The courting calls have come in, but so far free agent reliever Joel Hanrahan is biding his time listening to what his suitors have to say.
"I was talking to my agent [Larry Reynolds] last night," he said recently, "and he likes to say that we're in the flirting phase."
The 32-year-old Hanrahan is an intriguing free agent prospect. He has 100 career saves and was an All-Star for the Pirates in both 2011 and '12, but after being traded to Boston that offseason he missed almost of the 2013 season with injuries. He had surgery in May to repair both a torn flexor muscle in his forearm and the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow (i.e. Tommy John surgery).
Hanrahan, who pitched just nine games for the Red Sox this past season but nonetheless grew a playoff beard in absentia, reports that "we have a lot of teams calling saying that they're interested." So far, however, nothing has yet progressed to the point of a face-to-face meeting over a fine steak. For now clubs are slowly reviewing his medical records, the baseball equivalent of modern dating in which an interested party checks out Facebook photos before setting up a dinner date.
Hanrahan, acknowledging the parallel between dating and free agency, joked that at this early stage, "They'll send you a little text message or something, 'Hey, what are you doing on Friday night?'
More important for now is what he was scheduled to do on Friday morning. Hanrahan, who rehabs five days a week and throws on three, was to take the next step of his throwing program with a flat-ground throwing session. He said he would warm up at 60 feet, then 90, then 120, before moving back to 60 where he'll pitch to a catcher (just not off a mound) and work on the mechanics of his pitching motion. He expects to be able to pitch in spring training, though he's no more than a longshot to be ready for Opening Day.
For some, regaining one's feel of the baseball can be tricky, but Hanrahan had a plan. "While I was driving around in my truck, I would just hold a baseball," he said. "I think some people at stoplights thought I was a little crazy."
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Increasingly, pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery are not only reliably returning to form but also finding that the procedure is not an impediment to being signed. Dr. Tim Kremchek, the Reds' medical director and one of the leading Tommy John surgeons, said two years ago that about 96 percent of patients who undergo the procedure make it back to the same level of competition; given the surgical and training resources available to major leaguers, their elite subset may have an even higher rate.
The Rangers, for instance, signed Joakim Soria to a two-year deal last offseason even though they knew he'd miss the first two months of the first season. Brian Wilson received $1 million from the Dodgers just to pitch in the final two months. (Ryan Madson, however, is a cautionary tale as he hasn't pitched since his spring 2012 surgery, but his is an exceptional case.)
"I was really encouraged by seeing that," Hanrahan said of Wilson and Soria. "I feel like that was setting a good example for hopefully where my rehab will take me. The guys that are coming back and doing well and succeeding and pretty much picking up where they left off. Hopefully my track record will keep me in teams' minds."
He does, however, concede that he won't be anyone's first choice this offseason.
"Teams, I think, are more trying to set their rosters for Opening Day [right now]," he said, "and I think when they get the pieces that they're looking for, I might be like Option B for a lot of teams. That's kind of my theory."
Hanrahan has had time and space to consider all his options. He has primarily worked out back in Dallas, noting that he didn't want to get in the way of his Red Sox teammates by competing for the trainers' attention. He has taken an active interest in his rehab, carefully reviewing future pages of his program with his trainer and finely detailing the slight discrepancy of his program from the normal Tommy John rehab. Because of his repaired flexor muscle, Hanrahan said he was in a splint for 14 days post-op rather than only three, before working to ensure that the muscle had some time to heal back to the bone
"In the long run, the time frame is about the same," he said. "The starting process of the rehab was just a little bit different." He later added, "Sometimes I feel like could be an intern trainer if I need to."
The time off has had other benefits. Hanrahan is building a house in the Dallas area with his wife, Kim, and they are raising their 8½-month-old son, Ryan. Hanrahan has reveled in the chance to be a big part of his son's first year -- "I got to see a lot of things that a lot of us baseball players don't get to see with our children growing up," he said -- and his wife splashed him with beer at home after Boston clinched the AL East.
For now Hanrahan's focus is on rehabbing his arm, following the guidelines of an increasingly structured and successful program, so that when teams call, their primary question will be "when" he'll be ready to contribute, not "if."
"I'm not really worried about going out there and trying to break the bank or anything," he said. "I'm just hoping for a chance to get to pitch and work my way towards the back of the bullpen again."