The Major League team that has undergone the biggest makeover this offseason may be the Toronto Blue Jays, but one of their division rivals isn’t far behind. The Boston Red Sox have already made several moves over the course of the last several weeks and they aren’t content to sit still. Even with Andrew Bailey ready to enter the season as the team’s closer, the Red Sox are on the verge of acquiring closer Joel Hanrahan from the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The full details of the trade are still not fully public, but several sources are reporting there will be six players swapping teams with four headed to Pittsburgh and two to Boston. Aside from Hanrahan, the only two other players confirmed to be in the deal are Red Sox minor leaguers Jerry Sands and Stolmy Pimentel. There are some within the industry who believe a Major League-level reliever could also be going to the Pirates, possibly Mark Melancon.
The 31-year-old Hanrahan heads to Boston after establishing himself as one of the top closers in baseball over the last couple of seasons. Since becoming the Pirates’ full-time closer in 2011, he has saved 76 games in 84 opportunities and made the National League All-Star team each season. The hard-throwing right-hander has a career 9.9 K/9 rate and has been one of the toughest pitchers to hit against in the National League. Last year, though, his BB/9 rate shot up to 5.4 after it was at just 2.1 in 2010. That increase came at the same time as his average fastball speed fell from 97 mph to 95.8, raising some eyebrows.
The move is an interesting one for the Red Sox because they already have a closer in Andrew Bailey. However, after being sidelined last year with a thumb injury, he had a very discouraging return to the bullpen. In 19 games he picked up just six saves and his ERA of 7.04 more than doubled his career high. So, between his injury concerns and his numbers during his time in Boston, he was far from a sure bet in the ninth inning role. It is unclear at this time whether Hanrahan or Bailey will be the team’s primary closer in 2013, but, at the very least, this deal will give the team versatility and depth in late game situations. The move will also give the Red Sox some much-needed flexibility on their 40-man roster.
As for what the Pirates receive in this deal, they will be getting two players who will be contributors in the future. Sands is a 25-year-old outfielder and first baseman whom the Red Sox received in a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers in August. After the 2010 season, Baseball America ranked Sands as the organization’s sixth-best prospect. Last year in AAA, he hit .296 with 26 homeruns and 107 RBI. He has raw power that the Pirates could use, but some scouts worry his long swing will limit his growth against Major League pitching.
Pimentel, meanwhile, has regressed during his time in the minor leagues. Baseball America once ranked him the sixth-best prospect in the Red Sox organization, but he has since fallen to 23rd. He hasn’t posted a winning record over the course of a full season since 2009 and in Double-A last year was just 6-7 with a 4.59 ERA. The 22-year-old still struggles with his mechanics and keeping command of his pitches. Scouts believe he has the stuff that can work in the Major Leagues either as a back end-of-the-rotation starter or a reliever.
Though there are still some unanswered questions to this deal, the Red Sox have traded for a closer for the second offseason in a row and the Pirates, while having recently signed more established Major Leaguers, are again adding to their young talent pool. The jury is still out on which team may have gotten the better end of the deal, but ESPN’s Jim Bowden believes that if Sands is the centerpiece of the Pirates’ package, the Red Sox win this trade handily. The full trade won’t become official until all players pass their physicals, which may not happen until after Christmas.