Why the Joel Hanrahan Trade is a Good Move

The Joel Hanrahan trade was completed today, with Hanrahan and Brock Holt going to Boston. The Pirates received four players in the trade: Jerry Sands, Mark Melancon, Stolmy Pimentel, and Ivan De Jesus Jr. Here are my thoughts on each player in the deal, and the overall trade.

From the Pirates

Joel Hanrahan - Hanrahan is a great reliever. However, I’m not a believer in small market teams paying relief pitchers this much. He’d be making about $7 M in 2013, which is about 10% of the payroll. Call it a salary dump if you want, but that doesn’t mean dealing him and cutting that salary is a bad decision. That money could be better spent elsewhere, rather than having $7 M in payroll tied up to a guy who pitches one inning, and only when the team is winning in the 9th by three runs or less. Hanrahan is a good reliever, but the smart move here is trying to get value for him and trying to free up that payroll for someone who has a bigger role on the team.

Brock Holt - Holt arrived in Pittsburgh in September, hitting for a .292 average in 65 at-bats. He’s always been a strong hitter in the minors, with a high average, a high OBP, and a low strikeout rate. He’s struggled defensively throughout his career. He’s played shortstop, but doesn’t have the defense to handle the position. He’s not strong defensively at second either, making him a utility player in the majors with his value coming from the bat and his speed.

From the Red Sox

Mark Melancon - I found it interesting that the first name discussed in the press release was Melancon. That doesn’t necessarily mean he was the main piece of the deal, but I think his value makes him one of the top two guys in the return. I wrote about Melancon the other day. He’s a guy who is coming off a down year, but prior to 2012 had some strong numbers. In fact, the Red Sox acquired him last off-season for Jed Lowrie. His advanced metrics suggest he will bounce back, and that his 2012 numbers were a fluke. Most of his damage in 2012 came in the first four outings. Melancon gave up five homers in his first four appearances, then was sent to Triple-A. He returned in June, and had a 4.19 ERA in 43 innings over the remainder of the season, with a 40:10 K/BB ratio and three homers allowed. Reports out of Boston suggest that Melancon’s issues could have been due to Bobby Valentine, which seemed to be a common issue with Red Sox players last year. Melancon seems like a great bounce back candidate. He’s got four years of control remaining, posts dominant ratios, and looked like a great late inning reliever prior to his down year in Boston. It’s almost a similar story to Hanrahan. It wouldn’t surprise me if Melancon bounces back and provides the Pirates with a strong 8th inning man next year to set-up for Jason Grilli. It also wouldn’t surprise me if Melancon’s numbers were similar to Hanrahan’s in 2013.

Jerry Sands - Sands has always hit for a lot of power in the minors, with a career ISO of .273. The question is whether he can be productive in the majors. So far he’s hit for a .244/.325/.376 line in 221 at-bats, with most of that coming in 2011. He can play the corner outfield positions and first base, although his defense isn’t strong and his future value would come from his offense. The addition of Sands will probably lead to some fallout. The Pirates seem to be over-loaded with corner outfield/first base types. The Pirates have Starling Marte, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata, and Alex Presley for the corner outfield spots. Marte and Snider should have the inside track for those starting jobs. At first base they’ve got Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez. Sands has an option remaining, so he could go to Triple-A. The Pirates have several first base options at Triple-A (Clint Robinson, Matt Hague, Matt Curry), so Sands would probably play the outfield. It’s still a crowded situation, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see another move made to clear up space. The move that might make the most sense is a trade of Garrett Jones, which would be an opportunity to sell high on his 2012 season, while giving someone like Clint Robinson or Sands a chance to take over at first base.

Stolmy Pimentel - Pimentel was once a top prospect in Boston’s system, but has dealt with some fastball command issues. He has a plus changeup and the potential for a plus slider. The latter pitch was added last year. His fastball is usually 92-94, touching 95, and sits mid-90s as a reliever. He only has one option remaining, and hasn’t pitched above Double-A, where his numbers have struggled. The Pirates will have a limited amount of time to turn him around before he needs to be in the majors. They’ll probably keep him in the rotation, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they eventually take the Bryan Morris/Justin Wilson approach and move him to the bullpen to work out his issues. He’ll be 23 next year, so he’s got time to work on his issues from an age perspective. The time constraint here comes with his option years.

Ivan De Jesus Jr. - This is the name we hadn’t heard about until today. De Jesus was acquired (along with Sands and three other players) in the trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto to Los Angeles. De Jesus broke his leg in 2009, which has hurt some of his value. He’s played shortstop in the past, but profiles better at second, where he has strong defense. He’s been a good hitter in the minors, with gap power. He looks like a guy who could make it as a utility infielder, playing second, third, and having the chance to play short in a pinch. The Red Sox designated him for assignment earlier in the off-season to make room for Rule 5 additions. He cleared waivers at the time and was outrighted to Triple-A. Any team could have had him for free at that point, so he’s not a guy who has a lot of value in this trade.

The Trade

It’s difficult to break down a multi-player trade. It’s hard to say who exactly the Pirates got for Hanrahan. What player(s) made it necessary for Brock Holt to be added? Who were the main players in the deal? All of these are very subjective view points. Rather than trying to say that Group 1 was traded for Hanrahan and Group 2 was traded for Holt, I’m just going to look at the potential impact of this deal.

The more I read about Melancon, the more I like his inclusion in the deal. I really think that Melancon could put up the same numbers as Hanrahan in 2013. His 2011 season was dominant, and I think there are a lot of things you can point to that suggest 2012 was a fluke (unlucky HR/FB ratio, issues in Boston’s clubhouse). I think that a Grilli/Melancon combo could be just as effective as a Hanrahan/Grilli combo. Keep in mind that I’ve never cared about bullpen roles, and I don’t believe that it takes a special skill to be a closer, outside of striking out a lot of batters, and limiting walks and homers. When you add that Melancon is about $6.5 M cheaper than Hanrahan, and has four years of control remaining, I think I’d rather have Melancon.

On that same note, I think De Jesus and Holt are similar. Both have been strong hitters in the minors. De Jesus has better defense than Holt, and Holt has better speed. They’re both utility players with six years of control remaining. I don’t see either one eventually becoming a starter. Their values are about the same.

I think there’s a strong chance that Melancon/De Jesus will be just as effective as Hanrahan/Holt. Then you’ve got the other factors in the deal, starting with Jerry Sands. Sands is a key part of this deal. He’s probably the difference maker in this deal. If he is successful carrying his hitting over to the majors, the Pirates will have a great deal. If he’s not successful, then it’s likely that the Pirates will just be getting the same production for less money and more years. That’s good, but for the 2013 purposes of this deal it doesn’t provide an upgrade.

Pimentel is also a wild card in this deal, although I’m not as high on him with his issues and lack of time to work out those issues. Unless the Pirates can turn him around quickly, he’ll probably end up as a reliever. That’s not a bad thing, but the Pirates don’t seem to have trouble finding good relievers, so you’d hope for something different here.

I think that in 2013 the combo of Melancon/De Jesus could provide the same production as Hanrahan/Holt. That combo would cost much less, giving the Pirates some extra payroll space to make additional moves this off-season (the current payroll projection is at $66.5 M). Melancon is under control for three more years than Hanrahan. His situation now seems similar to Hanrahan’s when he was acquired in 2009. If he does immediately turn things around, then the Pirates have a great reliever for four years, rather than a great reliever for one year. On top of that they’d also have Sands and Pimentel, who will be the deciding factors in this deal. Both guys come with some risk, but they also both come with the potential for a high reward.

From here we still have some unanswered questions. What will the Pirates do about their excess of players at the first base/corner outfield positions? Will that lead to a trade of Garrett Jones? What will the Pirates do with the money saved from Hanrahan (and potentially Jones)? Those will be things that will be answered throughout the off-season, and will very much play a role in the big picture analysis of this deal. For now I like this deal. The Pirates might not lose any production in 2013 with Melancon/De Jesus, they’re getting two upside players in Sands and Pimentel, they’re getting extra years of control, and they’re freeing up over $6 M in the process.

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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