The Pittsburgh Pirates don’t have a lot of high-paid players or potential all-stars. They should be focused on acquiring them, not trading them away.
But in the case of two-time all-star closer Joel Hanrahan, the team should be exploring their options on the trade market this off-season.
That market began to take shape last week when the Miami Marlins traded struggling former closer Heath Bell in a three-team deal that sent Bell to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who in turn sent center fielder Chris Young to the Oakland A’s, who sent infielder Cliff Pennington to Arizona and prospect Yordy Cabrera back to the Marlins. In the deal, the Diamondbacks took on $13 million of the remaining $21 million owed to Bell.
On the closer trade market, the Pirates have a much more desirable piece in Hanrahan than the Marlins had in Bell, who had lost his job as the Marlins closer during the season. The Marlins were essentially just trying to get out from under his contract and were happy to get even a marginal prospect back in return. The Pirates could expect a lot more in return for Hanrahan than a prospect like Cabrera, who has some potential but no proven track record to this point in his minor league career.
In Hanrahan, the Pirates have a proven closer who has been named an all-star the past two seasons. He has helped solidify the back end of the Pirates bullpen and is a big part of why the Pirates have been competitive in the first-half of the last two seasons.
But he’s getting to be too expensive for the Pirates payroll.
The Pirates are spending a little more these days than they used to, and their budget should still continue to grow, but that growth will be steady, not instant.
The team’s payroll has grown the past few seasons, rising from $39 million in 2010 to $42 million in 2011 and $52 million in 2012. Even if they continue to expand their payroll, the Pirates likely won’t have a payroll above $60 million, and even that would be a significant jump.
Hanrahan made $4.1 million last season and is eligible for arbitration this off-season for the final time before hitting free agency. It’s likely, with the season he had in 2012, that he will be in line for a 2013 salary between $6-7 million.
As good as Hanrahan has been, it’s difficult for a team to be competitive when they are designating 10 percent of their salary to a player who only throws 60 innings per season.
The market for Bell wasn’t very good because of his poor 2012 season and high salary, not to mention the two years that are still guaranteed to him. In Hanrahan, a team would be taking on just one year of salary for a player who has been extremely productive.
Trading Hanrahan would benefit the Pirates in two ways. It would allow them to get a prospect or less-expensive player in return while also freeing up some money to designate towards other free-agent acquisitions.
In the meantime, set-up man Jason Grilli can do an adequate job filling in as the team’s closer until a prospect steps up or a cheaper option presents itself.
Saves are one of the most expensive stats a team can pay for, and despite Hanranan’s strong pitching the past two seasons, it’s just not an investment the Pirates can continue to make.