Monday night at 11:59 was the non-tender deadline and teams faced a series of pivotal decisions over whether to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players. Just because a player is non-tendered by one team, though, does not mean he can’t be valuable to another club just a year later. Among the players who were non-tendered was Los Angeles Angels right-hander Tommy Hanson. Could Hanson be a player the Rays look to sign?
Hanson was drafted in the 22nd round by the Braves in 2005, but it did not take long for him to establish himself. Hanson was so highly regarded in the minors that he was ranked the number 4 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America prior to the 2009 season, and when he arrived in the big leagues, he lived up to hype. His rookie year in 2009 saw him go 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA as he finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting, and he managed a 3.29 ERA in his first three seasons overall. However, since suffering a slightly torn rotator cuff late in the 2011 season, Hanson has not been the same.
Because of this injury, Hanson’s fastball velocity has fallen off significantly. According to Brooks Baseball, Hanson averaged 92.87 MPH on his fastball from the start of his career to 2011. In 2012, however, Hanson managed a 4.48 ERA for the Braves, and his average velocity going down to just 90.35 MPH was a major reason that happened. The Angels acquired Hanson prior to 2013 in exchange for Jordan Walden hoping that Hanson could regain his fastball velocity and become an above-average pitcher once again. However, Hanson once again struggled with arm injuries, and managed to throw just 73 innings. Even when he was able to pitch, Hanson was ineffective, throwing to just a 5.42 ERA. Due to his arm troubles and rising cost through arbitration, the Angels elected to non-tender him. But after how much talent Hanson showed in the past it is far too soon to write him off.
Starting pitching depth is something every single MLB team knows they cannot have enough of. Teams are always looking for a cheap starting option who could potentially provide this depth. The Rays are no exception. Despite having good starting depth going into 2014, the Rays won’t pass up the opportunity to add more depth if the price is right, and Hanson could fit this mold. Even though he has struggled the last two years, Hanson is not far removed from being a very good pitcher. While injuries all too often can derail a pitcher’s career, there are also pitchers who have come back from injuries to return to dominant form. Hanson could still start for a team willing to give him a chance, but given his past injuries he could make a move to the bullpen to take some stress off his arm. In his prime, Hanson’s mid 90’s fastball paired well with a devastating 12-6 curve. His fastball-curveball combination would slot in nicely in the bullpen. A move to the bullpen could allow Hanson to stay healthy and regain his velocity, but he could still provide the ability to start in the event of injuries to other starters. Hanson could slot in as a long relief type for the Rays, but if he can regain his velocity he also has a chance to be a back-end option. Overall, Hanson will not be the above-average starter he once was, but he could still be a valuable piece to the Rays.
Hanson will probably require a major league deal given his past success, but at the same time he is definitely within the Rays’ budget. MLB trade rumors projected a $3.9 million salary through arbitration had he been tendered a contract. The Angels were not willing to pay this, so Hanson will likely come cheaper than this on a one year deal. I think a one year deal at around $1.5 million, with another $1 million in incentives based on days spent on the active roster would be reasonable, and it would be up to Hanson to accept. The Rays would offer him a spot on their roster and a track record of turning careers around, and that may just be enough to bring Hanson aboard.
The Rays are always looking for high-upside signings, and Tommy Hanson could be the latest example. Given his past injuries, Hanson will come cheap, which is always good for the Rays. If he can regain his velocity and stay healthy (and those are two big ifs), Hanson could be very valuable. Given the Rays’ strong rotation, Hanson would not slot into the rotation immediately, but given his previously good stuff, he could slot into the bullpen nicely and provide starting pitching depth if needed. If the price is right, Hanson is an option the Rays should certainly explore signing.