"The Hammer." Ring any bells? And no, I'm not talking about the WWF villain/hero from the 1980's; I'm referring to Joel Hanrahan, the former Pittsburgh Pirates closer whose season was cut short last year due to a damaged tendon in his right elbow. There has been little to no talk about him during this past off season nor during spring training, which baffles me. Hanrahan was lights out for a couple seasons in the Steel City and was a fine pitcher in the seasons leading to his breakout. Which leads me to ask, why hasn't a team (including the Tigers) signed Hanrahan to a contract?
To give you a brief summary of Joel Hanrahan; he made his Major League debut in 2007 as a starter for the Washington Nationals, but was converted to a bullpen pitcher in late 2008. Then comes 2009; Hanrahan was traded to the Pirates along with Lastings Milledge. From when he first joined Pittsburgh all the way to the tail end of the 2010 season "The Hammer" was a simple bullpen piece. But at the end of 2010, Hanrahan was named the team's closer. He was then named the Pirates Opening Day closer for 2011 and racked up 40 saves, along with a 1.83 ERA, and an All Star Game selection. Then 2012 rolled around, as did another All Star worthy year and another 35+ save season. After two and a half prosperous years with the Bucs, Hanrahan was traded to the Boston Red Sox. He appeared in only nine games, with a somewhat alarming 9.82 ERA in 7.1 IP when it was discovered he would have to undergo season ending surgery.
Fast forward to today; Hanrahan is a free agent and hasn't been talked about much. Why have the Detroit Tigers not signed him to a contract? It doesn't even have to be a major league contract, it could simply be a minor league deal. It wouldn't hurt to sign an established player, even if he is on the mend. It'd be a bit of a gamble, but last time I checked Joba Chamberlain was a gamble and the team gave him 2.5 million dollars. Many people, including myself are not satisfied with the current bullpen situation. Joaquin Benoit and Jose Veras are no longer in town and those two alone strengthened the Tigers relief staff, especially Benoit. The pen then waved goodbye to Drew Smyly, who ate up most of our innings as a long relieve when he was moved to the starting rotation. GM David Dombrowski pulled the trigger and signed Joe Nathan; and that's great because who doesn't like Joe Nathan? But as a closer, Nathan is not of much use if the team can't even get to the ninth inning. This is where Joel Hanrahan comes into play; he has the ability to be our setup man.
The Tigers are putting way too much confidence in Bruce Rondon. The man shows flashes of brilliance but for him to be the setup man seems questionable. And I don't think there is a person on the continent of North America that wants Phil Coke to have that role, although having him in the pen for a quick out seems reasonable. Other than that we are left with Al Alburquerque and Luke Putkonen. Using those two in various roles is plausible, but the setup spot is still an issue.
Hanrahan has never been a bad pitcher, it just wasn't until he was converted to the closer role that we saw what he was capable of. But after seeing his success in the closer role, the transition to the setup spot wouldn't be a stretch. It's still one inning, just not the last inning. Looking at Hanrahan's numbers as a closer, it's hard to understand why he is still a FA. With 68.2 IP in 11', he only gave up 14 runs and a 1.83 ERA. And with 59.2 IP in 12', a 2.72 ERA and 18 ER's was the case. Those numbers are far better than Rondon's 11 ER's in 28.2 IP, as well as Coke's 5.40 ERA in 28.1 IP. All I'm saying is that Hanrahan's numbers are much better than what we currently have and signing him to a minor league contract won't hurt the team at all. But David Dombrowski needs to do it quick before teams such as the New York Yankees or Baltimore Orioles swoop in and take him. For all we know, he could have another all star season. Sure it's a gamble, but isn't the entire sport of baseball?