Boston Red Sox: Why Joel Hanrahan Might Not Be the Team's Closer When He Returns

Andrew MartinCorrespondent IIIApril 19, 2013

Baseball players typically reclaim their job after returning from injury, but it’s starting to look like Boston Red Sox pitcher Joel Hanrahan may not be the team’s closer when he returns from the disabled list. and NESN’s Peter Gammons tweeted that the 31-year-old right-hander  was placed on the disabled list on April 16:   

Hanrahan needs a week for groin pull, so DLd, Steven Wright up. Wright and Jeff Brantley--separated at birth

— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) April 16, 2013 

ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes reported that Hanrahan started experiencing discomfort in one of his hamstrings after a game against the New York Yankees on April 3. He couldn’t shake the discomfort and was placed on the disabled list retroactive to April 14, meaning he will be eligible to next play on April 30 if everything goes well.

Hanrahan was acquired in a trade during this past offseason with the Pittsburgh Pirates to be Boston’s closer.  

He started the season well, with three consecutive scoreless outings, but allowed five hits, three home runs and six runs over the next three appearances leading up to his deactivation.  

Boston manager John Farrell decided to shut down Hanrahan, citing the ailing hamstring he believed was affecting the pitcher’s mechanics, according to WEEI’s Alex Speier 

For the season, Hanrahan has an 11.57 ERA in six games spanning 4.2 innings, with three saves in four chances. 

Right-hander Andrew Bailey has temporarily taken over the closer role. It’s beginning to look like he may have the job on a longer-term basis.

He was acquired by Boston in a trade with the Oakland A’s prior to last season and was expected to be their closer. Unfortunately, he missed most of the year with injuries and posted just a 7.04 ERA in the 19 games in which he did appear. 

Although he blew his first save opportunity this year, he has two saves since and his peripheral numbers have been much better than Hanrahan’s. He has struck out 12, while allowing just three hits, two walks and a 1.23 ERA in 7.1 innings. 

It’s beginning to sound more likely that the Red Sox will continue riding Bailey’s hot hand even after Hanrahan returns.

Farrell told the Providence Journal’s Brian MacPherson he isn’t prepared to simply hand Hanrahan the closer’s role after he is activated:

I don’t think we’re sitting here today ready to make that claim. We’ve got to get through some things first— particularly how he responds with the hamstring. He’s going to need a couple of rehab appearances just to get himself going again. This is a bigger-bodied guy that is a power pitcher, and we want to be sure that he feels comfortable physically before we bring him back to us, and we’ll work through that at that time.  

Hanrahan, who is making $7.04 million this year, will become a free agent following the season.

Bailey is on the books for $4.1 million this year and is under team control through the 2014 season. 

Without a long-term commitment to either pitcher, Boston can afford to roll with the hot hand if it so choose.

The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham believes that a competitive closer situation could benefit the Red Sox:

The Sox are into Hanrahan for a year and control Bailey for two. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. Relievers, by nature, are inconsistent. If Bailey is hot, the Sox might be wise to ride him as long as they can.

Hanrahan, who will be a free agent after the season, will surely be eager to show his worth once he returns from the disabled list.

Bailey seems to be brimming with confidence and told Abraham he is not conceding anything when it comes to who will be the Boston closer: 

My velocity’s back, my stuff’s back and my confidence is there. When you’re coming back from an injury and you miss a bunch of months it’s tough, but you’ve still got to go out there and produce and I didn’t. So they acquired Joel, which I totally understand, and we’ll see what happens when he gets back.

It may not seem fair that Hanrahan could lose his job when he returns from the disabled list, but there are no guarantees in baseball. It’s looking like Boston is willing to let its two closer candidates battle it out, with the best man emerging with the title and hopefully the results.  

Statistics via Baseball-Reference