The Joel Hanrahan deal is finally complete, with the closer and Brock Holt heading to the Red Sox in exchange for Jerry Sands, Stolmy Pimentel, Ivan De Jesus Jr and Mark Melancon. Chad Beck has been designated for assignment in a corresponding roster move to make room on the 40-man roster for Sands, Pimentel and Melancon.
I had looked at Pimentel and Sands when the news partially broke on Sunday. Both players have an option year remaining so could (and in the case of Pimentel will) begin the year in the minors. To sum up, I believe that Sands will be a good addition to the outfield corners along with Starling Marte and Travis Snider, allowing Clint Hurdle to take advantage of platoon situations. He’s shown plenty of patience and power in the minors so the question will be whether this can translate to the majors. He did hit .253/.338/.389 (.325 wOBA, 108 wRC+) in 227 plate appearance with the Dodgers in 2011, showing plenty of plate discipline but little power. Pimentel’s upside appears to be limited to the bullpen due to an inability to replicate his delivery, however a reliever with a high-90s fastball and two above average offspeed offerings should have plenty of value in that role.
Mark Melancon was widely rumored to be included in the deal and is seen by many as the centerpiece for the Bucs. He’s coming off a poor year with the Red Sox, a season after closing for the Astros. He will likely take Jason Grilli’s eighth inning role next season with Grilli confirmed as promoted to close for the Pirates next season. The Pirates front office does like to have experience at the back end of the bullpen and this is what Melancon provides.
Melancon’s career in Boston began terribly, giving up five home runs and 11 earned runs over two innings and four games – resulting in a demotion to Triple-A. He dominated in Pawtucket with a 0.83 ERA in 21 innings. with 9.0 strikeouts per walk (27 to 3), and was much better in Boston after his recall in June with a 4.19 ERA in 43 innings, with 40 strikeouts and 10 walks and hitters combined for a .597 OPS against him – his ERA was spoiled by three appearances where he gave up four runs in each. Melancon’s results got better as the season progressed as he managed to get more velocity out of his fastball, highlighted by a spectacular last month where he struck out 13 and walked one in 10 innings, giving up just one run. While ending the season with a 6.20 ERA, both xFIP (3.45) and SIERA (3.08) both also provide scope for improved performance in 2013.
Brock Holt and Ivan De Jesus Jr is essentially a swap of the same player. Holt would have been depth for the Pirates next season and De Jesus will play the same role after the trade. As neither player is suited to play shortstop in the majors, De Jesus is currently better suited for the Pirates in a backup role at second and third base as he’s a right handed hitter. The positive is that he has shown a solid performance when facing left-handers in the minors, hitting .310/.414/.413 with strong plate discipline (17.3 K% and 14.6 BB%), leaving De Jesus competing with Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison for a spot on the bench next season. That essentially sums up De Jesus’ upside, although the same can be said about Brock Holt from the opposite side of the plate.
The front office missed out on receiving guaranteed upside in return for Hanrahan by not moving him over the summer/last winter/summer 2011 – as he approached free agency his value declined. Nonetheless, the club has received a solid return for the closer. Melancon could very easily return to being the reliever that closed for the Astros in 2011, putting up a 2.78 ERA (3.14 xFIP, 2.93 SIERA) over 74.1 innings. He’ll also receive the league minimum next season and will be under team control for the next four years. Furthermore, Sands, De Jesus and Pimentel have six years worth of team control each, so the club could very easily find some long term value for a year of Hanrahan (as well as Holt).
Looking at the deal itself, it’s a good trade for the Pirates. The club is buying low on Melancon (who will replace Hanrahan in the pen), Sands provides the outfield with more power and De Jesus is a better fit than Holt for the current roster, with Pimentel as an upside pick up at this point. At the same time it’s a good deal for the Red Sox; they have received an established closer for pieces that they probably won’t miss. This trade is all about the Pirates gambling (as well as saving money); so from an outsider it will appear that it’s a trade that the Red Sox have won. Many Pirates fans will not like the deal either, considering that the club is losing a big piece of the bullpen. Nonetheless, the club has taken a worthwhile gamble on Melancon, Sands and Pimentel – all three could play important roles in the future.
One thing that cannot be escaped is that trading Hanrahan is a salary dump, as the club will be saving around $6M on the 2013 payroll – but then it’s one that has been required all winter and it's only for a small bullpen downgrade (before other parts are considered). Spending so highly on a closer (10% of the club's payroll) is not something the Pirates can afford to do. It’s a luxury that should only be done once the roster is complete and there is space to spend – and neither applies to the Pirates at this point.
The Hanrahan trade now allows the club to spend on Francisco Liriano, a player that will provide the club with more value in 2013. It is the decisions earlier this winter – notably non-tendering Jeff Karstens that required the club to look for a starting pitcher, spending on Russell Martin and to a lesser extent Jason Grilli and Charlie Morton – that have forced the hand of the front office with these two very-much-related moves. Whether it is believed that the trade was necessary therefore depends on the other moves this winter, with the Morton/Karstens decisions likely forming the basis of any arguments for the Pirates not needing to move Hanrahan. Nonetheless, the trade itself is a solid move for the Pirates, which could improve the club in the short and will in the long term, given that Hanrahan would have departed next winter in any case.