First Pitch: Joel Hanrahan’s Trade Value and Jason Grilli’s Contract
Last Thursday I wrote about Joel Hanrahan’s future with the team if the Pirates were to sign Jason Grilli. The Pirates signed Grilli today to a two-year, $6.75 M deal. Hanrahan is projected to make about $7 M in arbitration, which means the Pirates would be spending a little over $10 M on two relievers if they kept Hanrahan around.
I’ve said most of the off-season that I think Hanrahan will be dealt. Part of that is because I don’t think the Pirates will spend that much money on a closer. The Pirates would be giving Hanrahan 10% of their payroll at $70 M. No team should be paying that big of a percentage of their payroll for a closer. With all of the rumors we’ve heard about Hanrahan over the last few weeks, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the closer is traded.
The Pirates lost a lot of trade value with Hanrahan by not trading him a year or two ago. The best time to deal him would have been at the 2011 trade deadline. That would have been difficult to pull off from a PR standpoint. The team was technically in contention, even though they weren’t really strong contenders. As luck would have it, their collapse started the day after the trade deadline.
It was a similar situation in 2012. They couldn’t deal Hanrahan because they were contenders. This time they were stronger contenders, rather than being at the top of a struggling division in 2011. In either season the Pirates had a valid reason for keeping Hanrahan. The best time to deal him would have been last off-season, when closers were fetching pretty big returns. His value isn’t going to be high this off-season with a high salary and one year of control remaining.
Judging Hanrahan’s trade value is difficult. There are several numbers you could use. His 2011 FanGraphs WAR was 2.0, which would give him about $3 M in value. His 2012 FanGraphs WAR was -0.4, which would give him no value. His Baseball Reference WAR was 2.3 and 1.1 in each year. The main difference between the two is that Baseball Reference factors in what a pitcher actually did, while FanGraphs factors in advanced metrics, designed to give the real skill level of the pitcher without the help of external factors. Both were in agreement in 2011, and there was a difference in 2012.
If you went with the 2011 numbers, Hanrahan would be worth $3 M, which wouldn’t even be a Grade B hitting prospect. If you went the mid-point between the two years and went with a 1.5 WAR, Hanrahan would have a $0.5 M value, which would be a Grade C prospect. Both of those values are based on $5 M per win.
These values are baseline values. It’s always possible that a team could pay more based on the market, desperation, additional bidders, or any other factors. At the same time, the values could be lower if there aren’t a lot of teams interested, or if there are a lot of options. Considering some of the deals being handed out this off-season, I don’t think the value for Hanrahan will be low. He’ll have a lower salary than the free agent options, which should keep his value at least at the baseline.
We heard rumors a few weeks ago about the Dodgers and Pirates discussing a Hanrahan for Chris Capuano swap. That type of move seems the most realistic. Both players have similar values, both are due about $7 M, and both will be with their new team for one more year. Capuano has a mutual option in 2014 at $8 M, and I don’t see him exercising his side with all of the multi-year deals going around this off-season. That wouldn’t give the Pirates much long-term value (they might have a better chance at a compensation pick with Capuano, rather than Hanrahan), but it would make them better in 2013. Capuano is a lefty who gets a lot of strikeouts and has a decent ground ball rate. That’s a good fit for PNC Park. Adding Capuano behind A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, and James McDonald would provide more value than having Hanrahan and Grilli in the late innings.
There’s also the question of whether Grilli can close, and whether his deal makes sense for the Pirates. He’s 36-years-old, which raises some concern since he’s getting a two-year deal at $6.75 M total. I don’t think the deal looks bad if he’s closing. Over the last two years with the Pirates, Grilli has a 2.76 ERA in 91.1 innings, with a 12.5 K/9 and a 3.6 BB/9 ratio. That’s closer stuff, and nothing suggests Grilli will suddenly decline. The deal reminds me of the Octavio Dotel deal in 2010. Dotel signed at the age of 36 to a one year, $3.5 M deal with an option. He didn’t have the strikeout rates that Grilli had, and his walk rates were worse heading into that season.
Grilli looks like he’d be a better option, but he only makes sense if he’ll eventually be the closer. The situation is similar to the situation with Dotel. The Pirates had Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek in the bullpen, and used them as set-up guys, signing Dotel to keep the pressure off the younger relievers. In 2013 the Pirates would have guys like Bryan Morris, Jared Hughes, and Chris Leroux who could get comfortable in the middle and late innings with Grilli closing. Morris would be my favorite for the eventual closer role, and for the immediate set-up job.
The Pirates probably won’t have a shot at a long-term piece in a Hanrahan deal, but they could improve the 2013 team. Grilli’s deal makes more sense if he’s the closer, rather than an expensive set-up man. The situation will give us something to keep an eye on in the upcoming weeks. I’d still be surprised if Hanrahan is on the team heading into Spring Training.
Links and Notes
**Pre-order your copy of the 2013 Prospect Guide, which is expected to be released later this week.