NASHVILLE — A couple of years ago, I was chatting with GM Neal Huntington about how he goes about building a bullpen. He said one of the final pieces a championship caliber team needed to get was a closer, and it’s hard to dispute that logic. The Pirates already have a shutdown closer and are considered to be a couple of players away from being contenders in the NL Central — nonetheless, this seems to be the right time to move Joel Hanrahan.
In his final year of arbitration eligibility, Hanny can expect to make around $7 million in 2013. That might account for at least 10 percent of the Pirates’ total payroll. A team that trades for Hanrahan knows it likely is getting a one-year rental, as he will be a free agent in 2014. But in order for a team to get a compensation draft pick for losing Hanrahan to free agency, he must spend the entire 2013 season on that team’s roster. That makes it more likely the Pirates will deal him before Opening Day.
The Pirates have been shopping Hanrahan for several weeks now. As I wrote earlier today, I know of at least two American League teams who said no thanks. One scout told me his club was “shocked” by how low the Pirates’ initial asking price was for Hanrahan. That’s not entirely surprising. Hanny has put up some great digits the past two seasons — 76 saves and a 2.24 ERA in 133 games. But there are some factors that might cause teams to think twice about dealing for him. Hanrahan was hard to hit in the first four months of last season. His BAbip (batting average on balls in play) was .083 in April, .267 in May, .174 in June and .222 in July. However, his BAbip rose to .280 in August and .273 in September/October. In his final 10 outings of the season, Hanrahan suffered his only two losses of the year and put up a nasty 5.00 ERA.
Still, there will be a demand when (not if) the Pirates get serious about moving him. If it happens quickly, that would put the Pirates in position to possibly re-sign Jason Grilli to a two-year deal as the new closer, giving Justin Wilson, Jared Hughes or Bryan Morris time to mature into the role as an understudy. If Grilli goes elsewhere, the Pirates could turn to someone such as free agent Juan Carlos Oviedo (formerly Leo Nunez) to fill the role in the short term.