Kevin C. Cox
The Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Angels swapped young pitchers on Friday, with the Braves picking up Jordan Walden and the Angels getting Tommy Hanson to fill a hole in their depleted rotation.
The Angels traded away Ervin Santana this offseason, and they could lose both Dan Haren and Zack Greinke to free agency. They were never going to enter the season with Jerome Williams as their third starter ... but time was a-ticking. Friday, then, they made a pretty big splash on the trade market, swapping reliever and ex-closer Jordan Walden to the Braves for starter Tommy Hanson.
Hanson, 26, was considered a pillar of the Braves' pitching future at this time last year. He was recovering from an injury that slowed him down in the second half of 2011. But in 460 major-league innings before last season, Hanson featured a 3.28 ERA and an outstanding strikeout-to-walk ratio. He struggled in 2012, though, with a career high in walks and home runs. As Dave Cameron points out, Hanson's velocity chart is pretty freaky. He might not be the future ace the Braves were once expecting.
The real news is that finally, finally the Braves get a hard-throwing reliever for their bullpen. Whew, that was a close one. Walden made the All-Star team in 2011 as the Angels' closer, but after struggling at the start of 2012, he lost his role. He eventually threw only 39 innings, striking out a healthy amount of batters, but also walking an unhealthy amount. If the Braves can figure out a way to tweak his delivery -- say, by making it so he doesn't jump off the mound like a meth-addled ninja -- he would make a strong bullpen even stronger.
If it seems surprising that Hanson was traded for a reliever, well, it is. Walden might be the next great member of the Braves' bullpen, but Hanson was supposed to be an ace for years (the Angels now control him through 2015 if they want). Walden is also under contract for a while (through 2017, if the Braves want), but he'll never be as valuable as a really good starting pitcher.
Which probably gives you an idea the Braves are skeptical of Hanson's ability to become that kind of pitcher again. There's a lot of risk/reward in this deal, but the Angels are holding a lot of the reward potential on their side. The risk depends on what's living in Hanson's shoulder and/or elbow. But when you get a chance to trade a reliever for a pitcher with even the slightest chance at ace-dom, it's usually a good idea.