A few weeks ago Uncle Jack said that the Mariners weren’t done building their 2014 team. There are still some pieces to put into place and that we can still expect some moves from the M’s before Spring Training kicks off.
There were lots of rumors early on this offseason that the Mariners were in the market for a proven closer. Grant Balfour and Jim Johnson had frequently emerged as potential Mariner’s targets, but as of yet the Mariners haven’t closed a deal on any closers. For now the Mariners are still penciling Danny Farquhar into that closer position, and I’ve written in the past that bringing in an older closer would be a safe backup for the young Farquhar. At the time I proposed that John Axford would be a good pickup to back up Farquhar should there be some sophomore season issues. Axford went to Cleveland shortly thereafter and I was proven wrong.
Well, I’m back on the closer train again and a name that keeps popping up is Joel Hanrahan. The 32 year old reliever is currently a free agent after season-ending Tommy John surgery in May of 2013. Hanrahan pitched only 7.1 innings with the Boston Red Sox last season and we never really got a look to see if he could replicate his back-to-back All Star appearances as Pittsburgh’s closer in 2011 and 2012.
Over those seasons Hanrahan was lights out in the ninth inning, earning two All-Star appearances and settling into the closer role.
Hanrahan’s 2013 numbers are excluded because those 9 games are simply too small of a sample size to use, all of his numbers were inflated before his season prematurely ended.
Strictly by the numbers, it looks as though Hanrahan found a groove in Pittsburgh. Boston initially brought him in as their closer before he was shut down for Tommy John.
That injury is definitely the reason he’s still available through free agency. Understandably, teams are hesitant to take a chance on a guy who could end up throwing only 9 games again in 2014. On the other hand, Tommy John surgery is becoming so commonplace in baseball, that the stigma is slowly going away. It doesn’t take much snooping to find a plethora of other pitchers who have come back from Tommy John surgery with the same (if not better) performance as before.
A similar case would be newly acquired Tigers’ closer Joe Nathan. Nathan had already established himself as a premier closer with Minnesota, before he was sidelined for all of 2010 for Tommy John surgery.
It’s also worth nothing that Nathan was an All Star for all but 2011 in the above chart.
All of this to show that there is precedent for a closer coming back from injury and returning to All Star form. After coming back from his surgery, the Twins limited Nathan to 48 games and 44.2 innings in 2011. That rehab year was all he needed to bounce back, and in 2012 he was an All Star closer once again.
More importantly, Nathan’s paycheck took a big hit when he came back from that injury. He dropped from $11MM down to $7MM per season with the Twins.
While Hanrahan isn’t quite making the same amount of money ($7MM in 2013), it’s not unreasonable for him to take a very big hit on his next contract. I’m sure he won’t be dirt cheap like some of the other gambles the Mariners have taken, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to offer him a few million over the next few years to get back to form. The Mariners have already made a similar style deal with the oft-injured Franklin Gutierrez.
The best case scenario is that the Mariners can ride Farquhar for a while while Hanrahan gets his arm back, and then move one of them into a set-up role while the other closes. The worst case scenario is that he never bounces back, and we can add another tally to Jack’s failed moves.
It’s a gamble, but given his age and recent surgery, Hanrahan should come at a bargain, and given a season to reestablish, he fits in with the Mariners plans on winning in the next few seasons.