A special edition of Nine Innings as the Red Sox’s quest to fill the entire 40-man roster with relief pitchers continues with the pending acquisition of Joel Hanrahan …
1. Here’s hoping that acquiring a new closer every offseason doesn’t become to Ben Cherington what acquiring a new shortstop was to Theo Epstein through the middle of the last decade. So far, he’s averaging a closer per winter as the Red Sox general manager, and I’m not sure that’s quite the ideal ratio. Last winter, following the departure of Jonathan Papelbon via free agency to the Phillies, the Red Sox acquired the established if injury prone Andrew Bailey from the A’s. Bailey promptly got hurt, and though it was a fluke injury rather than, say, a recurring sore elbow or something actually ominous, the deal for Hanrahan, who has 76 saves over the past two seasons, suggests that Bailey isn’t held in the same regard by the Red Sox brain-trust as he was when he arrived here.
2. There’s already speculation that the Red Sox intend to buttress their ace-free starting rotation by building a beast of a bullpen, with Bailey, Hanrahan, Uehara, and Junichi Tazawa all in key roles. I’m skeptical, not of the approach, but that it’s feasible. Both Hanrahan and Bailey — who had 75 saves with a 2.07 ERA in three seasons with the A’s — are established closers, which means they’re both going to want to close. Given that there were rumors that Bailey (rather than Mike Aviles) would be the compensation sent to the Blue Jays for John Farrell, I suspect that he’ll be among the sudden excess of relievers on the current roster who will be reporting to spring training somewhere other than Fort Myers.
3. The price for Hanrahan — outfielder Jerry Sands, change-of-scenery candidate Mark Melancon, and righthander Stolmy Pimentel — doesn’t appear steep, though I’ll amend that if Franklin Morales ends up going to Pittsburgh in an expanded version of the deal. And he’s one more high-character, affable personality in the remodeled clubhouse. It’s just that I’m not sure I’d prefer him over a healthy Bailey as he Red Sox’ closer in ’13, provided that such a thing as a healthy Bailey exists. On the surface, the hard-throwing 31-year-old righthander’s numbers aren’t bad, having posted a 2.72 ERA while allowing 40 hits and striking out 67 in 59.2 innings last season. But Hanrahan’s walk-rate rocketed from 2.1 per nine innings in ’11 to 5.4 last year, and his 4.45 FIP suggests that his ERA is seriously misleading. And his top-five most similar pitchers through age 30 will make a Sox fan shiver: Todd Jones, Mark Wohlers, Heathcliff Slocumb, Bobby Howry, and Antonio Alfonseca. Yeesh. And I cut it off before we got to Matt Mantei.
4. I was as adamant as anyone that Daniel Bard should be given a shot to start — I’ll pause while you point and laugh — and it’s hard not to think that had he been given the first shot to close, trades for both Bailey and Hanrahan wouldn’t have been necessary. Here’s hoping John Farrell can repair him, but right now, it’s beyond optimistic to consider him a viable candidate for the roster.
5. Though I’m puzzled why anyone, pre-Stephen Drew deal, wanted him to start the season as the everyday shortstop when he still hasn’t proven he can hit Triple A pitching adequately, I’m glad Jose Iglesias apparently isn’t involved in this deal. If he can just hit .250 with more than an occasional walk, his spectacular glove will justify his place in the lineup. I want to find out whether he can do that. The quest should begin at Pawtucket in ’13, but here’s hoping it continues fruitfully at Fenway. Good-field, no-hit shortstops get frustrating fast, but his glove is so spectacular that just a little bit of competence at the plate would go a long way.
6.Besides, the rumor that Iglesias would be going to Pittsburgh had me wondering why Cherington seemed intent on establishing a trend as foolhardy and counterproductive as trading young position players for relief pitchers. I’m not sold on Josh Reddick long-term, and Jed Lowrie is about as sturdy as a fungo bat, but you’d hope those two deals would stand as a lesson on the value of young position players versus the year-to-year volatility of even proven relief pitchers. And it is curious that the Red Sox have apparently traded Melancon, one of the relatively high-profile relievers acquired last year, in a deal for Hanrahan, whose arrival could lead to the departure of last year’s other touted relief pickup, Bailey.
7. Jerry Sands, we hardly knew ya. He didn’t even get his chance to be the next Billy Ashley or even program the route from McCoy Stadium to Fenway into his GPS. I’m very curious how he will fare — he put up big numbers in Albuquerque (at least when context and ballpark factors are dismissed), and John Valentin raved about him to Nick Cafardo. But he has just a.701 OPS in a decent sample of big-league plate appearances (251), and he doesn’t have the skill-set to provide value elsewhere if he’s not hitting for consistent power. Seems like he’s the type of player the Pirates should be taking a flyer on.
8. By my quick count, Hanrahan will be the fifth significant player brought on board (Stephen Drew, Uehara, Shane Victorino and Ryan Dempster) since the Red Sox agreed to terms with the still unsigned Mike Napoli. Anyone out there expect it to happen at this point? Yeah, neither do I.
9. As for today’s Completely Random Baseball Card:
In a combined 80 innings over 74 appearances last year, Uehara and Tazawa combined for 88 strikeouts and eight walks. Yes, eight. That’s my cause for bullpen enthusiasm for the day.