The Atlanta Braves are engaged in trade discussions with the San Diego Padres regarding pitcher Jake Peavy. It’s not a surprise. The Braves need an ace, and the Padres are evidently shopping one.
Until there is a resolution, whether it’s right after the World Series or at the Winter Meetings in December, there will be much speculation about how the Braves will get this done. But there is one thing they must do as they proceed with these trade talks.
Tommy Hanson has to be off the table.
Yes, the Padres would practically be foolish not to demand the Braves’ top pitching prospect back in a Peavy deal. They need pitching already, and they will need even more if they trade their ace. But Braves General Manager Frank Wren must stand his ground and simply let Padres GM Kevin Towers know that Hanson is untouchable.
He’s not the only one. Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, and Cole Rohrbough also need to be unavailable. The Braves have to keep these top prospects, but Hanson has got to be at the top of the list of the players that will not be going to San Diego.
Why Hanson? Why is it so important to keep him? Well, first of all, the kid is good – really good. Look at what he’s doing in the Arizona Fall League. He’s pitched 8.2 shutout innings and allowed only one hit, with three walks, and 14 strikeouts in his three games out west.
This year in the regular season Hanson went 11-5 in 25 starts between Myrtle Beach and Mississippi. He had a 2.41 ERA, with 85 hits allowed in 138 innings pitched, 37 earned runs, 52 walks, and 163 strikeouts.
Hanson has now made 58 starts in his three minor league seasons and has a 2.73 ERA, with 231 hits allowed in 322.2 innings, 98 earned runs, 119 walks, and 373 strikeouts.
His stats are not the full story. Hanson is a tall (6’6”) right-hander with a solid fastball, an uncle Charlie curveball, a knockout slider, and an improving changeup. The stuff matches the stats, which hasn’t always happened in the Braves’ system the last few years (i.e. Chuck James).
Plus, Hanson is a bulldog. He’s a tremendous competitor, with a knack to get out of trouble when he actually is in trouble. Hanson’s makeup is what could make him special. He’s driven to be a star in the big leagues.
On Friday night Hanson will face Yankees pitcher Philip Hughes in the Rising Stars Showcase in the Arizona Fall League. It's the All Star Game for the AFL.
There are numerous similarities between the two, Hanson and Hughes. They are both tall, hard-throwing right-handers: Hanson is 6'6", 215, while Hughes is 6'5", 230.
Look at their career minor league numbers:
Hanson: 20-15, 2.73, 64 games, 231 hits in 322.2 IP, 98 ER, 119 BB, 373 K
Hughes: 28-08, 2.41, 62 games, 208 hits in 310.2 IP, 83 ER, 077 BB, 348 K
Now Hughes does have 22 major league starts, which is the big difference between the two. But the point is these two are very similar prospects. Hughes was one of the best prospects in the game coming into the 2007 season, as rated by Baseball America.
How would Hanson be viewed if he were a Yankees or Red Sox prospect? Would he be on ESPN all the time, like Hughes was, and Joba was, and Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester were with the Red Sox?
The Yankees resisted putting Hughes in a trade the last few years, saying he was vitally important to the future of their franchise. Now that he has struggled a bit with inconsistency and injury that could change. But they did value his potential, which is something the Braves must do with Hanson in these discussions with the Padres.
This is the Braves best pitching prospect since Adam Wainwright, and that name alone is a big reason Hanson should be untouchable. We all remember when the Braves used Wainwright to fill their need in right field before the 2004 season. And we all know how that worked out.
Drew was a rental, and Wainwright went and won a World Series for the Cardinals. And now, Wainwright is St. Louis’s ace.
How good would Wainwright look at the top of the Braves’ rotation today? With the need for an ace, it’s hard to watch someone like Wainwright, who desperately wanted to be a Brave, pitch for another team. And that should serve as the lesson for Frank Wren to not let it happen again.
Some scouts believe Hanson could be a number one or number two pitcher in a big league rotation. The Braves may get both of those spots filled this winter, as they try to acquire Peavy and sign a free agent. But that doesn’t mean you give up a pitcher who could be that good.
It’s easy to say that if you get Peavy, and for that matter a solid number two like an A.J. Burnett, you wouldn’t need a pitcher like Hanson, even if he’s that good. But the Braves have got to plan for the next decade, and while that may include two new veterans for the first few years, the plan must be in place to form a rotation for the long-term.
You have to have kids from the farm system fill those roles, and Hanson is at the top of the list. He’s a better prospect than Kyle Davies was, or Chuck James, or Jo Jo Reyes. Those three were projected to be middle-of-the-rotation type guys, while Hanson is thought of as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter. You just can’t give those away – like they did five years ago with Wainwright.
Frank Wren has just got to say no. He’s just got to tell the Padres that he can put together a good enough package without Hanson or Heyward or Freeman. If they resist, he needs to just tell them to see if they can go find a better deal.
The Braves have put shortstop Yunel Escobar on the table. He’s a young, controllable shortstop who is four years away from free agency. It's going to be hard for San Diego to get a better young player back than Escobar.
The Braves would take back Khalil Greene in return, which would also include the $6.5 million owed to Greene for next season, his contract year. They would gamble that Greene, who is from South Carolina and went to Clemson, would bounce back after a poor 2008 season with the Padres.
There is value in taking that money off San Diego’s hands. Peavy will make $11 million next season, so that would mean $17.5 million bucks, or almost 24% of the Padres’ 2008 budget, would be coming off the books. There is value in that – tremendous value, especially for a team needing to shed payroll.
If the Braves take on that money, and also include a good young player like Escobar, that should be enough to keep the Padres away from Hanson and the other top prospects.
Atlanta will probably also include one of its two big center field prospects, either Jordan Schafer or Gorkys Hernandez. They need to probably offer Jo Jo Reyes, a SoCal native who could probably thrive with the Padres. Others can be included to round out the offer, but it just must not include Hanson.
People incorrectly complain about the Braves inability to develop young starting pitchers. They see the struggles of Jo Jo Reyes and Chuck James, and talk about how it’s been almost a decade since a quality starter, Kevin Millwood, came up from the farm system and joined the rotation.
But the truth is the Braves have traded most of their top pitching prospects. Wainwright leads the list, which also includes Jason Marquis, Kyle Davies, Odalis Perez, Dan Meyer, Zach Miner, and Matt Harrison. While that’s not Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz, it’s still not a bad list. But it also shows why the Braves cannot give up on Tommy Hanson.
Yes, one of the pitchers the Braves do give up, maybe Jo Jo Reyes or maybe someone else, could become even better than the pitchers in that list. That’s the gamble you take in making a deal. But when you’ve got a prospect that scouts rate as a top-of-the-rotation type guy, you just can’t use him in a deal, even if you're getting an ace who is under contract for several seasons.
Frank Wren will just have to walk away. The Padres will blink. They know Jake Peavy wants to come to Atlanta. They know they won't find a better deal from someone else. Could the Astros put together a better package with Escobar and one of the center fielders, along with taking on Greene’s salary? No. So if Wren sticks to his guns that Hanson is off limits, he’ll get his man.
It’s just time for the Braves to keep the next big pitching prospect. They've sacrificed just too much over the past few years. Tommy Hanson is that player, and this big, tall right-hander needs to help the Braves win a World Series, instead of doing it for someone else.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at email@example.com.