Pirates ownership and management repeatedly have said they will pay big money to their players when the time is right. They did a deal this spring with star center fielder Andrew McCutchen through the 2017 season with a club option for '18. That was a wonderful signing, but a lot of us want to see more. The next big test case will involve closer Joel Hanrahan, who has been as good as anyone in baseball this season and last. The time is coming quickly when the team will have to make a decision: Sign Hanrahan to a long-term contract or trade him. He is making $4.1 million this season and will be eligible for salary arbitration next season. He can become a free agent after the '13 season. Those of us who have been harsh critics of the Nutting ownership will have to take a step back if the Pirates make a big commitment to Hanrahan.
"I know it's a business and anything can happen, but I don't foresee them trading me away," Hanrahan was saying over the telephone Wednesday afternoon from Cincinnati. "I think they're going to keep me here so we can win a championship together."
Wouldn't it be nice if Hanrahan were right on all counts?
The man has the right mentality to be a closer. We know that. It's why, going into the game Wednesday night against the Reds, he had converted 10 consecutive save chances, 15 of 16 opportunities this season and 55 of 60 going back to last season. Not everyone can get the final three outs of a game. The pressure to do it is significant. "I don't want my teammates to battle for three hours and then have me come in for 10 or 15 minutes and mess up the whole game," Hanrahan said. There are few things more demoralizing to a team than a blown save that turns into a loss.
Hanrahan let that pressure devour him early in his career when he failed at closing with the Washington Nationals. "I thought I had to be perfect every game." It wasn't until he realized there is no such thing as perfection that he began to be successful. Now, he's willing to live with the results -- good or bad. Those results have been mostly good for him because of that approach. "I feel like if I have my stuff, I know I can get anyone out," he said.
Hanrahan doesn't always make it look easy. "The other guys are paid big money to get big hits," he said. But he doesn't panic when he pitches himself into trouble. One example: He got Washington's Bryce Harper to pop out and struck out Ryan Zimmerman with runners on second and third in a 4-2 win May 9, the day after he blew his only save of the season. Another example: He struck out Detroit's Prince Fielder after putting the tying runner on with a walk with two outs in a 4-3 win May 19. A third example: He struck out the Chicago Cubs' David DeJesus and Starlin Castro with runners on first and third in a 1-0 win May 25.
"You like to always write it up like [Tuesday night]," Hanrahan said. He came on in the ninth inning against the Reds with the Pirates leading, 8-4, and two runners on. He struck out Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and Chris Heisey to end the game.
"But it doesn't always happen like that," Hanrahan said. "You just keep battling. It says something about you if can pitch out of those jams."
It turns out Hanrahan is just as strong mentally when it comes to the trade rumors. His name has been mentioned all season, as in, "The Pirates need to trade Hanrahan for a bat." Just be careful what you wish for. Maybe Jason Grilli, who has been fabulous as an eighth-inning set-up man, could close for the Pirates. But maybe not. There is a big difference in getting the 22nd, 23rd and 24th outs in a game and getting the 25th, 26th and 27th outs. See above.
"Trade rumors are nice because that means someone wants you," Hanrahan said. "But I don't spend a lot of time thinking about them. It's not as if the Pirates have to come to me and ask if a trade is OK. I don't have a no-trade clause. I just come to the park every day ready to pitch. I don't worry about going out and pitching to impress some other team. I pitch to try to save wins for our club."
What a great answer.
So was this:
"I pitch for my teammates. I want to get the job done for them. If I do, I'm the hero. Well, not the hero, but everyone goes home happy. I try to make people happy. Just call me a people-pleaser."
OK. It works. So does damn good closer.
Ron Cook: email@example.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published June 7, 2012 12:00 AM