Kevin C. Cox
Trading a starter for a reliever is not typically a great idea. However, in the case of the Braves trade of Tommy Hanson to the Angels for reliever Jordan Walden, risk is an extremely important consideration.
Just few years ago, Tommy Hanson was one of the most hyped pitching prospects in baseball, the jewel of the Atlanta Braves pitching-rich farm system. Entering the 2009 season, he was ranked the 4th best prospect in the game by Baseball
In isolation this deal appears incredibly lopsided. The Angels got a 26 year old starter who, despite his declining velocity, threw 174 innings last season and has a career ERA of 3.61 supported by a FIP of 3.77. Bill James projections tab Hanson for 160 innings in 2013 with a very solid 3.66 ERA and a 3.82 FIP. Getting this type of quality starter for a middling reliever like Walden, should be an absolute steal. However, the very fact that this trade took place is a good indication that Hanson’s shoulder issues are a very serious problem.
Jordan Walden is a potentially useful bullpen arm and he is young and he is cost controlled. He served as the Angels closer in 2011 and earned an All Star appearance but he lost the job early in the season, got sent to the minors, then the DL and then returned to a middle relief role. He has also seen his velocity decline, but he still averages 96.3 mph on his fastball and touches 99. He has his own mechanical issue, in the form of his jump-step delivery, but he appears to be less of injury risk than Hanson. As with many flame-throwing young relievers, Walden has fantastic strikeout ability- he has punched out 28% of hitters in his 114 career innings- but he also struggles with walks, allowing 10% of hitters to draw a free pass. The Braves will not need to consider Walden for the closer role with Craig Kimbrel around, but he could be an extremely effective bridge to Kimbrel and setup man Jonny Venters, further bolstering the Braves excellent relief core.
Should Hanson stay healthy and ward off any further decline, the Angels will be the clear winners here. However, the Braves almost certainly would have demanded more if they thought that was a possibility. Jordan Walden is not a game changer for the Braves, but he has value for them and getting a useful player like Walden is certainly better than getting nothing after Hanson breaks down completely. This trade is a gamble for both teams, but the risk for the Angels is far greater.