a salary dump would be fine even if nothing comes of Sands or Pimentel. You don’t need a closer if you aren’t even a .500 ballclub. To me, they weren’t really legit in 2010 or 2011 either, and I think Huntington knew it, no matter what he says. There’s really no excuse for not having moved him already, but better late than never and let’s hope Sands does turn into something.

    • http://www.facebook.com/steve.zielinski.169 Steve Zielinski

      “As much as I wish it were true, the Pirates aren’t legitimate contenders right now.”

      This is the crucial point. I’d rather the Pirates pass on Sands and ask for — and get — a pitcher like Owens who fills a genuine need — the organization’s lack of quality lefthanded starting pitcher prospects. I also do not want the Pirates to trade either Locke or McPherson. Both have a #3 starter ceiling which, given the pitchers now in the pipeline and in the rotation, would make either one a superb back-of-the-rotation starter.

      But the Pirates do have to show resolve when it comes to putting a winning team on the field in 2013. Fans and sports pundits are already calling for cleaning out the front office, and are doing so after the best season the organization has had during the current losing streak. It is reasonable to assume that Nutting is also putting pressure on the GM to get the 2013 team past the McClatchy Line.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    You’re lucky…my wife made me go see Wicked!

    But then, she says, that’s payback for us going to see Spamalot!

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      I’ve also seen Spamalot. On the flip side, I’ve seen Legally Blonde.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

        lol

  • TonyPenaforHOF

    Spiderman was unbelievable! I’ve seen it twice and I would see it again.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      Gonna try to get her to see that next year. We do NY theater once a year…or every other year….or….

      .

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    Couple of ‘twits’ out there that they’re including Melancon??

  • leadoff

    It is very difficult to evaluate trades for prospects, because these players need playing time and a few years of experience. Having said this IMO the players obtained in this trade are not the key to the trade. The key to the trade is the Pirates next move which was created by the freeing up of 7mil and glut of position players.

  • http://twitter.com/AdreBox AdreBox

    I’m curious to see the other players involved in this trade. Sands is not a platoon partner with Sanchez. As Tim mentioned, the Bucs are heavy with outfield and 1B personnel. Something has to give. Will it be in this trade or a later trade? Also, this front office has received essentially an ultimatum from the owner to produce a contender. How do they trade Hanny and Jones and improve the PBC?

  • http://users.rcn.com/wtmiller/pirateprofiles.htm WTM

    A big problem with Pimentel is that he has just one option left. Considering that he has yet to pitch well at the AA level, it’s hard to see how he becomes major league ready within a year.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      didn’t know that….excellent point!

  • IC Bob

    This looks like a Bonifay trade from here. What I read on this Pimintel is that his Change up is below average as is his slider. Has a Good fastball that he can’t locate. thats why he has been lit up the last two years and thats why he went from a top 10 prospect for the BoSox to below their top 25. This thread is the first I heard wheree it states he has a + change up.

    This deal has all the signs of a salary dump. It even allows us to dump Jones in another trade for a bushel full of C prospects in a couple of weeks. Every time we make a move I become more and more pessimistic.

    Heck at this point why not trade AJ Burnett. His value is as high as its going to be, Why not trade McCutcheon, we can get a lot of B prospects for him. Why not just blow it up again and start from scratch.

    • piratemike

      “This deal has all the signs of a salary dump”
      Thats because that is what it is.
      What I’m afraid of is the rest of the deal. I have a feeling that NH is going to throw in a really good prospect for more of the same.
      I don’t have a problem with getting rid of Hanrahan because he is too expensive. Those players he recieved back are just throw aways.I’m just waiting for the next shoe to fall. That one may hurt.

      • http://www.facebook.com/david.donahue.100 whiteAngus

        i love the salary dump comments despite NH just spending $30MM on two players in the last two weeks.
        .
        i love being a Buc fan sometimes.

    • http://www.facebook.com/david.donahue.100 whiteAngus

      this move isnt a salary dump, and i’ll tell you why… because the pirates just handed out $30MM to two free agents already, thats why.
      .
      this is a salary rearrangement. yes, hammer should have been traded at a deadline, we all know this. but thats the past. now its time to get some value back for him in case he performs poorly in 2013. at least, thats what i believe is the FO’s belief.

      • piratemike

        In my book if you get rid of a player because he is making too much money for your budget I call it a salary dump. I don’t view it as a negative, it is just business.
        If you want to call it a “salary rearrangement” fine it comes out the same way.
        If GFJ is traded in my eyes that too will be a salary dump too because the Pirates will trade for somebody who is making a lot less. If he is traded for a player who is making about the same then I would not consider it a salary dump. Maybe I am missing something. You younger people speak a different language then I do..

        • http://twitter.com/AdreBox AdreBox

          A salary dump is when a player is traded for the single purpose of reducing payroll. It’s about the intent of the club. Trading a higher priced player in an effort to improve the ball club over the long term is not a salary dump even if it reduces payroll. Teams do it all of the time at the trade deadline.

          • piratemike

            Thank you for not being snarky in yor reply.
            You said a salary dump is when a player is traded for the purpose of reducing payroll.
            That is exactly what the Pirates have done. If the Pirates would have signed a very good if not a top prospect or a player that would be added to the 25 man roster out of spring training I would consider it closer to an even trade even if the Pirates woud save a lot in the deal. The deal is not completed so we will have to see what plays out but as it stands right now I have to say that Hanny’s price of 7mm this year is the reason he was traded and I still don’t understand why that is not a salary dump when the players they got back are highly questionable.

  • rburgh

    For the Bucs to help the Red Sox add to their depth at a position of weakness without getting help at their current position of weakness (SS) is laughable. How about Hanny and Irwin for Iglesias and Pimentel?

    What good does Sands do us? He’s a RH 1B, same as Sanchez, or a RH RF same as Tabata. Maybe the rest of the deal is Tabata for Iglesias and a PTBNL type. That I could live with.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      I think it is laughable that you think it is laughable.

      :) :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/david.donahue.100 whiteAngus

      because Iglesias isnt as good as Barmes? hows that for an answer?

      look, not every trade is supposed to help the MLB team TODAY. some of it helps the team for the future, but mostly it doesnt help the team at all.

      sands is still young and could be a right handed version of garrett jones in the long run. the only way to find out is play the futhermucker.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    From the Boston paper:

    “The Pirates tried to acquire Pimentel in 2008 as part of the three-team trade that sent Jason Bay to the Red Sox and Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers. However, the Red Sox refused to include Pimentel, and the Pirates instead got Craig Hansen.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    SUNDAY, 10:58am: There’s still some discussion about a final player or two being included in the deal, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (on Twitter). It’s not expected to derail the trade, but it may delay it past Christmas.