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Why Red Sox are interested in Joel Hanrahan, but not Rafael Soriano

Opportunity might be knocking for the Red Sox [1].

If the Red Sox’ interest in Pittsburgh closer Joel Hanrahan was born out of desperation to upgrade their closers role, you would have been hearing Rafael Soriano’s name connected with the team by now. But according to a baseball source, the Sox haven’t discussed making a play at the free agent reliever.

Sure, there is the issue of surrendering a draft pick if Soriano is signed (since the Yankees [2] offered the righty a qualifying offer) — a notion that seems to be scaring teams away. But with the success of the 33-year-old in the American League [3] East, if there was over-the-top anxiety about finding somebody to finish off games for the Sox, a conversation might at least be started regarding to short-term deal for Soriano.

So why are the Red Sox interested in Hanrahan?

The Pirates are fielding offers for the 31-year-old, although a source tells WEEI.com Alex Speier that asking for the likes of Felix Doubront [4] would be a conversation-killer. Hanrahan made $4.1 million in 2012, and will be eligible to become a free agent after the 2013 season, opening the door for Pittsburgh’s willingness to talk.

It is the second straight offseason Pirates general manager Neil Huntington has at least entertained the idea of dealing his closer.

‘€œObviously, we’€™d love Joel to be in a Pirate uniform as long as it can possibly happen. There’€™s a number of factors that go into that. We’€™ve got to weigh each one accordingly,’€ Huntington told WEEI.com last November. ‘€œWe recognize where our window is. We also recognize that we’€™re not going to be able to keep everybody in Pittsburgh, in a Pirate uniform, for the duration of their career.

‘€œIf there’€™s a deal out there that makes sense, we need to be open to it. That said, we’€™re not going to look to move him, but if somebody comes in and can fill multiple pieces for us or can fill a hole longer term for us, regardless of who it is — take the name off the back of the jersey — we always have to be willing to think about how we fill multiple pieces to be a better team for longer.’€

The Red Sox simply view this as an opportunity to take advantage of the market while dealing from a position of semi-strength, and not flat-out desperation. They still have a closer in Andrew Bailey [5], and another reliever who has previously closed in Koji Uehara who could serve as a serviceable backup plan. And there would seem to be depth beyond Uehara, with Junichi Tazawa, Alfredo Aceves [6], Mark Melancon [7], Franklin Morales [8] and Daniel Bard [9] (assuming he bounces back).

But one could make a case that Hanrahan’s a next-level kind of guy. Soriano without the price tag.

Hanrahan hasn’t changed all that much since he introduced himself to the Red Sox in 2011, when 27 of his 34 pitches thrown over two appearances were clocked at 97 mph or better. According to MLBAnalytics.org, he hit at least 96 mph on nearly half of his pitches in ’12, a rate that didn’t drop off in the second half (hitting 98 mph 19 times in September).

His numbers would have been relatively the same as previous seasons, as well, if not for two bumpy September outings. Hanrahan still ended up holding hitters to a batting average of .187 while finishing with a 2.72 ERA, striking out 67 in 59 2/3 innings.

Any concern revolved around the closer’s increased walk total, which jumped up to 36, 20 more than the year before. Some in baseball worry about possible arm issues, while others will temper any concern by pointing out that the majority of Hanrahan’s wildness came in the season’s final month, when appearances were spotty due to the Pirates’ late-season struggles.

If Bailey is healthy, the Red Sox could certainly live without Hanrahan. But lessons should be learned regarding the importance of making certain the end of your bullpen is top-notch. An argument could be made that if the Brewers (29 blown saves), Angels (22), White Sox [10] (20) and Dodgers (19) had better game-enders they would have been playing in the playoffs.

And it is no coincidence that since 2005, only one World Series [11] winner (’06 Cardinals) hasn’t found a way to total at least 45 saves. The Giants [12]‘ last two title teams have collected 53 and 57 saves, respectively. The Red Sox? They went 35 of 57 in save opportunities last season. Again, it’s why if not for the cost of the draft pick, going after Soriano would make arguably as much sense as any of the Sox’ other $13 million acquisitions.

What should Red Sox do?

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Add it all up and it’s why Hanrahan has now entered the conversation.