Rumors had been swirling around free agent pitcher Joel Hanrahan since winter. Hanrahan is a proven closer who ran into a some issues last season with the Boston Red Sox posting a 9.82 ERA in just 7 1/3 innings. But in early May the reason for his struggles was revealed. The, now 32-year old right-hander, needed Tommy John Surgery which ended his 2013 season.
Hanrahan has a career ERA of 3.85 and a total 100 career saves. Originally a starting pitcher with the Nationals, he became the Pirates closer in 2011. Hanrahan made the All-Star Team both seasons he played in Pittsburgh collecting 40 saves in 2011 and 36 in 2012.
As teams became aware that Hanrahan was getting ready to make his return to baseball and pitchers were dropping like flies to the same fate as Hanrahan, there was a lot of buzz surrounding the free agent. He threw in show cases for multiple clubs, the most interested being the Tigers, Yankees, Rockies, Rangers and Red Sox. His velocity was impressive, reportedly reaching 91-93 mph just 11 months after having the surgery. That velocity is expected to rise up to his pre-procedure mid-90’s average.
Friday CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman was the first to report that Hanrahan had finally signed with the Detroit Tigers. The two parties agreed on a one-year, $1 million contract plus up to $2 million in incentives. Hanrahan said he was most interested in signing with the Tigers because of Tigers’ center fielder Torii Hunter. The two have the same agent. About now being a part of the Tigers’ organization Hanrahan said,
“I’m definitely excited to be a part of the Tigers, At the beginning, I had them pinpointed as a place I’d like to play. I had a good recruiter in Torii Hunter. He’s a good friend of mine. We stayed in touch this off season.”
Hanrahan is a great pick up for the Tigers. They are not in need of a closer having signed Joe Nathan in the off season but their bullpen definitely could use some stability. In March 23-year old Bruce Rondon left a hole in Detroit’s pitching that needed to be filled. Unfortunately Rodon was another victim of a torn ulnar collateral ligament which required season ending Tommy John Surgery. The Tigers bullpen has struggled so far in 2014 and has a combined ERA of 5.37. They needed depth behind current set-up man Joba Chamberlain and Nathan, a service which Hanrahan can provide as the season begins to pick up this summer. It was a great deal for Hanrahan too who will be able to reestablish himself as an elite pitcher on a contending team. Team president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said of the deal,
“It’s well worth the gamble for us. Joel’s a well-established big league pitcher that can pitch in the back end of the game. We think he can stabilize our bullpen situation when he’s able to do so.”
Of course Hanrahan will not jump directly back into the majors still needing to work on his arm strength. He is expected to go through a sort of spring training camp at the Tigers facility in Florida. He apparently reported there Thursday for a physical before the deal was announced. He will begin throwing to batters within the week and is expected to be ready to join the team in about a month.
This will allow the Tigers to likely slide Chamberlain into a seventh inning spot and move Phil Coke and Evan Reed into more comfortable relief positions. Hanrahan will probably take over as the set-up man, keeping a hold on the lead for Nathan, something that Coke, Reed and Chamberlain have had issues doing. Al Alburquerque and Ian Krol can both go back into the specialty roles that better suit them and seemingly the Tigers’ bullpen woes could then be solved.
What will actually happen remains to be seen but in theory it sounds like the Tigers and Hanrahan make a great match.