One of only three to rank among the top 15 relief pitchers on our Player Rater in each of the past two seasons (Craig Kimbrel and Jonathan Papelbon were the others), Hanrahan might have gained some in team support (and that's debatable considering the Pirates actually won 10 more games than did the Red Sox in 2012) but lost some in terms of job security. He's now on a team with playoff aspirations and a decade-long track record of success, but he also enters a more pressurized environment on a team with quality alternatives for his role.
That's not necessarily a good thing; not for a closer whose walk and home run rates soared last season. Hanrahan's walks per nine innings ratio rose from 2.10 in 2011 to 5.43 in 2012, and his homers allowed per nine climbed from 0.13 to 1.21. He also experienced noticeable increases in both his fly ball rate, which went from 30.1 to 45.3 percent, and his well-hit average allowed, which boosted from .177 to .192. Understandably, his second-half ERA was 3.16 and WHIP was 1.48 last season, and that represented his worst half-season since the first half of 2010.
In Boston, Hanrahan joins a roster that, him excluded, has 150 career saves combined (237 if you count starter Ryan Dempster's 87). Frankly, if not for assistant general manager Brian O'Halloran's post-trade announcement that manager John Farrell wants Hanrahan to be his closer, it'd be a legitimate debate whether Hanrahan should close over Andrew Bailey (81 career saves) or even Koji Uehara (14). Their in-season performances could yet make it a debate.
Most of Hanrahan's issues last season can be traced to command, specifically of his fastball. It lost more than 1 mph in velocity, averaging 95.8 compared to 97.0 in 2011. He spotted it in the strike zone 3 percent less often and threw it in the upper third of the zone or above four percent more often. Improving that will be critical to his 2013 success, and while he might yet do so, he won't have nearly the leash he did in Pittsburgh.
In Hanrahan's defense, even with diminished velocity his 95.8-mph average fastball ranked 17th-best among qualified relievers last season, meaning his arsenal still has hope. In addition, he shouldn't go so many as 11 team games between save opportunities in Boston, his sporadic chances with the Pirates perhaps contributing to his past year's struggles. A change of scenery could help him, and it's the primary reason his fantasy value doesn't substantially sink following the trade. He's now my No. 11 closer, dropping one spot, and he's the No. 126 player overall, down five spots.
Hanrahan might be one of the few must-handcuff closers of 2013, however, and that can be a shaky strategy considering how tenuous the saves market is. Bailey is just as deserving of a chance if Hanrahan struggles early in the year, and it's for that reason that Bailey, who has the 13th-best qualified relief ERA (2.47) and 14th-best WHIP (1.03) during his four-year big-league career, hangs in there within my top 40 relief pitchers, at No. 31, following Hanrahan's acquisition.
Back in Pittsburgh, we've also got an official, post-trade declaration of closers: Jason Grilli, who recently signed a two-year, $6.75-million contract with the Pirates, will be Hanrahan's successor. Grilli earned the opportunity; he had the 25th-best WAR (Wins Above Replacement) among relievers with 90-plus innings from 2011 to 2012.
Still, let's not forget that Grilli is a 36-year-old, 10-year major league veteran with only five career saves to his credit. He deserves recognition for having improved himself to the point where he's one of the better late-inning relievers in the game, thanks primarily to increased fastball velocity and greater slider usage, but at the same time he's the fantasy equivalent of a 2011 Kyle Farnsworth [e] a sleeper saves-getter who resides in the "late bloomer" category.
There's a primary difference between Grilli and Farnsworth: Grilli is an extreme fly-baller, whereas Farnsworth's breakout 2011 was a product of a cut fastball that helped his ground-ball rate soar higher than 50 percent. Grilli allowed either a fly ball or line drive 68.5 percent of his balls in play last season; that was the ninth-highest rate among relievers. In other words, his 1.07 homers-per-nine innings ratio should've been entirely understandable and expected.
With news of his new closer-ship, Grilli moves into my top 40 relief pitchers at No. 34. He's one of the better "on the cheap" options if you go that route thanks to his combination of saves and strikeouts, but understand that he'll have his share of rocky, frustrating outings due to his fly ball nature.
Mark Melancon, the ex-Houston Astros closer whom the Pirates acquired in the deal, might be the most intriguing name for fantasy purposes of the lesser players involved. Though he was a bust as a temporary fill-in for Bailey in Boston, Melancon might be well served in the lower-pressure environment in Pittsburgh, and he could get a chance to close should Grilli fail. He seemed to get back on track during a stay with Triple-A Pawtucket, where he had a 0.83 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 11.22 strikeouts per nine innings in 21 appearances. And in eight September appearances for the Red Sox, he had a 0.90 ERA, 0.50 WHIP and 11.70 K's-per-9 ratio. Make no mistake, Melancon's skills are limited due to a steep platoon split -- .743 OPS allowed to lefties and .629 to righties in his big-league career -- but he's worth a late-round, couple-buck bid in NL-only leagues in the hopes of cheap saves.
Among the other names involved, neither Jerry Sands nor Ivan De Jesus should occupy significant roles for the Pirates in 2013, both vying for bench spots. Sands might be one of those midseason-pickup, fill-in capable players if the Pirates need him, but NL-only owners shouldn't consider him more than a final-round pick. Prospect Stolmy Pimentel, meanwhile, might at best be a midseason candidate for a rotation spot, and even then his initial struggles in Double-A in 2011 suggest he might need some time to adapt once he reaches the majors.
Nick Swisher joins the Cleveland Indians
Not that it was remotely unexpected, but Nick Swisher's official signing with a team other than the New York Yankees makes it pretty clear: The Yankees are not going to be quite as good a hitting team in 2013 as in the recent past.
This is a team that, as things currently stand, have speed-oriented players in Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki at either outfield corner, two aging left-side infielders with injury questions in Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, two sluggers who in recent seasons have begun trading batting average for power in Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson, and a mishmash of weak-hitting players at catcher. There is therefore little doubt that this team will struggle to meet or exceed last season's 804 runs scored, and that means diminished runs/RBI support for their hitters. And while there's still time for the Yankees to make a meaningful acquisition (or three) -- meaning one greater than platoon man Matt Diaz -- it's a good time to caution fantasy owners: Don't assume pinstripes equal instant fantasy production.
As for Swisher, he's one of the more underrated power/on-base players in the game, one of only eight players to have managed at least 20 homers and a .330 on-base percentage in each season since 2006. He's hardly a ballpark product, either: Of his 105 home runs during his four-year Yankees career, only 49 were hit at homer-friendly Yankee Stadium. In only two of those seasons did he hit more homers at home than on the road, and in each he managed only one more at home than on the road (15-14 in 2012, 12-11 in 2011).
In other words, Swisher's homers and walks should scarcely change in Cleveland, the only impact being a slightly weaker supporting cast, meaning he might be more of an 85-RBI, 70-run performer as a No. 3 or 4 hitter rather than the 93-75 performer he was with the 2012 Yankees. Much of that, though, will depend on how the Indians stack their lineup -- will they bat him behind on-base specialist Carlos Santana, boosting his RBI potential, or might they inexplicably bat Drew Stubbs in the top third, adversely impacting Swisher's RBIs?
Swisher is my No. 168 player overall and No. 53 outfielder. He's a fine fourth outfielder in mixed leagues, just as he was in New York.