Pitchers Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens have been in career-decline mode since the 2011 All-Star break, and by the end of the day Friday both were ex-Braves.
The Braves traded Hanson to the Los Angeles Angels on Friday for hard-throwing reliever Jordan Walden, and non-tendered Jurrjens before Friday’s deadline for teams to offer contracts to their unsigned arbitration-eligible players.
Atlanta reliever Peter Moylan was also non-tendered. He and Jurrjens are now free agents and the Braves haven’t ruled out re-signing Moylan, perhaps to a minor-league deal.
The Hanson trade clears up more than $3 million in payroll that could help the Braves fill their remaining needs in left field and a couple of bench spots. But general manager Frank Wren said money wasn’t the reason for the trade.
He said it was about opening a rotation spot for one of the Braves young starters. Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado might now compete for the fifth spot in the rotation behind Kris Medlen, Tim Hudson and left-handers Mike Minor and Paul Maholm.
“We wanted to make sure there was an opportunity for our young pitchers to break through in the spring, and the way we were set up there really wasn’t a spot,” Wren said. “So we were focused on trying to use some of our excess starting pitching to find a power bullpen arm.”
“I’m not saying it doesn’t give us some more payroll flexibility, but that wasn’t the primary motivator.”
Walden, 25, has a fastball that’s been clocked as high as 100 mph. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Texan had 32 saves and a 2.98 ERA in an All-Star season in 2011, but pitched in a setup role in 2012 and had a 3.46 ERA in 45 appearances, with 48 strikeouts and 18 walks in 39 innings
He gives the Braves another setup man for closer Craig Kimbrel, joining lefties Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Luis Avilan in what should remain one of baseball’s top bullpens.
For Jurrjens, Friday’s move capped a precipitous fall from grace. An All-Star in 2011, he made $5.5 million in 2012 while going just 3-4 with a 6.89 ERA in 11 games (10 starts) in the majors, and spent much of the season at Triple-A Gwinnett after a demotion in late April.
After going 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA in 16 starts before the 2011 All-Star break, Jurrjens is 4-7 with a 6.42 ERA in 18 major league starts since. Still just 26 (27 in January), he’s been plagued for two years by a balky knee and pitched while wearing a brace last season.
Jurrjens might have commanded at least $5.5 million in arbitration despite his struggles. His salary had already been eliminated from the team’s budget, as they knew going into the offseason that he would either be traded or non-tendered.
Hanson is eligible for arbitration for the first time and was likely to get a raise to around $4 million, after going 13-10 with a career-worst 4.48 ERA in 31 starts during his second consecutive injury-plagued season. Walden is still a year from arbitration and will make well below $1 million.
As in the case of Jurrjens, Hanson’s ERA has ballooned and his velocity has decreased during the past two seasons, at least in part due to injuries.
“His arm is healthy, he’s just kind of developed into a liltle different style of pitcher the last few years,” Wren said. “And with that new style it’s moved him back in our rotation.”
Hanson would have competed for the final rotation spot in the spring if he weren’t traded. Now it’ll likely be Delgado or Teheran, and the Braves expect to have emerging standout Brandon Beachy back by midseason after he completes his rehab from elbow surgery.
With Hanson’s salary off the books, the Braves have even more flexibility in their pursuit of a left fielder (assuming Martin Prado moves to third base, which is still the plan). It’s believed the Braves have about $10 million or slightly more for a left fielder and two bench spots.
Versatile free-agent outfielder Reed Johnson, acquired from the Cubs at the July trade deadline, is a candidate to be brought back by the Braves for a bench spot.
With trade-targeted outfielder Denard Span off the market after being dealt from Minnesota to Washington on Thursday, and the Rockies’ high asking price — reportedly two top prospects — for Dexter Fowler, the Braves might turn to more expensive options (in terms of salary) on the free-agent or trade markets.
Shane Victorino, Cody Ross, Angel Pagan and Ryan Ludwick are among free-agent oufielders they’ve discussed, but all have drawbacks or are currently overpriced.
Of the known trade options, the player many Braves fans want most is Arizona right fielder Justin Upton, the brother of new Braves center fielder B.J. Upton. He could move to left field and give the Braves two Uptons and Jason Heyward for an utterly dynamic outfield.
But for now, Justin Upton still seems unlikely for the Braves, who won’t trade shortstop Andrelton Simmons, the player that Arizona GM Kevin Towers covets. The Braves would have to persuade him to take a package built around other players and/or prospects.
It could be a interesting few days at the Winter Meetings that begin Monday in Nashville.
On Friday morning, Wren called Hanson to say there was bad news — he’d been traded — but that at least he was going back home. He’s from Southern California.
Hanson, 26, was 45-32 with a 3.61 ERA in four seasons with the Braves but has fallen off significantly in the past 1-1/2 seasons while dealing with shoulder and back problems and adjustments to his delivery.
Like Jurrjens, Hanson’s slide began at the 2011 All-Star break. After going 10-4 with a 2.44 ERA and .190 opponents’ average in 17 starts that year before the break, Hanson has posted a 14-13 record, 4.96 ERA and .277 opponents’ average in 36 starts since.