The Pittsburgh Pirates completed a trade with the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday featuring closer Joel Hanrahan, but they really should have moved Hanrahan sooner, preferably last offseason, because a Proven Closer™ is a luxury on a below-.500 club and will usually have more value in trade than he can deliver to a bad team over 70 innings. Hanrahan compounded the error of the non-move by having a terrible season, posting his worst walk rate since 2007 while allowing 8 homers in just 59 innings, and he now has just one year of control left but will earn $6-7 million because of the way the arbitration process overvalues saves. That's not a particularly valuable asset to put on the market.
The result for Pittsburgh is that they get a passel of suspects with only one guy in the group who might turn out to be an above-average player, and even that player, Stolmy Pimentel, is a real longshot. Pimentel has touched 96 mph with his fastball from time to time and shows an above-average changeup, but the lack of an average breaking ball and well below-average fastball command (despite a good delivery) have really held back his performance at Double-A; he repeated the level in 2012 and improved to a 4.59 ERA and a 17 percent strikeout rate. He could turn into a solid big-league starter, and he's exactly the kind of longshot prospect the Pirates should try to get in any trade, but when he's the most interesting asset coming back to you it's not a great statement about your overall return.
I doubt Red Sox fans will be sorry to see Mark Melancon go, but he'll almost certainly pitch better in 2013 as he returns to one of the majors' weakest divisions and one would assume isn't as unlucky as he was this past season when he had an absurd 22.2 percent HR/FB rate. Lefties destroy him because he lacks a solid changeup, and his ground ball rate dropped as he became more homer-prone against the better competition in the American League East, largely due to the lack of life on his four-seamer. He's a capable middle reliever who's been miscast as a closer because of his stuff (not because he lacks the mojo or woo or whatever).
Jerry Sands is probably a bench player at best, a right-handed hitter with raw power but fringy bat speed, poor recognition of off-speed stuff and the range only for first base. Ivan De Jesus, who like Sands was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Adrian Gonzalez trade, might surface as a utility infielder, but a lack of patience, power or overall effort on the field all hold him back, and he didn't even perform well in the hitter's paradise of Triple-A Albuquerque while in the Dodgers' organization.
The Red Sox get that Proven Closer™, which isn't exactly something they needed but perhaps is something they felt they had to have before Andrew Bailey ruined their summah. The gap between Hanrahan's pre-2012 self and Mark Melancon's form in Boston might be two full wins, but if Hanrahan pitches like he did this past season, the gain is minimal, and the Sox will be back on the market for another Proven Closer™ next winter -- good thing for them that closers are made, not born.
I was surprised to see infielder Brock Holt included in the deal as the other piece headed to Boston; he's probably a utility guy but does have a great history of hitting for average and high contact rates in the minors, enough that some below-average team should give him regular at bats at second base to see if he can be above replacement-level while he's still cheap. So while the Red Sox didn't get any impact in return, they also didn't give up a whole lot, and if Hanrahan rediscovers his 2010-11 form they'll at least get a little more production in the ninth inning than they did last year.