Can the Pittsburgh Pirates Sell Casual Fans on the Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt Trade?


The typical recent response to a Pittsburgh Pirates trade was “who the hell was that?”  Kyle Kaminska, Ramon Cabrera, Yamaico Navarro, Luis Santos, Chris Resop, Daniel Cabrera, Colton Cain, Robbie Grossman, Rudy Owens were names that didn’t spark a lot of venom among Pirates fans.

But Joel Hanrahan has changed that reponse.

Of course back at the deadline there was some noise–Brad Lincoln being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays fired some people up.  Casey McGehee too.   But none of those players had the star power of a Joel Hanrahan, hell, even Brock Holt being included in the trade has ignited some anger.  But for the most part, Bucco fans haven’t had to absorb the sting of sending a recognizable name out of town in the recent past.  So there hasn’t been a whole lot of angst associated with trades like those of Nate McLouth, Jack Wilson, etc.

It changed this week.  I flet it when I walked into our bottle shop last night.  I had some pep in my step and fired open the front door, brushed the snow off my jacket and noticed the place was jumping.  Really busy.  I assisted some fellow beer lovers with a few winter beer selections and then walked over to see Becky who was getting ready to punch out.

Becky is a sports fan.   A knowledgeable, yet still casual fan.  I could tell something was bugging her.  She packed up her belongings which included a real-life,  old-fashioned, hard copy of a local newspaper and what looked like the latest Baseball America .  The headline from the paper spoke of the Hanrahan trade.  And Beckys’ immediate response was to look me dead in the eyes and say….

I thought the Pirates were done getting rid of their good players, Tom?

Yeh, me too Beck.

Seriously, what was I supposed to say?  Should I have given her an explanation on the projected large percentage of payroll being spent on the bullpen and the small amount of impact received from that said payroll?

Or should I have went all Hardball Times on her and dropped this fact from The Myth of Going for Broke article by Glenn DuPaul   on her?

Of the 79 teams that increased payroll by 20 percent from 2002-12, 47 had a payroll below 75 percent of the median in the year before the increase.  On average these teams lost 1.7 more games in the season after the increase.

It seems that whatever the cause of the increase is (free agents, trades or arbitration raises), on average, small market teams do not win more in the year of the increase.

Trying to explain to Beck that increasing payroll doesn’t immediately mean that the Pirates will increase their season win total isn’t my style.  I surely could have explained that increasing payroll is a smart strategy if the players the Buccos brass spend Nuttings’ cash on turn out to be pretty good.

It’s simply not as easy to show that an increase in payroll does not guarantee results.  Certainly the Pirates could use a few more impact players rather than relying on bounce back candidates.    The organization would like to get those players, unfortunately, they aren’t going to.

I just chose not to get into it with Beck.  That’s not my style, we will leave that to the propaganda machines on Federal Street, at the PG, and Trib.   Those guys get the free tickets and meals, we don’t.

But the bigger issue is this one.  Becky is probably identified as the casual fan by the Nutting Regime.  She enjoys sports, she is surrounded by it all the time, and has paid attention to what is reported in the media each day, every day.

Becky is the type of fan that’s in Bob Nutting’s wheelhouse.

We don’t think her response is a good thing for the boys on Federal Street because it could retreat the team back to the days of old if it’s not addressed appropriately.  The Pirates did make a smart move by keeping Hanrahan away from PirateFest.

You know who else wasn’t at PirateFest?  You know whose t-shirt isn’t on the Free Shirt Friday calendar this year?    Yeh, that trade will be hard to sell as well.

Casual fans aren’t going to get real excited about names like Jerry Sands or Stolmy Pimentel.  It’s that lasting image on the screen of Joel Hanrahan giving a man-hug to Wyatt Toregas, Jason Jaramillo, Eric Fyer, Rod Barajas, Michael McKenry or whoever the catcher of the moment is.  That image is what stays in the minds of casual fans.

It should be fun seeing how the players from the Hanrahan/Holt trade are marketed to the most important fan in the Pirates wheelhouse.

We would expect one strategy would be to start pushing plenty of news about Jason Grilli.   If you look at the chart David Manel tweeted, the guy is defying the odds as he piles up those strikeouts every year.

After all, if things go as expected and Grilli has no real difficulty in getting those last three outs, it wasn’t hard forgetting Matt Capps now was it?

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Tags: Pittsburgh Pirates