The immediate reaction on Tommy Hanson for Jordan Walden? A gut reaction might be “starter for reliever, guy who gets the starter wins.” That would be easy, but would also lose sight of what’s really in play here, especially in the shadow of tonight’s non-tender deadline for arbitration-eligible players like Hanson. Instead, what’s changing hands between the Braves and the Angels is three years of Hanson under team control at arbitration-driven pricing for four years of Walden, with 2013 at pre-arb pricing.
Even allowing for that critical bit of payroll-minded calculus, though, surely you want the starting pitcher who will give you innings instead of the reliever, right? A lot depends on which version of Hanson you think the Angels are getting, because as much as they need to add rotation arms this winter, it’s not entirely clear Hanson’s the right answer. He suffered a big drop in performance in 2012, with his FIP jumping from 3.64 to 4.61 (per Baseball Prospectus). That’s perhaps not unrelated to losing a couple of ticks off his fastball, as he’s moving into the 89-90 range. And he’s had shoulder tendinitis in 2011 and back trouble last year, raising more red flags.
Since Hanson is a fly-ball pitcher, you might chalk it all up to a spiking ratio of homers to fly balls the past two years, but there’s no immutable law that says that has to regress -- instead, it looks like a symptom of a guy who just isn’t fooling people. Changing leagues might help with that for a bit, but facing DH-laden lineups in a tougher AL West, it wouldn’t be that surprising if Hanson winds up as Ervin Santana 2: The Hammering. He’ll cost less than Santana, and even with an arbitration-driven raise he’ll cost less than what a lot of starters on the market will get this winter, but unless the Angels find a way to fix him, this isn’t an automatic win for them.
As for the Braves, Walden also comes with injury alarms after a month spent on the DL last year with a strained biceps, but the risks and rewards suit Atlanta’s needs and bottom line. On some level this is just the latest example of Liberty Media -- the many-headed corporate hydra behind the door in the Braves’ executive suite -- once again laying down the law on the team’s budget. Thanks to the dynamics of arbitration Hanson is about to get seven-figure compensation per year. Even if you think he’ll rebound from last season’s setback, he was an underperforming asset on a Braves roster that can already count on a front five of Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Paul Maholm, Mike Minor and either Julio Teheran or Randall Delgado, with Brandon Beachy back from elbow surgery for the stretch run.
Also, the Braves should non-tender former All-Star Jair Jurrjens late Friday night, which should tell you they’re asking the right questions: What have you done for me lately, and what should I pay for you now? Looking at that rotation, Hanson was a supernumerary, someone whose 2012 season no more guaranteed him a future than Jurrjens’ brief bit of All-Star fame.
Looking back at that Braves rotation again, the one thing you might worry about is how deep into games the non-Hudsons will pitch, but that’s something that Walden helps address. As far as future expense, since Walden won’t be racking up saves as a Brave, his future earnings as the flame-throwing right-handed complement in an already dominating (and cheap) bullpen will be somewhat limited -- exactly how Liberty likes it.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.