For a change, the Pittsburgh Pirates will come to Bradenton, Florida with not many jobs open for competition. Almost all of the everyday position jobs are penciled in, leaving only a few bench spots to be earned.

On the hill, the fifth starter’s job will be up for competition and a few bullpen jobs will likely be earned as well.

The main battle for fans and fantasy owners to keep their eyes on though is the battle between Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek to see who will close out games to start 2011.

Now the common reply to this is “Why do the Pirates need a closer since they never win?”

That’s where most are wrong. Granted, having one of these guys as the closer won’t make the Pirates contenders, but constantly blowing ninth inning leads isn’t good for a young team like the Pirates.

The role needs to be defined and new manager Clint Hurdle says it will, but Hanrahan and Meek won’t be in direct competition with each other.

Looking at both guys, Hanrahan has had more experience pitching late in games; although that likely won’t be a factor in Hurdle’s decision making.

Both have power arms and are coming off fantastic 2010 seasons.

Hanrahan appeared in 72 games last season and finished with a respectable 3.62 ERA and allowed less than a hit an inning (58) and only 28 earned runs on the season.  More impressive though is how Hanrahan’s control came along.  He finished 2010 with a fantastic strikeout to walk ratio; striking out 100 batters, while walking only 26.

Meek on the other hand was fantastic in the first half of the season, earning a trip to the All-Star Game.  His second half was good as well. Meek finished the 2010 season throwing 80 innings, sporting a fantastic 2.14 ERA.

He allowed only 19 earned runs on the season, striking out 70 while walking 31.

Both guys could probably step in and do a solid job in the ninth inning, while the other will likely become the primary setup guy.

If the choice were mine, I’d likely give the ball to Hanrahan at the end of the games. He offers up the one thing that Meek doesn’t have at the moment and that’s the ability to strike batters out at any time.

The power of the strikeout is huge. Hanrahan is not afraid to attack anyone with his nasty breaking stuff and will throw it in any count to anyone.  If that’s not working, his high 90’s fastball is plenty enough to get the job done.

While Meek looks to be the closer of the future, for now I think it makes sense to let him continue his natural progression into the role instead of rushing him into it.

While it’s not a major decision, a solid ninth inning guy can add a few more wins to the total. Hanrahan definitely has the stuff to be that guy.  We may see early on if he has the make up for it as well.

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