Joel Hanrahan’s Injury Highlights Importance of Red Sox’ Other Offseason Bullpen Decisions

Joel HanrahanThe Red Sox’ bullpen has fallen on tough times, yet the current situation still seems manageable.

Now that Joel Hanrahan is sidelined for the foreseeable future, the team’s decision to acquire the former Pirates closer is hard to defend. But as bad as that deal looks, Boston’s other offseason bullpen decisions are what could ultimately save the Red Sox from a disastrous fate this season.

The Red Sox placed Hanrahan on the 60-day disabled list on Thursday, and the reliever is set to visit Dr. James Andrews on Friday. Andrews might be the most respected man in sports medicine, but he’s also the guy everyone wants to avoid. A visit to Andrews — an orthopedic surgeon known for operating on tons of well-known athletes — typically spells bad news, especially when it comes to a pitcher seeking a second opinion.

“Doesn’t look good,” Hanrahan told ESPN.com on Wednesday. “Leave it up to the experts, see what they say, let them put their heads together and go from there.

“If it is bad, I’m still 31, my personal setup will be all right. On the [bad] side, I’ve been here and I haven’t been able to do anything I want to, to show anybody who I really am. So that part will stink if something bad happens.”

Hanrahan’s visit doesn’t guarantee his season is over, but surgery hasn’t been ruled out, and the outlook is certainly grim. It’s a crushing blow, obviously, but Boston’s bullpen depth — if Andrew Bailey returns and stays healthy — ensures the recent development isn’t completely crippling to the club.

The idea of losing a pitcher who was supposed to be the team’s closer is one most major league teams don’t even want to think about. The Red Sox still have plenty of firepower in the back end of the ‘pen, though, and it’s because of how they approached the offseason.

Trading for Hanrahan was a surprising move, and it led to plenty of speculation about whether the Red Sox would consider dealing Bailey. The Sox ultimately decided not to, and that decision now looks more important than ever.

The Red Sox also made a couple of other moves that make Hanrahan’s extended absence a bit more bearable. Koji Uehara was brought in to further solidify the back end, and Craig Breslow re-signed with Boston after a solid finish to his 2012 season. Both relievers figured to be important, but their significance is even higher now than it was to begin the season.

The biggest thing is for Bailey to battle back and stay healthy. Not only is he a proven closer, but him pitching the ninth inning allows Junichi Tazawa to pitch in his more natural setup role. (For the time being, Tazawa is the man tasked with closing out ballgames.)

“Joel Hanrahan getting injured is a blow for anyone,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said Thursday. “A guy that’s been a very successful pitcher, and I don’t know that you can just replace a guy of his ability and talents.”

Farrell’s assessment is accurate. Hanrahan has been a successful pitcher, and the Red Sox will certainly feel his absence. Because the club opted to add Hanrahan as a piece and not exactly the focal point of a deep bullpen during the offseason, however, the Sox should be able to get by.

For proof, look no further than Hanrahan’s absence earlier this season.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here

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