Detroit Tigers Seize The Initiative, Ink Joel Hanrahan

by Jon Erkkila | Posted on Friday, May 2nd, 2014
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Joel Hanrahan

Detroit Tigers GM David Dombrowski has moved decisively today to address a porous bullpen situation with his ball club. Dombrowski announced today the Tigers have signed free agent relief pitcher Joel Hanrahan to a one-year deal. Hanrahan is recovering from Tommy John Surgery which he underwent last summer as a member of the Boston Red Sox.

The move comes as the Tigers currently sport the 29th worst bullpen ERA in Major League Baseball and sentiments all over the baseball landscape were that no contender could seriously expect to make a serious run at a world championship with such a tepid looking crew.

The move is really one that carries little risk for the Tigers. Hanrahan’s deal runs through this season for the guaranteed price tag of $1M with incentives that could carry the deal to $3M (terms via a tweet from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale). The Tigers only investment here is owner Mike Ilitch’s cash. The Tigers do not have to dip into their rather thin farm system to try and take their first shot at bolstering their bullpen. Signing Hanrahan allows them to keep their trade powder dry for other moves that may occur throughout the summer.

In 2013 the Tigers needed bullpen help and coughed up two prospects to acquire veteran reliever Jose Veras from the Houston Astros. The Tigers received a paltry 19.2 innings of work from Veras and watched him get stung for a Game 6 Grand Slam by Shane Victorino in the ALCS. It won’t go down in Tigers annals as a great trade for Dombrowski.

That isn’t to say the Tigers shouldn’t have acquired a reliever. They had a need and that was the price. It’s just that anytime you acquire a reliever in mid-season, you are taking a big risk that the 30-innings or less you are acquiring will be helpful and that price is reasonable. Relievers are so unpredictable, it’s a major dice roll. The Hanrahan move allows the Tigers to take their shot at patching their bullpen with a pitcher who has had premium performance in his past without giving up anything but the bare minimum in financial investment. Certainly they can still look to make a deal to get further depth later this summer should Hanrahan struggle to come back. Prior to Hanrahan’s injury in Boston, he posted extremely good seasons in Pittsburgh from 2010 through 2012. The ’10 and ’11 campaigns in particular were sterling seasons where his very low ERA’s were matched by outstanding peripheral numbers in K-rate, K/BB ratio, FIP, and xFIP. The 2012 saw him post a still good 2.72 ERA but his actual performance as measured by many indicators, such as a FIP of 4.45, were well off his the standard he has set in the two seasons prior. So he was leaking a little oil that season, which may have been why the Pirates marketed him and found a buyer in the Red Sox.

Hanrahan appeared in only nine games in Beantown before succumbing to surgery. He showcased himself recently in Florida with up to 20 MLB clubs in attendance. He noted today in a press event that he had targeted the Tigers all along as possible destination to make his comeback as part of a contender. Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter was mentioned as having been recruiting Hanrahan to join him in Detroit.

What can the Tigers expect from Hanrahan? With relievers its complete guess work. The volatility of bullpen pitchers can be extreme. Certainly many pitchers come back Tommy John procedures and throw very well. Some take longer. The Tigers will be looking to get Hanrahan back at some point in June as he completes a minor league rehab stint. They’ll then be hoping to get about 35 to 40 innings of solid relief work. Make no mistake, they don’t necessarily need the fire-breathing relief Ace that Hanrahan looked like at time in ’10 and ’11. If they get 85% of “that guy” or perhaps a bit more, they’ll be more than satisfied to see Hanrahan take care of the 7th or 8th inning on a reliable basis. Every inning he assumes is one that current bullpen arsonist Phil Coke, for instance, will not be called on to assume. The Tigers don’t need much from Hanrahan to get value out of the signing.

Hanrahan will take part of the role that injured fireballer Bruce Rondon was supposed to handle in 2014. Elsewhere, Joe Nathan is rounding into form to handle the ninth inning and compile the saves. Joba Chamberlain is looking as a “so far so good” option in the 8th. Al Alburquerque, Ian Kroll, Evan Reed are pitchers who look like they can throw hard enough to compete on most nights. The makings of a decent bullpen are on hand…but the added depth of Hanrahan could be the mid-summer jolt to help the Tigers along into autumn.

Young pitchers are also on the way in the Tigers system should the Tigers need help. Former Texas Longhorn closer Cory Knebel is thought by many to close to ready. Rondon-lookalike Melvin Mercedes is throwing heat in Toledo. Top prospect Robbie Ray may also be called on at some point to buttress the Tigers bullpen. Ray is making his major league debut next Tuesday with a spot start in place of Anibal Sanchez.

Dombrowski is an aggressive executive. He is not one to let his team wither without making moves to address weakness. The bullpen was one glaring need his team obviously is currently saddled with. The move may not have a pay off until mid-June, but acting decisively in early May was the right call, especially since the cost to do so was very reasonable. More moves may happen as the summer wears on…Stephen Drew could be a Tiger after the MLB Draft or another bullpen move could come about…but credit the Tigers for firing the first shot this season when it comes to roster tinkering and addressing a major need with a player that could really help them over the course of the season.

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Jon Erkkila
About the Author

Jon Erkkila is a native of Michigan's Upper Peninsula and a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan. Currently living in MLB Blackout Hell, otherwise known as Iowa. Follow him on twitter @yooper_ia

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