It Takes a Hammer To Build a Team

Joel Hanrahan is a great closer, no matter what happened in the second half last season. He’ll help the Red Sox, which had some issues in the bullpen last season. But “The Hammer” — who once came to the Pirates at the cost of Sean Burnett and Nyjer Morgan — will also help his former team on his way out.

If you can sign a guy who can do what your incumbent can do, but cheaper, then you’ve got a redundancy. Hanrahan is a right-hander who can throw 94 mph, has a great slider, plus-strikeout rates (27.7% the past four seasons), iffy control (10.3% the past four years) and some platoon issues (3.94 career FIP v LHB). Matt Swartz’s arbitration projection system has The Hammer’s cost at $6.9 million next season. Jason Grilli is a right-hander who can throw more than 93 mph, has a great slider, plus-strikeout rates (26.7% the past four years), iffy control (11.1% the past four years) and some platoon issues (4.02 career FIP v LHB). The Pirates just signed Grilli for two years and $6.75 million.

They had two capable closers, and one cost half as much as the other. Just as the team once traded away a capable center fielder (Nyjer Morgan) because they had a younger, cheaper one in hand (Andrew McCutchen), they once again traded away the more expensive piece for prospects.

Who knows if Jerry Sands will work out? The rumored centerpiece of the deal had minor league strikeout rates that weren’t great, and his major league strikeout rates so far have been bad. If he’s all patience, then it will take real power to play to his position: Major league first basemen have had isolated slugging percentages around .200 for the past 12 years. Another note is that the righty hasn’t shown major-league power against right handers — and there’s a risk he’s a short-side platoon player. If he works out better than that, he wouldn’t be blocked by Garrett Jones — who can play a scratch right field defensively and is more of a platoon piece himself — or Gaby Sanchez, who isn’t likely to put up that .200 ISO any time soon. If he’s a platoon guy, he can fit with Jones somewhere.

Will Stolmy Pimentel work out? He’ll soon be 23 and his numbers have slowly eroded as he’s advanced in the minor leagues. He has some gas — and a nice changeup — but he isn’t getting the whiffs or ground balls to go with his decent control. With gas like that, though, he could end up in the bullpen and be the Pirates’ next Joel Hanrahan, or at least be useful there. It seems he has at least two pitches, and that often works as a last resort in short stretches.

If the two young men work out to be just a useful bullpen piece and a platoon first baseman, respectively, the deal still will have been worth it. Actually, if one of the players works out, the deal will have been worth it. Joel Hanrahan was only under team control for one year, and at $7 million, there’s not a lot of surplus value.

Any useful cost-controlled piece will far outpace the surplus value The Hammer would have provided. And Jason Grilli looks like he can step in fine. It can be that easy, and the Pirates have done it before.

[Update: The full trade has Brock Holt, an iffy second base prospect, going to the Sox along with Hanrahan, with Jerry Sands, Stolmy Pimentel and Mark Melancon and Ivan DeJesus going to the Pirates. The addition of Holt helps balance the trade, but in all likelihood, it will still only take one player to succeed on any level in Pittsburgh to swing the trade their way.]




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


40 Responses to “It Takes a Hammer To Build a Team”

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  1. Pitnick says:

    Still have to see what the other pieces are. Mark Melancon may be the most interesting player if the rumors about his inclusion are true.

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  2. PL says:

    Watch the last 3 players in the deal be Ellsbury, Bogaerts and McCutchen. Just because things have gotten pretty boring lately.

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  3. shane says:

    say what you will about theo’s FA binges, there was a rationale behind them. the trades for melancon, bailey, and now the hammer were/are inexcusible both in conception and execution. flawed, expensive relievers (sorry, “proven” closers) being traded to boston and cheap, MLB-ready (albeit unproven) talent headed the other way.

    and, oh yeah, hanny is pretty far from a “sure” thing. you know who was sure? papelbon. oh right, but you can’t overpay for closers!

    i guess payments in the form of “prospects” don’t count…

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      I don’t get it either. And just a year after Reddick for Bailey, too.

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    • jcxy says:

      Completely agree with you both. Wonderful decision making by the Pirates…supremely questionable by the Red Sox.

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    • James says:

      It’s pretty obvious that their clearing dead space off the 40-man roster. The players traded (melancon to a lesser extent) likely won’t have a longterm fit with the team. It makes sense then to get value out of these guys (and it may be a mistake to assume these guys are worth more than hanrahan).

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    • joshua says:

      Stolmy Pimentel as one option left and is currently a DFA candidate. He has the ceiling of a fifth starter. Sands is completely redundant with Gomes and Napoli; he has been terrible in the majors.

      To get a very useful pitcher for spare parts? Why not?

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      • savin hillbilly says:

        Sands has been “terrible in the majors”? Really? On what planet is a 100 wRC+ “terrible,” especially in less than 300 PA at ages 23 and 24?

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      • BX says:

        Because Hanrahan is not that useful, and is pretty much making market value for a meh nonelite closing reliever.

        And he’s most likely not more useful than a guy like Matt Lindstrom, who can probably be signed for less than 7MM guaranteed and costs no players.

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  4. Andrew says:

    Jason Grilli is older than Joel Hanrahan…

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  5. Miketron says:

    Why wouldn’t the main competition be Sanchez? Jones is a lefty and Sanchez/Sands would be the perfect platoon at first.

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  6. JKA says:

    Still seems like a small return for a proven closer…..Sands was basically a throw-in from the Gonzalez trade, Pimentel seems to be regressing and Melancon is no more than a warm body…..unless there’s another player added with some upside, seems the only chance for the Bucs to save this deal is for Pimentel to suddenly figure things out…..and if he looked like he was ready to do so, the Red Sox probably wouldn’t have tossed him into the deal….

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    • Ryan S says:

      The Bucs win this deal if any of these players play an ML game above league average post 2013.

      Which is almost assured if Mark Melcancon is included in this deal.

      Simple Math:
      Pirates sign Grilli
      Grilli=Hanrahan
      Hanrahan=Contract over after 2012
      1 year of Hanrahan < Several years of Sands, Pimentel and Melancon.

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  7. shthar says:

    I thought this was gonna be a story about Bob Hamelin.

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  8. Jross says:

    Gabby for someone like Torres/Ramos from the Rays would be interesting. Bucs would have to add a lower spect in there as well.

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  9. bucs_lose_again says:

    Eno, one slight nitpick. It was actually Nate McClouth that the Pirates traded once they felt McCutchen was ready. I’m not sure if you listed Nyjer Morgan in there simply because he was a part of the original trade for Hanrahan or not.

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  10. I Agree Guy says:

    I see no mention of Josh Willingham.

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  11. Jim S. says:

    To imagine that Grilli will be able to step in for Hanrahan is questionable because Grilli hasn’t closed. A right-handed setup guy usually faces something like 62 percent right-handed batters, while a closer faces around 50 percent right-handed batters (which doesn’t help the “platoon issues). And, despite a lot of SABR-rattling to the contrary, players and other baseball insiders believe there is more pressure in getting those final three outs.

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    • Sam Samson says:

      I’m not sure I agree with you entirely, but I gave you a thumbs-up because of your use of the term “SABR-rattling.” Merry Christmas.

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  12. dockellis says:

    Melancon had an ERA of 49.00 through April last year and gave up 5 of his 8 HRs in April. Otherwise he has been solid for 3 years and is under team control through 2017. If Melancon is included, the Bosox had better get a big advantage with the two players yet to be named or this is a great trade for the Pirates, even if they get little from Sands / Pimentel. The one thing Huntington has done consistently in his 5 years is to build and rebuild the bullpen, and I trust Grilli for a year or two, and eventually Bryan Morris.

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  13. B N says:

    I don’t quite get this. I am not a huge fan of Melancon. I do like Hanrahan. However, the difference in their ERA might be around 0.75 over 50 innings (assuming both are healthy). Hanrahan is considerably more expensive. While I don’t have any great love for Sands, I don’t understand why any genuinely useful piece would be part of this exchange- let alone two such pieces. Even if Sands is James Loney, there would be enough surplus value to make this a very good trade for the Pirates. Especially with the Red Sox in what is probably a lost year, picking up a guy with 1 year on his contract seems peculiar too. Why not just stick with Melancon and see if he rebounds? Is 0.25 wins going to be the difference this season?

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    • Synovia says:

      Because the Red Sox have shitloads of money and nothing to do with it this year? They’re basically hoping they can turn Melancon into a draft pick. The rest of the prospects are guys who were going to get cut anyway.

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      • Steve says:

        So the Sox are going to make a $13M qualifying offer to Joel hanrahan, an expect him to turn it down? Hanrahan can’t hold Rafael Soriano’s jock, and ask him how that is working out.

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  14. Socrates says:

    I am a big fan of this trade from the Pirates perspective, but I am not sure I buy the “surplus” argument for your best relief pitcher or a starter for that matter. Making the argument for Hanrahan and Grilli is like saying the Phillies can afford to trade Lee because they have Hamels. They still need 5 starters and the Pirates still need multiple “close game” relievers.

    The real replacement is the switch from Hanrahan to the worst reliever. That difference is clearly bigger than the likely difference from Hanrahan to Grilli.

    Clearly position players are different and when looking at “surplus”, the Nats are making that calculation when considering keeping LaRoche or going with Morse, as the Rangers also need to consider the value of adding LaRoche to replace Moreland.

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    • Socrates says:

      Wow. I also just looked up Hanrahan’s FB and Grilli’s.
      Hanrahan: 95.9 MHP avg
      Grilli: 93.6

      That is much more of a significant difference than the “94″ to “93″ estimates imply. Also, with Grilli being 5 years older than Hanrahan, I think he is MUCH more likely to lose velocity moving forward, then to repeat his career high velocity last season.

      I just don’t think the “surplus” argument from Hanrahan to Grilli is what makes this deal good for Pit. Part of the argument is “surplus, but it is the surplus from Hanrahan to the (more or less) replaceable reliever but the main part is that they have essentially acquired a handful of players that give them a shot at having multiple 2-ish WAR seasons on low contracts while only giving up 1 potential year of a 2-ish WAR season of a guy who will make about $7m.

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  15. Milton Bradley says:

    This is a poorly written article because a reader has to google these names to understand the proposed trade – would have nice if you mentioned the rumored players involved at the outset of the article.

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  16. Socrates says:

    DeJesus > Holt

    Especially for the Red Sox AND Pirates who both seems well covered at 2B, but have serious holes at SS. DeJesus is far from a prospect, but I think that Holt is only closer (to being a prospect) by virtue of being 1 year younger. I am not sure that one year could possibly make up for the difference that

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    • KyleL says:

      Holt has a much better track record offensively, and neither of them are really good enough defensively to be more than a short-term option at SS; add in the fact that Holt is more than a year younger, and I’m having a hard time seeing how DeJesus is better.

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      • Socrates says:

        Holt had plenty of opportunity to play SS last year in Pittsburg, but didn’t. Instead it too an injury to Walker to get him any playing time. Meanwhile between Barmes, Harrison, and Mercer the Bucs posted approximately a .265 wOBA at SS. If they had any confidence in Holt’s Defense at SS, then he clearly would have played.

        As for De Jesus, he has a better career minor league BB% than Holt and was playing at most levels at a younger age. Also, I have a little trouble that Holt (who judging from his SB% is at best Not Fast) will be able to maintain the gaudy BABIPs that he posted in the minors.

        For me they are similar bats, with the difference being that Holt didnt have the confidence of his drafting organization to play SS regularly. I think that the hope for both of these teams is that neither of them will get much playing time at SS, but it seems likely that both of these teams need depth there, and I like De Jesus better.

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  17. Long time suffering bucs fan says:

    Seriously? Grilli is NOT Hanrahan and 5 yrs older? In order to have a trade you have to get something… the Pirates got an AAAA outfielder, 2 bust pitchers..and a lifelong ml with a .205 average. Red sox a closer coming off an all star season… who had 1 bad month september. Melancon had a record setting bad April and a 4.19 ERA in AAA!!!!!!!!!!!!! Typical Pirates salary dump…Hanrahan will be an all star again and resigned by the sox. The 4 guys the pirates got 2 will never make the majors and the other 2 are proven failures.

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    • BJsWorld says:

      It was not one bad month. A closer sporting a FIP around 4.5 is not good. The question is whether 2012 was an exception or a new rule. The guy was lights out good in 2010/11. Red Sox win this if he reverts back to that guy. However, if 2012 is the new norm then the Sox got burned and the Pirates made out like bandits.

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