Two quality hurlers are swapping coasts as their new, and former, teams address their pitching needs. The Atlanta Braves sent young starter Tommy Hanson to the Los Angeles Angels for reliever Jordan Walden. Last year, Hanson posted a 13-10 record with a 4.48 ERA and 160 strikeouts. Walden, meanwhile, appeared in 45 games for the Angels in 2012, posting a 3.46 ERA in 39 innings from the bullpen.
For the Braves, it appears the team is trying to shorten the game. With a closer in Craig Kimbrel, who had 42 saves last year, a 1.01 ERA and a ridiculous 16.66 K/9, the Braves essentially turned the games in which they were leading into 8 inning affairs. With two solid set-up men in Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters, who combined for 48 holds, the bullpen was already a strength of this team, boasting a 2.76 ERA, good for second best in the National League.
Now, Walden enters the mix. Last year, he struggled with injuries and his command, but has the background of a reliable late-game contributor. In 2011, he took over the Angels’ closer’s job from Fernando Rodney and notched 32 saves while putting up a sub-3.00 ERA. He was also named to his first All-Star team. Walden is still just 25-years-old and has the ability to reach triple digits on the radar gun. Between Kimbrel, O’Flaherty, Venters, and now Walden, the Braves have the possibility to reliably hold on to win games they’re leading through just 6 innings.
Don’t expect Atlanta’s rotation to suffer much because of this trade, though. It was only four years ago that Hanson was the Braves’ top prospect and making his way to the Majors. In his rookie season of 2009, he went 11-4 and finished third in the Rookie of the Year balloting. However, since then, he has continually regressed. His ERA has gone up each year from 2.89 in 2009 to 4.48 in 2012 and his durability has become a concern. He has only reached 200 innings in one season and went on the disabled list twice in 2011 with shoulder problems and again last year with a back injury. With six potential starters entering 2013, and another, Brandon Beachy, returning mid-season from Tommy John surgery, the Braves saw Hanson as expendable.
The Angels, meanwhile, also addressed one of their major offseason needs. Los Angeles is already down two starters from last year. Zack Greinke and Dan Haren are both free agents and, while the Angels have not ruled out trying to bring them back, the team still had holes it needed to fill. The team clearly feels that, despite the question marks, Hanson still has plenty of upside and can return to the form he showed earlier in his career. He will likely fill in behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson in the rotation and may only need to be a fourth of fifth starter should Greinke and/or Haren return. His salary will also be very manageable for a 26-year-old who has shown top-of-the-rotation stuff, as he is projected to make about $4-million in his first year of arbitration eligibility.
The loss of Walden from the Angels’ bullpen will be mitigated by the addition of Ryan Madson, who signed a one-year deal with the team to become the closer. Madson missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but earned 32 saves with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011. Ernesto Frieri, who had a successful 2012 season as L.A.’s closer, will now pitch primarily in a setup role. Kevin Jepsen and Scott Downs provide two more capable late-game arms. So, if Hanson becomes the starter he has shown he can be, the Angels may find they received much more than they gave up. But if he struggles, the team may feel the impact of Walden’s absence more as the burden on the bullpen increases.