Pittsburgh Pirates: Why Trading Joel Hanrahan Should Be a Top Priority

Andrew Martin@@historianandrewCorrespondent IIINovember 13, 2012

Currently Hanrahan is the Pirates best trade asset.
Currently Hanrahan is the Pirates best trade asset.Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Pirates started 2012 in promising fashion before faltering to a 20-39 record during the final two-plus months of the season. Without a lot of money to spend this offseason, they will have to be resourceful to find ways to improve. The best move they can make right now is trading their closer, Joel Hanrahan.

Hanrahan has logged 76 saves and two All-Star nods the past two seasons. His potential trade value will never be higher than it is now.

MLBTradeRumors.com estimates that the arbitration-eligible Hanrahan will earn about $6.9 million in 2013, which is an absolute steal compared to the 2013 salaries of other top-flight closers like Jonathan Papelbon ($13 million).

Hanrahan would represent an attractive option to any number of teams as either a closer or a set-up man. The Pirates won’t be able to keep him when he becomes a free agent in 2014, so they might as well trade him now to possibly upgrade areas of need like middle infield or catcher.

Other than outfielder Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates lack top-flight talent and must depend on having good depth. Even with mega prospect pitchers Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole on the verge of being ready, the team needs to continue stockpiling young players.  

Wild and relatively ineffective earlier in his career with the Nationals, Hanrahan harnessed his impressive fastball in Pittsburgh, which according to FanGraphs has averaged 95.2 MPH for his career. Now one of the best closers in the game, he would be missed by the Pirates but could help the team by bringing a couple of mid-level young players or prospects back in a trade.

In addition to his relatively affordable salary Hanrahan also offers durability and consistency. He has appeared in 63 or more games in each of the past five seasons and has averaged of 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings with a 3.40 ERA during that stretch.

MLBTradeRumors.com’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports that the Tigers, Dodgers and Angels are all larger market teams who could be in the hunt for major bullpen upgrades this offseason. Hanrahan would be a great fit in all three locations.

It would be difficult to replace Hanrahan in Pittsburgh but it can be done. GM Neal Huntington has done a marvelous job in recent seasons crafting his bullpen from castoffs and low-profile guys from the minors. There is no reason to believe this cannot continue.

The most obvious candidate to replace Hanrahan as closer is current set-up man, Jason Grilli. The hard-throwing righty may have just turned 36, but he seems to have hit his stride as a pitcher, averaging a career-high 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings this past season.

Grilli is a free agent, but it’s likely that the Pirates could lock him into a reasonable deal, especially if they were willing to give him more than one year. Nicholson-Smith believes that $10 million over two years would get a deal done. Such a contract would also make Grilli an attractive trade chip down the road if the need ever arose.

The Pirates have a number of intriguing options in the minors to plug into their bullpen in 2013. Former first-round draft pick Vic Black dominated Double-A last season with a 1.65 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 60 innings. Taillon and Cole, who will both eventually be starters, could also get their feet wet in the majors by initially pitching in relief.

As the Pirates move closer to contending they will need to continue making shrewd decisions and moves. The best way they can start implement that philosophy this offseason is by seeing what they can get from trading Hanrahan.

Statistics via BaseballReference

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