Friday, December 28, 2012

A think piece on the Hanrahan trade

1) This looks like a salary dump.
Dejan Kovacevic quite explicitly stated that he thinks it is. And there's great logic to back that notion, what with Neal Huntington doling out extravagant contracts to extraterrestrial walk machine Francisco Liriano and slow-fuse time bomb Russell Martin, on top of handing Charlie Morton $2 million for what will probably amount to a half-season's worth of rehab starts. The Pirates could afford to pay Hanrahan the $7 million he'd probably be awarded in arbitration, but that's not how they do business, so they have to offset some payroll. In a vacuum, I agree with the idea that it's not wise to drop $7 million for one year of Joel Hanrahan at this stage of the game. But the fact of the matter is that if the Pirates were interested in getting good return on Hanrahan, they would have traded him in either of the previous two offseasons, like we here at FTC have been straight up shouting for them to do. Franco said it in June of 2011. I said it a month later. I made a specific request earlier this year, too. I don't think the Pirates could have done much better in trying to move a 31-year-old relief pitcher who is due $7 million after spending all of last season in marriage counseling with his slider, as his BB/9 rates returned to normal after two solid years.

2) There's a bigger problem here.
Something I don't think I've seen called to attention in all of the wretched, knee-jerk analysis of this trade is that when the Pirates acquired Hanrahan from Washington, they bought low on him. That used to be something we talked about a lot around here. The Pirates bought low and sold high. In that deal, they sold high on Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett -- and everyone freaked the fuck out because they traded the quirky lunatic with the weird eyebrows -- and bought low on Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge (one quirky lunatic begets another). People here thought of Hanrahan as a throw-in when that deal went down, but a cursory glance at his major league strikeout numbers and pedigree (second-round draft pick, 9.4 K/9) suggested that the flaw in his game (5.1 BB/9) was something the Pirates thought they could fix. And for two years, they did. Between 2010 and 2011, Hanrahan's K/9 stayed steady, but his BB/9 fell to 2.7 over that two-year period. That's an astonishing drop. Now I'm clearly on-record as stating that Neal Huntington is a stupid asshole who needs to be fired, but let's give credit where credit's due: someone in the Pirates' front office looked at Joel Hanrahan and said to Huntington, "get this guy," and Huntington listened.

The methodology I used to believe existed in the Pirates' front office breaks down, in this case, when the Pirates repeatedly neglected to sell high on Joel Hanrahan. Relief pitching might be the single most expensive commodity in baseball. Teams overpay for it like mad, and the absurd contracts teams continuously give to closers are evidence of this. A strong closer can fetch you a princely sum, either at the deadline or in the off-season. Were the Pirates interested in keeping with the methodology of replacing expensive pieces with younger, cost-controlled talent the club could retain for multiple years, Hanrahan would have been traded a long time ago. That's how savvy teams operate. By that same token, it's not as though there are no other strong-armed relievers doing battle with their breaking pitches who might benefit from changes of scenery out there. The Pirates need to do a better job of finding and acquiring that next guy. For a front office that's done such a good job of putting together quality bullpens out of rubber bands, bits of cyanide and scotch tape, I can't imagine why they'd hesitate to trade a high-value, totally replaceable piece like Hanrahan if it meant addressing more pressing needs, such as, say, finding anyone at all who can hit.

3) A quick note on the relevance of closers
Hey, how about a holiday metaphor? Closers are the Santa Claus of baseball.

Generally speaking, I agree with the argument that closers aren't as important as they seem. As evidence, I cite that every baseball game played from the beginning of time until the save became an official statistic in 1969, all ended. Just as Christmas somehow existed long before Santa Claus.

The gist of it is this: if you, are good, but not so good as to lead by more than three runs with one inning left in the game, or less than one inning left in the game and ahead with the tying run either on base, at bat or on deck, an overweight man with terrifying facial hair and job-specific music will appear out of left field (or left-center) in a cart driven by a team employee who might sometimes be dressed as an animal. The special man will come and help you win the ball game. If you're up by more than three runs and these conditions don't apply, congratulations. You have learned the true meaning of baseball, which you find to be reward enough itself, invalidating all the extraneous window dressing.

That said, I don't think having a closer is a gross misuse of resources, nor do I think it's out of the question to pay extra for a closer if your team is close to contending. Players develop roles on teams, and that's become a big one in baseball. 

4) Grading the trade
The Pirates give:
  • Joel Hanrahan, a likable chap of considerable heft whose goatee and exploits are well-documented
  • Brock Holt, who, even on the day he walks his only daughter down the aisle to give her away to a successful doctor or lawyer or future Nobel Laureate, will probably still wish he was two-thirds as good as Daniel Descalso (.245/.318/.337)
The Pirates get:
  • Jerry Sands, a 25-year-old 1B/OF who went to the Red Sox from the Dodgers in the biggest payroll dump of all-time, and whose minor-league numbers, lack of big-league playing time and overall background make me think he's the second coming of Andy LaRoche
  • Mark Melancon, a 27-year-old right-handed reliever who was terrible last year, but whose peripherals suggest that he's a pretty good bounce-back candidate for 2013 -- a more than serviceable replacement for Chris Resop, who could also close if Grilli falters.
  • Stolmy Pimental, a 22-year-old righty starter whose stock as a prospect has shriveled since Neal Huntington tried to get him in the Jason Bay deal in 2008 -- real eye for talent, that Neal -- and who has spent the last two full seasons pitching in Double-A. For those of you unfamiliar with how the minor leagues work, two years in Double-A is shit-or-get-off-the-pot territory for prospects.
  • Ivan de Jesus, Jr., a scrub utility player who will forever fight to escape the shadow of his father's career .649 OPS
Official FTC TradeGrade: Whatever.

No comments: