Pirates ship Hanrahan, Holt up to Boston

Over the past few weeks, numerous rumors floated around Major League Baseball regarding a possible Joel Hanrahan trade.

Those rumors slowly became a reality on Saturday afternoon, as the Boston Red Sox closed in on a deal that would bring the two-time All-Star closer to Beantown. Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston was the first to report the rumblings.

Although a Hanrahan trade was inevitable heading into this offseason, this is still a tough pill to swallow for select Bucco fans. While the closer position is overrated, Hammer was a fan-favorite that saved 76 games over the last two seasons.

Neither of us are too upset that Hanrahan is gone. It was nearly guaranteed that he’d be traded this offseason. But we weren’t immediately pleased about what the Pirates got in return. We were pretty bummed to see the deal centered around former Dodgers prospect Jerry Sands. Boston beat writer Pete Abraham summed it up this way:

Apparently the Pirates are receiving “spare parts” after demanding a signficant return earlier.

From the opposite side of the debate, Jeff Moore of The Hardball Times claims that the Pirates have made a good baseball move.

Anyway, one name that frequently popped up as a possible return was shortstop Jose Iglesias. Despite a weak bat, Iglesias provides value defensively, as he’s great with the glove. Clint Barmes’ contract expires after 2013, and Iglesias is under team control until 2018. We would’ve liked this addition, as he could’ve stepped into the starting shortstop role after splitting time season. However, he was the first name to be eliminated from discussions:

The first member of the BoSox that was confirmed to be part of the package was 1B/OF Jerry Sands. Sands, 25, was sent to Boston from the Dodgers in the deal that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford, among others, to LA. According to Jim Bowden of ESPN, he has a long, loopy swing. He is a career .289/.376/.562 hitter in the minors, but hasn’t found much success in 70 MLB games.

Sands just adds to the logjam of first basemen and corner outfielders the Pirates have. Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez are penciled in at first, while a bunch of underachievers, including Alex Presley, Jose Tabata, and Travis Snider, hold down the corners. Starling Marte is unproven as well, but will most likely be the starting left fielder. With the addition of Sands, there may be another trade involving one of the players sooner than later.

The second Red Sox prospect named was pitcher Stolmy Pimentel. The 22 year old righty hasn’t had an ERA under 4.00 since 2009 when he was in A-ball. He was 6-7 with a 4.59 ERA in 2012 with the Class AA Portland Sea Dogs.

The third trade chip is 27 year old reliever Mark Melancon. He was dealt to the Red Sox from Houston last offseason for shortstop Jed Lowrie and pitcher Kyle Weiland. Melancon was solid in the closer role for the Astros in 2011, posting a 2.78 ERA and 20 saves. He struggled last season in Boston in 41 appearances. Despite a rocky 2012, he is the most intriguing player in this deal that is coming to Pittsburgh. Switching back to the NL Central should help Melancon, and he’ll likely be a key piece of the bullpen. Some insight from Peter Gammons:

The fourth and final player coming from Boston is 25 year old infielder Ivan De Jesus. He went to the Sox with Sands last year in the mega-deal. De Jesus is a career .298 hitter in the minors; he’s hit just .205 in 48 big league games. He will not be included on the Pirates 40-man roster.

The other player leaving the Pirates in the deal is Brock Holt. Holt, 24, soared through the minors last season and earned a call-up after hitting .432 in 24 games for Triple-A Indianapolis. In 24 MLB games, he hit .292 (19 for 65) and potentially earned the right to battle for a backup infield job in 2013. Catching prospect Tony Sanchez is sad to see Holt go:

With the departure of Hanrahan, the Bucco bullpen is up in the air. As of now, Jason Grilli seems to be the only true veteran in the ‘pen. Mark Melancon has experience in the bigs. Jared Hughes and Tony Watson will be in there as well. After that? Who knows, but we expect a combination of young players, and maybe Vin Mazzaro (who is out of minor league options). The bullpen could either be solid or a total mess next year; it’s really too early to tell.

The Pirates haven’t stood pat this offseason, whether the fans like it or not. First, they gave $17 million to a decent catcher that could be a total flop. Then they gave a 36 year old reliever, who struggled down the stretch, nearly $7 million. They are taking a huge gamble of almost $13 million on inconsistent Francisco Liriano. Now they’ve dealt their closer for salary relief and a few unproven players. As we mentioned earlier, another outfielder or first baseman (maybe Jones?) could be on the way out. All of these moves are pretty risky, and could definitely put some jobs on the line in the front office. If/when Neal Huntington is fired, there could potentially be some moves to point to.

Andrew McCutchen was slightly confused when word got out on Saturday:

… then tweeted a cover-up:

… but ultimately wished Hammer well:

Tony Sanchez:

Neil Walker:

Best of luck to Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt in Boston.

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Grilli to re-sign with Pirates

Plenty of rumors started flying around last Wednesday morning when these tweets surfaced:

Pirates.com beat writer Tom Singer made a lot of people think that “headed here” meant signing with Pittsburgh. However, Grilli had yet to make a decision, but his market was certainly heating up. Around ten teams were said to be chasing the veteran reliever.

More shenanigans ensued on Thursday, as Grilli was rumored to have his list down to four teams (Pirates, Cubs, Giants, Blue Jays) and that he’d be choosing by 10:00 am. But that deadline passed and all was quiet until there were rumblings that he’d be returning to the ‘Burgh. Grilli then denied those claims, saying “I have not made a decision. I don’t know where all these reports are coming from, bit it’s not helping me one bit.”

However, news broke shortly before 4:00 pm on Monday afternoon that he’ll be returning to Pittsburgh in 2013.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today says that Grilli turned down extra cash:

Grilli, who turned 36 last month, posted a 2.91 ERA last season in 64 appearances. He was impressive in the setup role throughout the year, until he stumbled a bit down the stretch. He had a 7.27 ERA and opponents hit .324 against him in his last 10 games. To his defense, the entire team had an abysmal last month of the season, so he’s certainly not the scapegoat.

The deal is for two years and worth $7 million. Many teams wanted to sign Grilli to become their new closer. Obviously, Joel Hanrahan is still on the roster and headed for arbitration. He’s due for a huge raise though; it doesn’t make much sense to keep two high-paid hurlers in the bullpen on a small market team like the Pirates, especially when they still have other needs to address. The Hammer, who’s already been the subject of trade talks this offseason, could be dealt sooner rather than later.

Some Jason Grilli highlights, courtesy of Drew Brown (@_DrewBrown on Twitter):

Go Bucs

2012 in Review: Bullpen

Closer Joel Hanrahan once again anchored the Bucco bullpen.

A consistent Bullpen was one of the strengths of the ballclub and paved the way to many victories.

The top five relievers in 2012:

Wins Losses ERA IP
Joel Hanrahan 5 2 2.72 59.2
Jared Hughes 2 2 2.85 75.2
Chris Resop 1 4 3.91 73.2
Jason Grilli 1 6 2.91 58.2
Tony Watson 5 2 3.38 53.1

Other pitchers to make relief appearances: Brad Lincoln, Juan Cruz, Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Chad Qualls, Doug Slaten, Evan Meek, Chris Leroux, Hisanori Takahashi, Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson, Rick van den Hurk, Daniel McCutchen.

For much of the year, the game was just about locked up anytime the bullpen took over.  Hammer and Grilli were lights-out, while Watson and Hughes really pitched well for how inexperienced they were.  Resop, although he got plenty of hate, really fit in well to the middle inning/multiple inning roles.  Other than that, the rest of the bullpen was pieced together for most of the year.  A handful of AAAA guys all had their moments, but ultimately couldn’t find a place in the ‘pen.  Some of this, however, could have been due to the mismanagement of the bullpen almost all year.  Looking forward to 2013, Hanrahan (possible trade) and Grilli (free agent) very well could leave, which would deplete the bullpen.  There is a solid group of young guys, with a few more in AAA hopefully on the way, but the bullpen is a bit of a question mark for next season.  Luckily for the Pirates, finding a group of relievers that make up a successful ‘pen isn’t too difficult, assuming your manager knows how to use them effectively.

Season in Pictures: June 2012


June 3rd, 2012
Andrew McCutchen is congratulated by Garrett Jones and James McDonald after knocking a two-run homer against Milwaukee. The Bucs started the month on the right foot by taking two of three from the Brew Crew.


June 7th, 2012
Michael McKenry flashes the Zoltan after driving in the go-ahead run in the tenth inning off Aroldis Chapman. It was Chapman’s first earned run of the season, and the Bucs won, 5-4.


June 10th, 2012
Jason Grilli and Rod Barajas celebrate the sweep of the Kansas City Royals. After a Cincinnati loss on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, the Pirates moved into first place.


June 16-17, 2012
Pedro Alvarez enjoyed two two-homer games in a row while the Pirates took the series from the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.


June 21st, 2012
Clint Hurdle congratulates James McDonald on his first career complete game. The Pirates defeated the Twins, 9-1.


June 29th, 2012
Andrew McCutchen is greeted at home plate by Jose Tabata and Alex Presley after his three-run home run in the ninth inning. Cutch went 4 for 5 with three RBI, four runs scored, a homer, a double, and a walk, as the Bucs cruised to a 14-5 victory.

Three months later

Shortly after Drew Sutton lifted the Bucs to an exhilarating victory over the Astros, Dejan Kovacevic wrote how “these aren’t Jerry Meals’ Pirates.” The date was July 3rd, and the Buccos were flying high. The 8-7 win pushed them to eight games over .500 for the first time in 20 years. Kovacevic wrote, “This team is touching peaks not seen in two decades, touching hearts that long ago gave up on baseball in these parts. It doesn’t deserve the digging up of negatives. It’s been too good, too resilient.”

Three months have come and gone since that special July night, as we sit here on October 3rd. The Pirates season is over; another disappointing summer in the books. A 20th consecutive losing season became official on Sunday afternoon as the Bucs squandered a late lead; a recurring theme in the second half. Much has changed over the last three months. They’ve been too bad; it’s time to dig up some negatives.

DK started right off the bat by saying, “This team is about James McDonald‘s cool, not another Jerry Meals collapse.” That’s the same James McDonald who showed zero cool in the second half, and saw his ERA climb from 2.37 to 4.21. J-Mac was so awful that he deserved a demotion to the bullpen. He made just one appearance out of the ‘pen, in which he allowed three runs without recording an out. He was a vital piece to yet another Jerry Meals collapse, as the Pirates dropped 37 of their final 54 games.

Next, “It’s about Drew Sutton, a minor-league journeyman twice disposed this year alone, crushing a hanging slider to walk off a hero. His eyes would well up later when he described “one of those baseball moments” that makes all the 14-hour bus rides worth it.” Sutton was disposed yet again, just weeks after his dramatic home run. Side note (totally unrelated to baseball talent) - Sutton was notorious for searching his own name on Twitter and oddly responding to fans:

He also enjoyed deleting such tweets, and eventually deleted his Twitter as a whole. Anyway, Sutton was canned after showing just a flash of success (much like his other two MLB stints of 2012). He went back to his 14-hour bus rides, before an injury ended his season.

Also, Dejan mentions, “It’s about the pitching, the sharpest and deepest we’ve seen since Doug Drabek,  John Smiley, Zane Smith, Randy Tomlin and Bob Walk in 1991. All to Neal  Huntington’s credit.” The pitching declined at the end of the year, just as it did in 2011. The sharp and deep staff – both the rotation and bullpen – took a serious hit in the second half, which caused major problems. The rotation was anchored by A.J. Burnett (more on him in a bit) and James McDonald (see above) during the first half, as well as lights out bullpen work from Joel Hanrahan and Jason Grilli. The ‘pen, which was one of the best in the league early on, saw some struggles during the latter portion of the year; even Grilli and Hanrahan had frustrating times on the hill. In addition, Neal Huntington – who was credited for piecing together a fine staff – is now unpopular among many fans. However, his job is seen as safe.

Kovacevic states, “It’s about A.J. Burnett, the pitcher and the person. If not for that 12-run  beating he absorbed May 2 to help spare the bullpen, his ERA would be 2.46, even  with this hiccup.” To Huntington’s credit, the A.J. Burnett trade was a steal of a deal. Still, Burnett couldn’t be perfect all year. He won just three games in 12 starts since the beginning of August. Although wins aren’t the best measure of a pitcher’s performance, A.J. wasn’t quite as dominant as he was in the first half.

Furthermore, “It’s about Clint Hurdle’s gem of a quote before the game about why Burnett has  taken to Pittsburgh: “He’s loved now. Norm used to like it when he walked into  Cheers, too.” Later, Dejan pens, “It’s about their boss. It’s Hurdle casually saying stuff like, “Our goal is to  re-bond this team with this city.” And meaning it.” Hurdle, who appeared to be the answer for the franchise, isn’t loved quite as much anymore. A man who was focused on re-bonding a city with their baseball team has failed at doing so (thus far). He wanted nothing more than his team to “finish” this season, but they’ve been far from it. From bunts to misusing his bullpen to all-around mis-managing, Hurdle infuriated the fan base on multiple occasions. What it boils down to is that he’s led the team to two straight collapses. While not all blame can be placed on one person – and it certainly shouldn’t be all on Hurdle – he’s certainly a focal point. He can provide gems of quotes, but is he still the man for the job? To put it in perspective, Hurdle has managed 10 MLB seasons; nine of those have been of the losing variety.

DK writes, “It’s about Andrew McCutchen, the team’s MVP and, as of those three hits  Tuesday, the National League leader with a .360 average… Those chants don’t seem far-fetched.” Cutch’s average peaked at .374, but slipped, slipped, and slipped some more with an abysmal August. He finished the month with a .252/.347/.346 triple-slash and just six extra-base hits. McCutchen’s power came back in September, but his average still in the .260′s for the month.  Don’t take it the wrong way - a .327 avg with 31 HR and 96 RBI is still an unreal season. But the team went as Cutch went; a pretty solid start, a phenomenal stretch, a disappointing finish. Those MVP chants soon died down.

Finally, the article describes,

 “…this 2012 season might end up having pivoted off a single pitch. You know which one. Eight days ago in Philadelphia. Brad Lincoln vs. Jim  Thome. The Pirates’ big lead was down to 8-7 in the seventh, two men on, two  outs, 0-2 count. The Same Old Pirates crumble there, sadly, meekly. But Lincoln reared back  and rifled 95-mph heat through Thome’s huge cut. It’s about that pitch. “Oh, I don’t know about that,” Lincoln said Tuesday. “But I know it was a big  moment. That’s why I got really emotional.”Yeah, there was that, too. Lincoln gestured slightly into a flexing pose  toward Thome, one he still insists “wasn’t aimed at him.” The two had a brief  staredown.”You know, we should really be past that,” Lincoln said. “Look at us. We  pitch, we play defense, we’re hitting now. We’re here, man. We’re not going  away.” Not this time.”

You know the script. Brad Lincoln, the pitcher who pivoted the season with one pitch, was dealt just weeks later. Yinzers believe it’s the worst trade in history because Lincoln’s having a good year and Snider is unproven. Sabermetricians and stat geeks think it’s a potential high-reward situation for the Pirates.

Regardless, it WAS the same old Pirates that prevailed. We pitch? 4.50+ ERA down the stretch. We hit? .229 team batting average in September. We field? Hmm… remember the seven errors in ONE GAME against the Cubs? Yikes. It’s crazy to reflect on the changes that occurred over the past three months. Down the stretch, it seemed like a completely different team than the one that stood waiting at home plate for Drew Sutton on July 3rd.

“‘We’re not going away.’ Not this time.” Well, they went away. They didn’t step up when it mattered most. Another embarrassing display of Pittsburgh baseball. Sad, really. And now they’re going away for real. The season’s over; no more Pirates baseball in 2012. PNC Park will sit still for six months. The stress and agony of being a Bucs fans can be pushed aside for a while. Hopefully next year will be different – less Jerry Meals talk, no 19 inning games – and maybe even a winning season (oh, please, don’t let the streak hit 21). But until then, it’s going to be a looong winter.

HOKA HEY – 179 days until Opening Day.