First Pitch: Today’s Cuts Bring Up the Hanrahan Trade Again

Mark Melancon was one of the main pieces in the Joel Hanrahan trade.

Mark Melancon was one of the main pieces in the Joel Hanrahan trade.

The Pittsburgh Pirates made their first round of cuts today at the major league level. Two of the players who were cut were Jerry Sands and Stolmy Pimentel, who made up half of the return for Joel Hanrahan over the winter. Almost immediately the complaints started on Twitter about the Hanrahan trade. Most of them were something along the lines of the trade being a disappointment because the Pirates cut two of the players they got in return, showing that the Pirates didn’t have any use for either player. That ignores the details of each player, and the purpose behind the trade.

There should be no surprise that Pimentel was cut. He’s never pitched above Double-A, and has struggled at the level. He was once one of the top prospects in the Red Sox system, and is still young enough to put it together. He wasn’t added for an immediate impact, but with the hope that he could turn things around in the minors this year.

Sands was added for a more immediate impact, but that doesn’t mean he had to make the team on Opening Day. He was battling for the starting right field job with Jose Tabata and Travis Snider. All three players are in similar situations. They’re all former top prospects who haven’t made the successful jump to the majors, although all three are still young enough to turn things around. The key difference with Sands is that he has an option remaining, while Snider and Tabata are both out of options. None of those players really stand out from the others, although Tabata is making the most noise this Spring. Therefore, it makes sense to send Sands down. You can keep all of them this way, give Tabata and Snider the first shots, and have Sands playing every day in Indianapolis as a backup plan. You’d hope the Pirates wouldn’t need him, because that would mean that Marte, Tabata, and/or Snider were holding down the corner outfield spots.

So it made sense to send both players down today, since neither player had a strong chance of making the majors. But what about the purpose of the trade? Why deal Hanrahan for guys who aren’t going to make an immediate impact?

That’s not exactly an accurate assessment, since one of the key pieces in the trade was Mark Melancon. He’s a year removed from being one of the top relievers in the National League. He had a down year in 2012, although his advanced metrics suggest he was unlucky — almost exactly how Joel Hanrahan looked unlucky before coming to Pittsburgh. There’s a strong chance that Melancon bounces back to his pre-2012 form. If that happens, then a Melancon/Jason Grilli combo in the late innings could be very productive.

Dealing Hanrahan was a classic small market move. Sure, it dumped salary, and that’s an evil thing in Pittsburgh. But that’s what the Pirates should be doing in that type of situation. Look at the Rays. They constantly make moves like this. They trade a high priced player to free up salary, replace him with a lower priced player who could provide the same production, and re-stock their farm system with the prospects acquired in the deal. As long as they manage to replace the production they’re trading away, the deal works. They get similar production for a cheaper price — allowing them to use their limited resources for a bigger need — all while adding more prospects to their farm system.

That’s the goal of the Hanrahan trade. The Pirates dealt him away and freed up $7 M. After that they signed Francisco Liriano, Jeff Karstens, and Jonathan Sanchez, aiming to help out the starting rotation in 2013. If Melancon can return to being a dominant reliever, then the move will have paid off. The Pirates won’t lose much production from the back of the bullpen, if they lose any at all. If that happens, then they get similar production for a much cheaper price and for a longer period (Melancon is under control for four years). They’d do all of this while using their limited resources on a bigger team need, and adding three young players (Pimentel, Sands, Ivan De Jesus Jr.) to the system. That’s the approach that every small market team should take. Ideally the Pirates would just be a reliever academy, constantly dealing away established relievers, replacing them with talented young alternatives, and keeping the farm system stocked in the process.

Links and Notes

**If you’re thinking that Jameson Taillon should be in major league camp, consider his development. He’s not making the majors out of camp this year. He only has three starts above A-ball. He’s also to the point where he’s throwing 3-4 innings per start. Most of the starters in major league camp are throwing 4-5 innings per start, or more. Taillon needs to keep increasing his innings to get ready to be a starter for the season. The only way he’s getting those innings in major league camp is if he takes them from someone who actually has a shot at being on the team on Opening Day. So now is the perfect time to send him down and allow him to prepare to be a starter in the minor leagues in 2013.

**Pirates Notebook: Karstens Has Enough Time to be Ready For the Season.

**Prospect Notebook: New Focus on the Running Game Extends to the Minors.

**Jeff Karstens Throws Two Easy Innings at Pirate City.

**Pirate City Notes: Karstens, Taillon, Welker, Lineups.

**Injury Notes: D’Arnaud, Garrett Jones, Tony Watson.

**Pirates Have Seven Prospects in John Sickels’ Top 150.

**Pirates Cut 11 Players, Including Jameson Taillon.

**Pirates Release LHP Aaron Poreda.

**Pirates Have Five in the FanGraphs Top 100 Prospect List.

**The Pirates Have a New International Player at Pirate City.

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/beatembuccos21 beatembuccos21

    I agree with the general point of what you are saying: the primary hope is that Melancon replaces (at least a portion of) the production of Hammer at a fraction of the cost, allowing the Pirates to move salary to areas of bigger need and also pick up a couple of fringy/failed former prospects.

    But I think you are overstating how good Melancon was in 2011. You called him ‘one of the top relievers in the NL’ in 2011.

    Here’s where he ranked in 2011 among NL relievers with 60 or more IP
    17th in ERA+
    24th in WHIP
    12th in Saves
    27th in K/9
    24th in BB/9
    22nd in HR/9

    That’s not a bad year and I’m not suggesting that he isn’t capable of doing that again or even improving. But to call him one of the top relievers in the NL with those stats is an overstatement IMHO.

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

      Just curious, why 60+ innings? If you look at the Pirates last year, only two pitchers had 60+ innings. If you go 50+, you add four more.

      As for the stat categories, my statement was overall. You’re looking at each individual category. To make any kind of assessment, you’d have to look at every other reliever in the NL and see where they end up. If every team has 7 relievers in a season, then the stats above show that Melancon is in the top 25% in every category you listed. How many relievers did the same in 2011?

      • http://twitter.com/beatembuccos21 beatembuccos21

        If I did 50 innings then he falls down the list in all of those categories individually.

        Among 73 players (an average of 4.5 per NL team) who were primarily relievers (80% or more appearances in relief, 50 IP or more total), taking all those stats together, there were 14 NL relievers in 2011 with a better ERA+, a lower WHIP, more K/9 and a better K/BB than Melancon. So, sure, he’s in the top 20%. But that doesn’t qualify him as a top reliever IMHO. That qualifies him as having a good year.

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

          I guess it depends on what your definition is of “top reliever”. I have a feeling you’re thinking one of the very top, like 4-5 players.

          You’re saying that there were 14 NL relievers better in all of those categories. Let’s say you have a draft of relievers, and you’re drafting based on those combined numbers. With 16 NL teams, you’re saying that Melancon would go 15th in the first round. To me, that’s a top reliever.

  • esd4

    If the point of the trade was to get one guy who could make an immediate impact (Melancon) and some prospects, they should have got some actual prospects. Pimentel’s fine (though his option situation is worrisome), but Sands and DeJesus aren’t prospects. If you don’t think they’re ready to make an impact now (or you don’t have a spot for them), you shouldn’t be trading for them. Get younger guys who are actual prospects instead. They essentially traded for Sands in order to make him a 4A player, which seems pretty dumb.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ToddSm66 Todd Smith

      I think Sands is seen more as the eventual replacement for GFJ. If Sands tears it up the first couple of months at AAA this year, then I think Jones can become expendable at the trade deadline this year. He’s getting to be a bit too expensive for a platoon player at this point anyway. Sands seems to be the same type of platoon player so far as Jones. Although it’s a very small sample size across his 70 MLB games, he currently has a .204 AVG and .589 OPS against RHP and a .316 AVG and .904 OPS against LHP.

      I would have liked to see Sands get a few more at bats this spring at the major league level, but it makes sense to start him at AAA this year. He won’t get a lot of playing time behind Jones and Sanchez and Snider. That doesn’t mean he’s doomed to be a 4A player for the rest of his life though.

  • reddfoxx39

    Thank you Tim.
    The trade really brought (in terms of money out)
    Sands
    Pimatel
    Dejesus
    Melencon
    Sanchez
    Liriano
    Karstens

    I have a feeling fans won’t be so miffed around the all star break about moving Hanrahan.

  • leadoff

    Melencon looked good to me when I saw him, he is not unhittable or overpowering and probably will have his bad days, but Hanrahan had his also, but most will forget about those days especially if Hanrahan is having a good season.

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

      when NH traded for Hanrahan, giving up our best leadoff hitter of all time in the process, the fans went batshit insane. trade for a former starter with a 7+era as a reliever?!?!?! sacre bleu!!!

  • emjayinTN

    I think Tim summarized the point of the trade very well. I watched a guy with a lot of Saves over the first 1.5 years as our Closer have extreme difficulty in the latter part of 2012 getting a breaking ball across for a strike. Not bad if you are still throwing 97mph, but Hanny was struggling to throw 94/95 and without a breaking ball to keep the opposition batters offstride, he became BP. I hope this trade helps Joel Hanrahan, the same way it helped Matt Capps to find out he left a lot to be desired. Sometimes a change of scenery and a challenge work that way. Pimental may never be worth anything, but Melancon is a quality reliever, Sands still has an option, and DeJesus has done very well in ST. If he has an option remaining he may be assigned to AAA also to get daily reps at SS, and at bat. I think he has the talent to replace Clint Barmes later this year, and continue on into 2014 as our starting SS. I favor him getting reps at AAA, but if the utility infielder role is between he and Harrison, I favor DeJesus and he can get his extra reps as a part of the 25 man roster.

    • clemente21

      I concur. I think many people overvalued Hanrahan in this winter’s market. His statistical regression (granted it was not huge) last year is concerning & when you also consider his salary and walk-year status, his return just wasn’t going to be the “gold package”. A big market team may have opted to keep him and hope he has a great year – if so you offer arb & get him back for another year (albeit at a high salary) or take the comp pick if he signs elsewhere. The Bucs don’t & probably never will have that option (barring a MLB salary cap). The time to have traded him was the winter before as I think Tim has mentioned. Getting MM with 4 years of control plus freeing up the $$ to sign Karstens & Liriano seems like a reasonable return to me.

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

    Personally, I liked the trade.

    Foo

    .

  • http://twitter.com/AJ21PSU AJ21PSU

    ” Ideally the Pirates would just be a reliever academy, constantly dealing away established relievers, replacing them with talented young alternatives, and keeping the farm system stocked in the process.”

    You could argue that the Pirates have been doing this for the past several years. Look at the relievers they’ve picked up and then flipped for prospects: John Grabow, Javier Lopez, D.J. Carrasco, Octavio Dotel, Damaso Marte, Joel Hanrahan. You can argue about the return they’ve gotten for them, but the fact is they’re using their resources well.