ATLANTA -- Three years after welcoming Tommy Hanson to the Major League level as baseball's top pitching prospect, the Braves created some payroll flexibility by trading the right-hander to the Angels.
Braves general manager Frank Wren took advantage of his starting-pitching depth by trading Hanson to the Angels in exchange for talented right-handed reliever Jordan Walden on Friday. Along with improving his bullpen, this move will provide Wren with more options in his search for another outfielder.
"As we looked at our young pitching, we felt like we would be able to cover our starting needs with our young [pitchers]," Wren said. "The area we wanted to reinforce was to put another power arm in our bullpen. That has kind of been our trade focus over the past few weeks, identifying power arms where there might be a fit."
While adding yet another power arm in Walden to their bullpen, the Braves had to bid adieu to Hanson, who has certainly not been the powerful pitcher many envisioned when he introduced himself to the Major League scene midway through the 2009 season and then went 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA in his first 21 big league starts.
Since enduring shoulder and back discomfort during the 2011 season, Hanson has spent the past season and a half battling disappointment and assuming the form of a finesse offspeed pitcher.
"Immediately, it was shock," Hanson said of the trade. "I am super excited, but I am going to miss my teammates. There's a lot of great guys in that clubhouse, and some of my best friends are on the Braves, so that's disappointing. But I am very excited. I grew up an Angels fan, and where I grew up, there's a ton of Angels fans."
With heralded pitching prospects Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado ready to fill a spot in Atlanta's rotation, the Braves entered this offseason with the hope of trading Hanson, who is expected to make approximately $4 million during his first arbitration-eligible season next year.
Ironically, the Braves learned of the Angels' interest in adding pitching depth after the Halos asked about Jair Jurrjens about a month ago.
Jurrjens and Hanson owned two of the National League's top three ERAs entering the 2011 All-Star break. On Friday, the Braves said goodbye to both right-handed pitchers. Jurrjens, as well as reliever Peter Moylan, was non-tendered Friday.
"Tommy's velocity was down a little bit this year, but he wasn't hurt," Wren said. "I think he started transitioning to a different kind of pitcher. I think that's what we saw over the last several years. I think he was trying to pitch with a little less velocity and use his offspeed stuff more. I think that was just the kind of starting pitcher he was turning into."
By moving Hanson and the projected $4 million he was expected to get entering his first arbitration-eligible season, the Braves have also increased their options in their search for an outfielder who could also serve as a leadoff hitter.
This move could make it more financially feasible for them to pursue free-agent outfielder Shane Victorino, who could play left field and bat leadoff. Or the Braves could use this added financial flexibility to their advantage on the trade market.
While acknowledging the financial benefits of this trade, Wren said his primary focus was to land a power reliever like Walden, who is just one year removed from being an All-Star reliever. His fastball has been consistently clocked in the upper 90s.
With the presence of closer Craig Kimbrel and his top setup men Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty, the Braves already had an intimidating mix within their bullpen. The addition of Walden's above-average fastball only adds to the number of power arms in the Atlanta bullpen.
"This is a deal that helps both teams," Wren said. "They had a need for starting-pitching depth, and we had a need for bullpen depth."
Blessed with a fastball that has sat around 98-100 mph, Walden was one of the Angels' top prospects before reaching the big league level. He got his feet wet in 2010 and then earned an All-Star selection on the way to recording 32 saves in '11.
Walden lost his role as the Angels' closer during the early portion of the 2012 season and then continued to struggle with his command of his secondary pitches. He compiled a 3.46 ERA and recorded 48 strikeouts while issuing 18 walks in 39 innings.
If Hanson had remained with the Braves, he would have come to Spring Training in a competition with Teheran and Delgado for the fifth spot in Atlanta's rotation. Now the Braves don't have to worry about the possibility of keeping Hanson and blocking the path for their top two young pitchers.
Hanson went 13-10 with a 4.48 ERA in 31 starts this past season. His drop in velocity only heightened the concerns that have surrounded his mechanics. His awkward delivery seemingly puts some extra strain on his arm and makes him very susceptible to opposing basestealers.
Hanson began developing a new delivery in January and came to Spring Training with the confidence that he could use it by the start of the season. But his attempts to get comfortable with his new delivery were delayed when he got into a car accident on his way to the first Spring Training workout.
"He's coming off a 175-inning season where he won 13 games," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "I don't think it would be fair to qualify it as a disappointing season. It may not stack up rate-wise with where he's been before, but his velocity remained consistent across the board, month to month, as last season went by."
According to Fangraphs.com, the average velocity of Hanson's fastball was 92.7 mph during his first full big league season in 2010. This past season, that average velocity was 89.6 mph.
Hanson has posted a 4.96 ERA, allowing opponents to hit .277 against him over the 36 starts he has made since the 2011 All-Star break.
In addition to acquiring Walden, the Braves also claimed right-handed reliever David Carpenter off waivers from the Red Sox. Carpenter posted an 8.07 ERA in 33 combined relief appearances with the Astros and Blue Jays last season. He was traded to Boston as part of the compensation package when the Red Sox acquired Blue Jays manager John Farrell.