The Pirates, who would not be able to afford that type of price tag for a closer, are fortunate not to be in the market for one. But with the recent ballooning of contracts for closers, and Pittsburgh's own Joel Hanrahan sitting only two years away from free agency, two interesting questions emerge.
Would the Pirates attempt to sign Hanrahan to a long-term contract now, before free agency becomes an issue? Or would the club entertain trading Hanrahan this offseason if a deal could net a substantial return?
To the first question, the answer remains: Not yet. The Pirates and Hanrahan have not engaged in talks about a possible contract extension, though neither party has ruled out the possibility of it eventually happening. Hanrahan, as you would expect, would gladly welcome the discussion.
"Yeah, of course I'd listen to it," said Hanrahan, who saved 40 games in his first full season as the club's closer. "It's every player's goal to get a multiyear contract. If they approach me with it, I'll listen to it and take it in. It's a situation where we'll see what happens.
"I don't think the track record with relievers and long-term deals in Pittsburgh is much because I don't think they've handed too many of them out. But I'd be prepared for whatever."
Hanrahan is right. Since general manager Neal Huntington took his post in September 2007, he has handed out only one multiyear deal to a reliever. That went to closer Matt Capps, who signed a two-year, $3.05 million contract that covered the 2008-09 seasons.
The contract did not buy out any of Capps' free-agent years. And the Pirates actually ended up non-tendering Capps after he posted a 5.80 ERA in the final year of that deal. Capps' results didn't exactly make an argument supporting the practice of extending relievers.
While Huntington employs a policy of not speculating about contracts, he did note that there are some general parameters when it comes to the risk involved in offering multiyear deals.
"Long-term contracts for position players tend to be the safer bet," Huntington said. "The bigger misses are on the pitching side. The biggest misses are on the relief pitcher side. That said, it doesn't mean we'd be completely close-minded to [signing a reliever to a multiyear deal]."
If the Pirates were going to approach Hanrahan, now would seem the opportune time. Hanrahan is set to receive a sharp increase from the $1.4 million he earned in 2011 as he goes through the arbitration process for a second time. Saves are a number that benefit a player tremendously in an arbitration hearing, and Hanrahan finished with the sixth-highest total in the National League.
Assuming Hanrahan has another successful season closing in 2012, he'll be due another substantial arbitration increase in 2013.
By offering Hanrahan a multiyear deal now, the Pirates would be able to buy out those last two years of arbitration and possibly secure Hanrahan's services beyond 2013. While the hesitancy on the Pirates' part is surely related to the poor track record of closers and long-term deals, it might also have to do with the fact that Hanrahan has had only one strong year as a closer.
The 30-year-old right-hander entered 2011 having saved just 20 games in his first four seasons in the Majors. Still, since being traded to Pittsburgh in June 2010, Hanrahan has posted a stellar 2.55 ERA in 175 appearances.
"I think until you get two or three consistent years of [closing], I can't say I'm at that [elite] level," Hanrahan said. "I'm not going to go home and say, 'I made the All-Star team. I had 40 saves as a closer.' There is still work that needs to be done. I can't rest on this year. I have to continue to go out there and be consistent. I want to be successful for a long time."
There is the chance that the absence of any negotiations could be an indication that the Pirates are willing to trade Hanrahan -- obviously, only if the net return is significant enough. With the price that teams are willing to pay for free-agent closers, it would stand to reason that several would be interested in Hanrahan, if he is made available.
By entertaining offers for Hanrahan, the Pirates could try to address the other holes that must be filled this offseason. The Pirates would only go in this direction, though, if they are also confident that they have a capable option (Evan Meek, perhaps?) who would be able to step in if Hanrahan left.
Hanrahan has expressed a sincere fondness for Pittsburgh and has spoken several times about wanting to be here when the Pirates turn things around. How long his tenure in Pittsburgh will be may end up being out of his control. His efforts of building on his 2011 success won't be.
"This year, I didn't set any personal goals. No expectations," Hanrahan said. "I didn't put any pressure on myself. Really, I just went out there and had fun. I tried to be the same person every day. I wouldn't get too high and too low. That's kind of the attitude I've had since coming to Pittsburgh -- Don't put too much pressure on yourself. It's a game. Go out there and have fun and let the results happen."