The Pittsburgh Pirates, after multiple rumors they were looking to move him, dealt closer Joel Hanrahan to the Boston Red Sox on Saturday as part of a six-team trade. Hanrahan was a National League All-Star in each of the last two seasons for the Pirates, with 76 saves, a 2.24 ERA and a 9.0 K/9 rate over that span.
Hanrahan’s departure creates and opening at closer for the Pirates, and initial speculation suggests Jason Grilli is the front runner to take over the job. Grilli had a 2.91 ERA with 90 strikeouts and 22 walks over 58.2 innings (64 appearances) for the Pirates last season, and over the past two seasons with Pittsburgh he has pitched very well himself (2.76 ERA, 127 strikeouts over 91.1 combined innings). He signed a two-year deal earlier this offseason to stay with the Pirates after getting reported interest from multiple other teams.
The 36-year old Grilli has had a well-traveled major league career, pitching for the Florida Marlins, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies and Texas Rangers as well as the Pirates over 10 seasons. He has pitched almost exclusively out of the bullpen, making just 16 starts in 330 total appearances, but he also has just five saves during his career.
The transition to closing games full-time may be a tough one for Grilli, but fantasy owners should not ignore him. Pittsburgh’s primary closer has had at least 21 saves in each of the last five seasons, and in six of his last last seven full seasons as a manager Pirates’ skipper Clint Hurdle has had a closer get at least 30 saves. If the team can build upon the relative success of the last two seasons, there should be ample save opportunities next season for Grilli if he can lock down the job. Leaving the save chances aside, Grilli’s peripheral numbers in 2012 (1.14 WHIP, 13.8 K/9) are tantalizing for fantasy owners even if they don’t stay at quite that high a level in 2013.
Players on bad or mediocre teams are easy for a lot of fantasy baseball owners to overlook, but intrepid owners can use that to their advantage and find bargains on draft day. Grilli has the makings of just such a bargain in all league formats, though his value is slightly greater in NL-only leagues right now.