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Grilli's return to Pirates might make Hanrahan expendable

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The Pittsburgh Pirates answered one question by re-signing setup reliever Jason Grilli as a free agent. However, that move creates another question.

Will Joel Hanrahan be the Pirates' closer on Opening Day?

Now that the Pirates signed Grilli to a two-year, $6.75 million contract, they have more flexibility to pursue a trade of Hanrahan. Grilli, 37, has just five saves in his 10-year career, but Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has said in the past that he believes Grilli has the stuff and makeup to be a closer.

Hanrahan has been extremely reliable in his two full seasons as the closer, converting 76 of 84 save opportunities and being selected to the All-Star Game in both 2011 and 2012. However, there are red flags.

Hanrahan can become a free agent after next season, and he is likely to make around $7 million through the salary arbitration process in 2013. Though the Pirates don't pinch pennies quite as closely as they used to, a $7 million salary would likely represent more than 10 percent of their season-opening payroll.

Furthermore, there is some concern on the Pirates' part because Hanrahan appeared to get heavier as last season wore on. He also had a poor final month in 2012, giving up five runs and walking 10 batters in nine innings, which caused scouts from other teams to question if he were hiding an arm issue.

Grilli made it known that he is not trying to take someone else's job during the press conference to announce his contract.

"I'm not trying to push Hanrahan (out)," Grilli said. "I've talked to Hanny, and that's something I can't control. I know we're a pretty good tandem, and I'd hate to lose a guy that I know. Arguably, we're a couple of the best bullpen guys you can have out there. I hope we can do that."

With rumors swirling that the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers have interest in Hanrahan, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington isn't exactly downplaying the trade speculation.

"They were a dynamic pair at the back end of the bullpen last year, and that's our best team, absolutely," Huntington said. "Jason and I were open with each other during the process, option one, option two, option three, option 97 in terms of how it could play out. (Grilli) is prepared to take the ball in meaningful situations late in the game, and we fully believe that whether it's with Joel or without Joel, Jason's going to be an important part of the late-inning games we're supposed to close out."
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