It Takes a Hammer To Build a Team

Joel Hanrahan is a great closer, no matter what happened in the second half last season. He’ll help the Red Sox, which had some issues in the bullpen last season. But “The Hammer” — who once came to the Pirates at the cost of Sean Burnett and Nyjer Morgan — will also help his former team on his way out.

If you can sign a guy who can do what your incumbent can do, but cheaper, then you’ve got a redundancy. Hanrahan is a right-hander who can throw 94 mph, has a great slider, plus-strikeout rates (27.7% the past four seasons), iffy control (10.3% the past four years) and some platoon issues (3.94 career FIP v LHB). Matt Swartz’s arbitration projection system has The Hammer’s cost at $6.9 million next season. Jason Grilli is a right-hander who can throw more than 93 mph, has a great slider, plus-strikeout rates (26.7% the past four years), iffy control (11.1% the past four years) and some platoon issues (4.02 career FIP v LHB). The Pirates just signed Grilli for two years and $6.75 million.

They had two capable closers, and one cost half as much as the other. Just as the team once traded away a capable center fielder (Nyjer Morgan) because they had a younger, cheaper one in hand (Andrew McCutchen), they once again traded away the more expensive piece for prospects.

Who knows if Jerry Sands will work out? The rumored centerpiece of the deal had minor league strikeout rates that weren’t great, and his major league strikeout rates so far have been bad. If he’s all patience, then it will take real power to play to his position: Major league first basemen have had isolated slugging percentages around .200 for the past 12 years. Another note is that the righty hasn’t shown major-league power against right handers — and there’s a risk he’s a short-side platoon player. If he works out better than that, he wouldn’t be blocked by Garrett Jones — who can play a scratch right field defensively and is more of a platoon piece himself — or Gaby Sanchez, who isn’t likely to put up that .200 ISO any time soon. If he’s a platoon guy, he can fit with Jones somewhere.

Will Stolmy Pimentel work out? He’ll soon be 23 and his numbers have slowly eroded as he’s advanced in the minor leagues. He has some gas — and a nice changeup — but he isn’t getting the whiffs or ground balls to go with his decent control. With gas like that, though, he could end up in the bullpen and be the Pirates’ next Joel Hanrahan, or at least be useful there. It seems he has at least two pitches, and that often works as a last resort in short stretches.

If the two young men work out to be just a useful bullpen piece and a platoon first baseman, respectively, the deal still will have been worth it. Actually, if one of the players works out, the deal will have been worth it. Joel Hanrahan was only under team control for one year, and at $7 million, there’s not a lot of surplus value.

Any useful cost-controlled piece will far outpace the surplus value The Hammer would have provided. And Jason Grilli looks like he can step in fine. It can be that easy, and the Pirates have done it before.

[Update: The full trade has Brock Holt, an iffy second base prospect, going to the Sox along with Hanrahan, with Jerry Sands, Stolmy Pimentel and Mark Melancon and Ivan DeJesus going to the Pirates. The addition of Holt helps balance the trade, but in all likelihood, it will still only take one player to succeed on any level in Pittsburgh to swing the trade their way.]

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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11 years ago

Still have to see what the other pieces are. Mark Melancon may be the most interesting player if the rumors about his inclusion are true.