Pirates Trade Hanrahan, Holt to Red Sox
After a break for the Christmas holiday, the Red Sox and Pirates quickly ironed out their remaining issues and announced that the trade of Joel Hanrahan has been completed. As initially reported, Mark Melancon, Jerry Sands and Stolmy Pimentel have been sent to the Bucs in return for Hanrahan. The new components revealed today are Brock Holt, who joins the Red Sox, and Ivan DeJesus, Jr., who travels to Pittsburgh. Needless to say, this latter exchange won’t change most opinions; if you liked the trade as first proposed, you will probably still like it, and vice-versa. I am in the former camp.
Neal Huntington was between a rock and a hard place with regards to Hanrahan, partially an outcome of his own making. Having decided it would be best to insure that his head remained attached to his neck, Huntington did not consider trading Hanrahan at the deadline in each of the last two seasons, despite the likelihood of a greater return; such is the peril of unexpected competitiveness. At this point Hanrahan has only one year of team control left, at an expected salary of $7M through the arbitration process. There aren’t too many scenarios worse than this one when you are trying to trade a closer.
So how did Huntington make out? I would say very well, even though this is not an impact trade for the Pirates, either in terms of immediate improvement of the major league roster or the farm system. Melancon is the best piece for them – he projects to perform at about the same level as Hanrahan but he is only 27 and has three years of team control left.
I have always liked Melancon; he strikes people out, doesn’t walk too many, and typically sports ground ball rates in the 50% range. What went haywire last year was his HR/FB percentage, which ballooned from an average rate around 10% to 22.2%, mostly due to the five home runs he allowed in April, which earned him a trip to Pawtucket. Upon his return, Melancon allowed only three in 43 innings of work.
I will miss Joel Hanrahan; he had a terrific 2011, got the job done more often than not in 2012, and was by all reports a good teammate and nice guy. But the Pirates can’t afford to pay closers $7M per year, unless they reach a point when they are loaded for bear and ready to win immediately. Trading Joel was a good idea, and Melancon is by no means a weak return.
As for the rest of the trade, I will start with the player I like most, Stolmy Pimentel. I saw a good deal of Pimentel in October and November when he pitched in the Dominican Winter League for Las Estrellas Orientales. His stuff impressed me immediately; Pimentel has a live fastball that sits at 92-93, and he combines it with a plus changeup that is a swing-and-miss, major league ready pitch. His breaking ball has never really come around, but it flashes some promise.
The problem with Pimentel, as it is with so many young pitchers, is command. His delivery is deliberate and quiet, but he has a tendency to fly open at the very end, which makes it difficult for him to maintain his release point. This weakness, plus the lack of a major league breaking pitch, may relegate Pimentel to the bullpen, given the major problem with the timing of his acquisition – he has only one option remaining. Pimentel will have to make it to Pittsburgh after only one more season in the minors, and it may be easier for him to do so working out of the pen. With some success in that role, the Pirates may be able to stretch him back out in the future. Pimentel’s awful stretch in AA back in 2011 had a lot to do with a .370 BAbip and a very low strand rate, two metrics that returned to normalcy last season.
Here is where the trade starts to veer a bit off the track for the Pirates. Jerry Sands appears at first glance to be another one of Huntington’s long list of questionable acquisitions based more on outdated scouting reports and misinterpreted statistics than sound reason. Perhaps that is a little unfair to Sands; unlike many that came before him (Brandon Moss, Lastings Milledge, ad nauseaum) he has never been given a real chance at the major league level. Sands has always been fairly well-regarded, having entered 2011 as the 6th-rated prospect in the Dodgers’ system, with a reputation as a baseball rat with a solid makeup. But his numbers have to be put in the context of the parks he has played in.
Initially, it is hard not to see Sands as the prototypical AAAA slugger, a product of Albuquerque and the PCL in general. 2012 was his age 24 season, he was repeating the level, and he wasn’t even the best hitter on his team – that honor went to Scott Van Slyke, who was unceremoniously released by the Dodgers in the off-season. But there are clearly things to like in Sands’ record. He has maintained a high walk rate as well as a prodigious ISO throughout his professional career, and while Albuquerque is a terrific place to hit, he did perform 30% better than league average last season, ranking 5th among all outfielders in the PCL.
But how he fits into the Pirates’ plans is debatable. The Bucs already have Jose Tabata as a right-handed alternative to Travis Snider in right field, and Gaby Sanchez as a right-handed platoon partner for Garrett Jones at first base. In addition, they already added a similar – albeit left-handed – player, Clint Robinson, earlier in the off-season. Clearly there are too many pieces to fit on the Pirates’ 25-man roster, which suggests that Huntington will continue to stoke the hot stove as the winter progresses.
Today’s additions to the trade add further intrigue on the Pirates’ end. I think that Brock Holt can develop into an offensive-minded utility player; he lacks the defensive chops to handle shortstop – and probably even second base – on a full time basis, and he will have to learn to be less aggressive at the plate to reach base at an acceptable level. Ivan DeJesus, Jr., however, was always the more highly regarded player, with a better defensive reputation, but his bat, as well as his career, has stagnated since he broke his leg in a Spring Training game in 2009.
Since the injury, DeJesus Jr. has played more second base than shortstop, lessening his value, and his walk rate has bounced around like a bug on a hot skillet. He is out of options, but since he was already designated for assignment a month ago, he does not have to break camp with the Pirates; they can send him to Indianapolis if he does not make the squad. Still, there is a less than zero chance that Dejesus dials into some of the upside he once promised, and he is probably a better option today as a utility infielder and pinch hitter than either Jordy Mercer or Josh Harrison.
One way to look at this trade is to see Melancon as having a very reasonable opportunity to match Joel Hanrahan’s performance this season, even if it is not in the same role. That makes the rest of the trade Jerry Sands, Stolmy Pimentel and Ivan DeJesus, Jr. for Brock Holt. Despite my misgivings about Sands, this is clearly a smart baseball trade on the face of it, a judgment that does not even take into account the Pirates ability to sign Francisco Liriano with the salary they are saving on Hanrahan.
I, for one, am very interested in where Huntington is going with this move. There is more likely to follow; the Pirates are being reshaped in quite an interesting way for 2013 and beyond.