Three years ago, Tommy Hanson was viewed as a precious commodity. The Braves would tell other teams, “Don’t even bother asking about him.” When the San Diego Padres asked about him anyway, as the key to a potential Jake Peavy trade, the Braves laughed. Not Tommy, he’s our guy.
On June 3, 2009, Braves general manager Frank Wren unceremoniously cut Tom Glavine, a future Hall of Famer who was expecting a call-up following a rehabilitation assignment. Why? Because they needed the spot in the pitching rotation for Hanson, who was called up on the same day. The younger Tommy now was their guy.
He was the Braves’ future. He was young and personable, a towering power pitcher who would be a staple of the team’s pitching staff for years.
Now Hanson is gone. Funny how quickly an athlete can go from being untouchable to, “Please, just take him.”
The Braves traded Hanson to the Los Angeles Angels for a reliever, Jordan Walden. This is like not being able to afford a suit at Nordstrom on one day and then suddenly seeing it hanging on a clearance rack at Value City the next. There’s Tommy Hanson, 10 feet from the toaster ovens.
This trade wasn’t made because the Braves suddenly fell in love with another team’s right-handed reliever. It was made because they completely lost faith in the starting pitcher they once fiercely protected and projected as a franchise centerpiece.
The spin you will hear is that the Braves did this to save money. Hanson’s salary was about to jump to $4 million in his first arbitration-eligible winter, and the hope is that payroll chunk can be used to help complete their outfield, preferably for a leadoff hitter. (Shane Victorino would complete this dream sequence.)
But that’s really not what this is all about because if Hanson had become what everybody thought he would become, the Braves wouldn’t blink at paying him $4 million. Or, eventually, $6 million or $8 million, or $10 million. Because that is the status level the organization once projected for Hanson, a top-of-the-rotation staple for several years.
This is why it’s always amusing when fans become apoplectic when an organization trades a touted prospect, as if “MVP” or “Cy Young” is stamped on anybody’s forehead. Hanson was considered a guarantee, and that guarantee was just sent three time zones away for a bullpen guy.
The Braves were concerned about Hanson’s back and shoulder issues. They were concerned about his messed-up pitching mechanics to compensate for those injuries and certainly about his ability in the future to deal with that. His velocity had dropped, and if a power pitcher can’t be overpowering, it’s a problem.
It was a bad season. Hanson wrecked his truck driving to spring training. He dealt with speculative theories about what might have led to that one-car wreck. The injuries and lack of success obviously wore on him. But what upset him most was the growing number of people who viewed him as a pitcher on the decline.
When we spoke about this in August, Hanson said, “I try not to worry about it. I just worry about myself, keep trying to get better, keep trying to keep my body healthy to perform. Anything after that, there’s no need for me to worry about it because people will say what they’re going to say, and they’re going to have doubts and think that there’s something wrong with me, and they don’t know.”
It’s clear, however, that Hanson is at the point where he has to prove to others that nothing is wrong. The assumption now is closer to: little is right.
So much for guarantees.
By Jeff Schultz
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