September 30, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Jason Grilli (39) reacts after striking out the side against the Cincinnati Reds during the eighth inning at PNC Park. The Cincinnati Reds won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Who assumes Jason Grilli's role if Joel Hanrahan is traded?

Since the 2012 season came to an end, it has been widely speculated that Pittsburgh Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan would be traded sometime before the 2013 season begins.

With the Bucs re-signing Jason Grilli on Monday, if Hanrahan were dealt, the blow would be softened by Grilli’s presence. Even at 36 years of age, he has velocity on his fastball and an outstanding strikeout rate that few relievers in the game can match.

September 30, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Jason Grilli (39) pitches against the Cincinnati Reds during the eighth inning at PNC Park. The Cincinnati Reds won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I have very little doubt that Grilli can do at minimum an above-average job at closing, but if that’s the case then who assumes Grilli’s setup role?

Part of the reason the back end of the Pirates’ bullpen was so successful a season ago wasn’t just because of Hanrahan, who converted 36-of-40 save opportunities a season ago, but because of Grilli, who continuously gave Hanrahan the ball with a lead.

The Pirates didn’t lose a game when leading after seven innings until the final week of the regular season and that’s due to how good the Grilli-Hanrahan combination was.

But let’s assume Hanrahan, who has been named to a pair of All-Star games while maintaining an ERA of 2.24 with 9.0 strikeouts and 3.6 walks per nine innings and 76 saves, gets dealt and Grilli assumes the role of closer.

If that’s the case, someone has to do the job that Grilli did and do it well for the Bucs to have any success in 2013.

Right now there are three likely candidates for the job.

Bryan Morris: Morris had an outstanding season in Triple-A, but for some reason never got the call to really contribute to last season’s team. He has good velocity on his fastball and good movement. He’s a guy that could come in and get a lot of grounders.

Jared Hughes: Hughes had a very good rookie campaign although he struggled late in the season, but it is quite possible Clint Hurdle simply backs Hughes up an inning and sees if the youngster can become a setup man.

Justin Wilson: He’s more of a longshot, but if Hurdle can finally get a pair of lefties together in the bullpen, Wilson could become a decent setup guy. Hurdle likes to use Tony Watson as a matchup guy so if Wilson can improve his control and have a good spring training, then he could be a possibility.

Of course if the right deal for Hanrahan doesn’t come around, it wouldn’t hurt to keep things the way they were. Grilli and Hanrahan make quite the combo and is one part of the Pirates that has been reliable.

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Tags: Jason Grilli Joel Hanrahan Pittsburgh Pirates

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