The 2012 season continues to unfold in an interesting way. After the horrific offensive output to start the year, the Bucs are slowly erasing their negative run differential, making their contention for a playoff spot more and more credible. This is great news for fans - we get to watch a fun team with post-season aspirations. It has created one problem, however, for General Manager Neal Huntington: As the trade deadline approaches, he must decide if the Pirates will be buyers or sellers.
During the off-season, I think many of us assumed that the Bucs were going to be sellers again, and that Hanrahan would be one of the first gone by the trade deadline. Not only is he about to get more expensive, he's exactly the type of player GMs covet at the deadline. Beyond that, I was just hoping for some solid production from Burnett and Bedard to increase their value, with perhaps some good play from Presley, Jones and McGehee. The Pirates would ship these guys out and add some pieces that would be useful for when the team was actually ready to contend.
Then some funny stuff started happening: JMac turned into one of the best pitchers in the baseball this season, and along with Burnett and Bedard, turned the Bucs starting rotation into one of the most dependable in the National League. Andrew McCutchen has turned it up two notches and is now a legitimate MVP candidate. And Pedro Alvarez... I don't know what the heck to make of Pedro.
So here they are, contending - and it may even be for real.
But this team is far from perfect. I don't feel like I need to explain again what's been said better elsewhere, except to say that the organization has long-term holes at SS and 1B, to go along with serious question marks at C, 3B and the corner OF spots. So what is Neal to do? Should he be buying or selling? In my opinion, the longer the team keeps winning, the more likely the Bucs will be buyers at the deadline, but I think Joel Hanrahan provides a good opportunity to deal from a strength and improve the team for the future.
Hanrahan is a good closer and seems like a good dude, but his performance is probably replaceable. His K rate is still good, but he's giving up more walks and homers than he did last year. His xFIP is a run and a half higher than his ERA. He's probably due for a little regression soon. Still, he's picking up saves, so his value is about as high as it could be. With Lincoln back in the bullpen (where he's been downright dominant)and Morris just called up, the Pirates may already have the tools on hand to replace the Hammer.
But here's the reason I think it's time to trade the Hammer: They don't have to.
Normally at this time of year some GM would be calling NH up and saying, "Neal, we know you have to move X, or you're going to get nothing when he leaves via FA. We'll give you two marginal C prospects. Take it or leave it." If the Bucs are winning, however, NH can counter that by saying, "Look, we're trying to win our division. If you want our closer you're going to have to pay for him." As long as they continue winning, NH has more leverage in this situation than he has ever had before.
Now, I'm not advocating trading Hanrahan just to trade him. It has to be the right deal. But if the right deal comes along, one that could find a future long-term piece for this team, I say NH should pull the trigger.
What do you guys think?