ANAHEIM -- Long before the Tigers looked into dealing for Joakim Soria ahead of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, they added bullpen help by signing Joel Hanrahan at the start of May. Barring an incredible recovery, however, they'll get nothing out of the latter move.
"At this point, I would say we're not counting on [Hanrahan] at all," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said on a Thursday morning during a conference call to talk about the Soria trade. "It does not sound encouraging."
It's the risk that goes into pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery. As automatic as the procedure has seemingly become with each successful return, Hanrahan is a reminder that it doesn't always go smoothly.
Detroit signed Hanrahan just less than a year removed from surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He was throwing well in workout sessions for teams at the time, and while neither the Tigers nor Hanrahan wanted to put a timetable on his return, he was hoping for eight weeks.
Hanrahan's rehab process since then has been anything but smooth, with the veteran reliever struggling to rebuild arm strength. Nearly three months later, he has not thrown a simulated game, and he was shut down from throwing altogether earlier this week.
"It's a situation where there's another medical check being done," Dombrowski said, "but I would say it's highly unlikely he would be able to pitch for us."
Asked if that had any effect on Detroit's trade talks this month and going forward, Dombrowski said the slow pace of Hanrahan's rehab had them already planning for this.
"I think we've known this for a while," Dombrowski said, "so we've been operating over a time period here that it would seem doubtful that he would come back."
Hanrahan signed a one-year contract for a $1 million base salary, with another $2 million available based on his time on the active roster. It was a deal that weighed the risk of a 32-year-old pitcher recovering from surgery with the reward of an experienced late-inning arm. Hanrahan owns 100 saves over his seven-year big league career, 76 of them as an All-Star closer in Pittsburgh in 2011 and '12.
"You just have to realize there's no given when people are coming back from Tommy John surgery, or probably any surgery," Dombrowski said. "There's been such significant strides that have been made, it's phenomenal in the medical field. But there are still some questions attached to it.
"Things don't always work. Guys don't always come back the same way. We knew that when we signed [Hanrahan]. We really knew it was a spot where we were taking a chance. And I'd have to say we thought that chance was a minimal chance. He was throwing well at that time. But even as we said at the time we signed him -- there's a lot of difference between going out there and throwing, and throwing 93 on the mound, and then going and pitching in a big league game."