First Pitch: Joel Hanrahan’s Future With the Pirates

If Jason Grilli is signed, will Joel Hanrahan get traded?

The MLB Winter Meetings wrapped up today with a nice summary of how the entire meetings went. The Pirates didn’t take anyone in the Rule 5 draft, sent Kyle Kaminska to the Red Sox to complete the Zach Stewart trade, and one of the biggest stories in baseball was whether Jason Grilli had signed.

I like Jason Grilli. I think he’s a great pitcher. But when one of the biggest topics on the final day is where a relief pitcher will end up, that’s a sign of a slow week. It was a slow week. I saw someone mention that only two teams took the stage this week — the Mets to talk about David Wright’s deal, and the Yankees to talk about Alex Rodriguez’s injury. The top free agents — Zack Greinke, Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, and more — are still unsigned. The rumored three or four team deal involving Justin Upton seems like it’s more about the novelty of having a three or four team deal. This has to be one of the slowest winter meetings I can remember. And at the end of it, Jason Grilli was the highlight.

We still don’t know where Grilli will end up. We heard he was down to four teams, with a 10:00 AM deadline for one of those teams to up their offer to three years. We heard he would likely be returning to the Pirates if no one increased their number of years. After 10:00 AM EST passed, the countdown reset to central time to account for Nashville. Then 10:00 AM CST passed. Around noon we heard a report saying Grilli had signed with the Pirates, which made sense based on the earlier reports. Then another report, followed quickly by a denial by Grilli. Then another report, again followed by a denial by Grilli. Then hours of silence.

The Pirates seem to be the favorites in the Grilli sweepstakes, based on the rumors this morning. Of course, based on the results of the other rumors, I don’t know what we can believe. What I do know is that if the Pirates sign Grilli, they’ll have an interesting situation in the back of their bullpen. Grilli is expected to eventually receive a two-year deal, and my guess is that the amount will at least be for $3.5 M per year, if not more. Joel Hanrahan is in his final year of arbitration, projected to make around $7 M. That would give the Pirates at least $10.5 M on two relievers.

I’d be very surprised if they paid that. That’s 15% of a $70 M payroll on two relievers. If you’ve read this site for any amount of time, you know my feeling on relievers. They’re easily replaced, and you shouldn’t spend big dollars on the bullpen. Hanrahan and Grilli are proof. The Pirates bought low on Hanrahan. He was included in the Nyjer Morgan/Lastings Milledge swap, being exchanged for Sean Burnett. That part of the trade was meant to tip the scales in Washington’s favor. In the end, Hanrahan was the best player from that deal for either team. Grilli also came cheap. He was in Triple-A with Philadelphia in July 2011. Any team that wanted him could just offer him a major league deal. The Phillies would have to match it, or release him and let him sign with the other team. The Pirates came along with that deal, the Phillies let him go, and Grilli turned in to one of the best relievers in the game last year.

The Pirates have had success like this with other players. Tony Watson and Jared Hughes both looked like they would max out in Double-A as starters. They both moved to the bullpen and have been two of the most reliable middle relievers for the Pirates. Chris Resop was taken on waivers, and put up good numbers for two and a half years. Chris Leroux was injured last year, but in his time with the Pirates has a 3.95 ERA in 41 innings, with a 40:12 K/BB ratio. He was another waiver claim.

If there’s one area where Neal Huntington has a strong track record, it’s building a bullpen. For that reason, it wouldn’t make sense to spend 15% of the payroll on relievers. That’s especially the case when Grilli could serve as a short-term closer, and Hanrahan could be dealt to provide an upgrade in another area. As an example, the Pirates could try to get a starting pitcher, slotting in a strong option behind A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, and James McDonald. Currently they have Jeff Locke (struggled so far in the majors), Kyle McPherson (limited time in the majors, multiple shoulder injuries in 2012), Vin Mazzaro (poor results in the majors), Zach Stewart (SEE: Mazzaro), and Andy Oliver (SEE: Mazzaro, Stewart). That’s some good depth, and I’m guessing 1-2 of those guys could step up if the Pirates didn’t add anyone else. It would be better if the Pirates had all of those guys going for the final rotation spot, and serving as rotation depth, since the team will probably need 8-9 starters throughout the season. The Pirates could try to get one of the recently non-tendered pitchers, but they’d have a better chance at getting a quality arm by dealing Hanrahan.

When it comes to replacing Hanrahan, the Pirates can just do what they do best. They’ve got several players who could step up as sleeper bullpen options. Bryan Morris leads the pack. He’s out of options, and has the stuff to eventually close. If they don’t make the rotation, Mazzaro, Stewart, and Oliver could be options. Chad Beck and Rick Vandenhurk both have great arms, but neither player has been able to use their stuff to produce results in the majors. Perhaps they’re candidates to be the next Resop or Leroux. In Triple-A there’s Justin Wilson, Duke Welker, Vic Black, and Hunter Strickland, with the last two needing some time in the minors before they make the jump to the majors.

The Pirates don’t need much. If they deal Hanrahan and move Grilli to the closer role, they’d still have Watson, Hughes, and presumably Morris and Leroux as locks for the bullpen (both of those guys are out of options). That would leave two more spots for all of the above players, not to mention the minor league free agents and any January/February bullpen signings. It’s not a comfortable situation, but it is a situation where the Pirates have plenty of depth, plenty of options, and previous success with that combination. And really, if they trade Hanrahan, we’re only talking about one extra bullpen spot they’d have to fill.

There’s no guarantee that they will trade Hanrahan if they sign Grilli. It just makes sense. Hanrahan has been mentioned as being on the market. The Pirates haven’t typically spent a lot of money on non-closers. And it would make sense for the team to try and get someone who could provide more value than a strong reliever. If Grilli signs with the Pirates, I think that could mark the end for Hanrahan. We just have to wait for Grilli to actually sign.

Links and Notes

**Pre-order your copy of the 2013 Prospect Guide, which is expected to be released next week. Pre-Order by 2:00 PM on Friday and Win PirateFest VIP Passes.

**2012 Rule 5 Draft Results: Pirates Pass; Pick One and Lose One in Triple-A Phase.

**Conflicting Reports on Whether Jason Grilli Has Signed.

**Pirates Trade Kyle Kaminska to Boston to Complete the Zach Stewart Trade.

**Winter Leagues Recap: Marte Reaches Base Three Times.\

**The 2013 Payroll

**The Future Payroll Page

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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  • emjayinTN

    Tim: I know that the Pirates are picking up depth of SP (quantity rather than quality), but until they make the step forward to successfully promote young SP’s out of AAA to the majors, their system will not have that “seal of approval”. Last year we waited until Jeff Locke had already thrown 150 innings at AAA – how much is left in the tank? The year before they brought him up after a full season at AA and just a few starts at AAA. I prefer seeing a guy at his best and at his freshest point, and make an evaluation from that point. I think that we have 3 legit top of the rotation starters, and a very strong BP. Why not promote from within and try to get the results out of the kids we have developed at the #4/5 spots in the Rotation?

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

      I agree…when our we gonna trust that ‘great’ AAA depth.

      I’d rather see Locke/Fearsome out there instead of ’5th starter retreads’.

      Foo

      .

      • leadoff

        I don’t know where “Great” comes from, the Pirates don’t say that, they say they have a much improved farm from when they took over in 2007 and they do.
        The problem with minor league players is the transition time, the Pirates have reached a level that they may not know how to handle. Minor league players generally take 3 to 4 years to adjust to the majors, the Pirates want to contend this year, that puts them in a tough spot when thinking about promoting players. Guys like Mercer, D’Arnaud, Sanchez and several pitchers need time in the majors to adjust, the Pirates don’t really have that time available right now. It is a fine line right now.

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

          lots of truth in what you just said.

          I wonder if their ‘suden’ success the last two years have thrown them for a loop.

          Btw, in my post above, it’s “when ARE we gonna”

          I hate grammatical mistakes….

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

            suDDen

            aaaaarrrrrrggggghhhh!

            too much of a hurry this morn.

  • Rebel

    Very good points here, Tim. Neil has an eye for acquiring discarded pieces that end up doing well in the bullpen.
    I understand the thought of trading Joel but can we really expect Grilli to save 40 games? He had a great season for us in a set up role. Do you think Hughes might be someone who could close?
    How about sign Grilli and I read Gary Sheffield is the agent. Make it a package deal sign Sheffield as a bat off the bench.
    Go Ole Miss!!

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

      Rebel….I WISH Sheff had something left…lol

      Closers: Remember Bill Landrum, Gott, Williams, etc. None of them had experience closing. I think current day managers over emphasize it.

      As long as Grilli doesn’t lose his stuff, I will be fine.

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

        I mean “WE will be fine”.

    • http://twitter.com/jlease717 jlease717

      Grilli can embrace the suck with the best of them.

  • IC Bob

    The question is what do the Bucs do with the 7 million if they trade Hanrahan? We let Kartens go. Their is no way we get a good stater in return. We maybe could get Capuano but is he really any good? My fear is we trade Hanrahan for a C prospect and we bring in 3 more cheap retreads for starters. Then we throw all of our apples into the Grilli basket and we find out he either gets injured (big time history here) or just reverts back to what he use to be. If that happens we are stuck with a 9 million dollar two year deal and a team that blows 9th inning leads routinely. If I thought we would spend the 7 million wisely then I could be all in on trading Hanny but I will not believe it until I see it.

    • leadoff

      There are about 15 teams looking for ST pitchers right now, most of them are going to take a gamble on someone, what is nice about the Pirate situation is those two rookies they have can make this team in ST and probably will as starters or relief, they have as much talent as most 4′s or 5′s in a rotation, the reason they are looking around is for security, a guy like Capuano would be security, nothing else. IMO, any pitcher is a gamble. They have not lost Karstens yet, he is a typical pitcher that will go after the top of the crop goes.
      The Pirates are in a better place right now than they where at this place last year.

      • IC Bob

        I hope your right. Locke doesn’t give me much confidence. McPherson has a shoulder issue and those tend to be really bad. I just saw Brandon McCarthy get 15.5 mil for two years. I really get the feeling we may see Mazzaro out of spring training in the rotation. I just have a bad vibe about what we are attempting.

        What I would like to see the Bucs do is shock the world and take a big chance on Hamilton with 5 years 100 million. What a difference he would make for the team as well as the phych of the city. Then you would have players wanting to come to Pittsburgh because their would be a genuine chance of winning.

        Then I would be really OK with dumping Hanny an I would be suggesting an extension for Huntington.