The Pittsburgh Pirates just completed a 6-player trade with the Red Sox that sent P Joel Hanrahan and prospect infielder Brock Holt to Boston in exchange for OF/1B Jerry Sands, P Mark Melancon, P Stolmy Pimentel and IF Ivan De Jesus.
For Pittsburgh, the trade has been hailed largely as a “salary dump” and perhaps “the best the Pirates could get” for Hanrahan. However, the biggest takeaway may be a cautionary tale.
That is, the Pirates must trade Garrett Jones. Now.
If Neil Huntington’s deal is an unsatisfactory one, it’s because Hanrahan’s perceived value is still being seen through a 2011 lens. Hanrahan struggled with control last season and he allowed more home runs per nine than in either of his previous two seasons with the Pirates.
His walks per nine innings jumped from 2.10 in 2011 to 5.43 in 2012, according to FanGraphs. Most noticeably, his home runs per nine soared, from .13 in 2011 to 1.21 last season.
The Pirates held on to Hanrahan in each of the last two trade deadlines because they had competitive mid-season records. Those pennant races ended in dual feats of historical crash-and-burn, and Hanrahan’s trade value has now dipped due to his 2012 numbers.
Jones is coming off a career year in 2012, in which he posted a .274/.317/.516 triple-slash line and set career-highs in home runs (27), runs (68) and RBI (86).
Jones was an offseason acquisition for the Pirates in 2009, and signed a minor league contract to start his Pittsburgh career.
Like Hanrahan, Jones was a low-risk, low-expectation signing who blossomed after getting a chance for regular play on Pittsburgh’s not-quite-cutthroat roster.
Last season, it was thought that Jones would be the player in return for A.J. Burnett.
It’s unlikely that Jones is going to match his 2012 numbers ever again, and no player besides Marte or Snider would fetch nearly the same talent in return.
Tim Williams at Pirates Prospects weighed in on moving Jones now, at his highest perceived value, where Hanrahan was not:
Trading Jones would be smart in that in would be selling high on his value. It would also free up more payroll space, allowing the Pirates to make one more big move and provide a better guarantee to one of those question mark positions. The downside is that it would make first base an even bigger question mark. They’d be going with Robinson or Sands, who might be the next Jones, rather than Jones, who is already there.
It might be bad PR to move another player who contributed so much to last year’s team. However, those unhappy with the return on the Hanrahan deal should be clamoring for Jones to be moved.
In addition to his numbers, Jones can be expecting a bump in his 2013 salary, too. After earning $2.25 million last season, Jones will likely cash in on his career-best 2012 stats in arbitration.
Dealing him now would give his next club three seasons of team control (Jones is due for arbitration in each of the next three seasons).
Many are unhappy that the Pirates continue to make cost-conscious decisions as they are supposed to be moving towards improvement, but it’s a small-market certainty that they’ll likely never escape.
If Jones can provide some salary relief, it’s another notch in trade-now column.
As for stats, Jones’ numbers in 2012 were helped along by Andrew McCutchen‘s breakout offensive season.
Big payroll teams with dangerous hitters already on the roster could see Jones as a compliment to the middle of their orders.
Corner outfield is a position of depth and first base isn’t exactly a position of need with former All-Star Gaby Sanchez set to begin his first full season with the Pirates.
Given the perceived return on Hanrahan, the Pirates need to make a move on Jones. And soon.