Can Craig Hansen Get the Monkey Off His Back?
Craig Hansen was chosen with the 26th overall pick of the June 2005 draft by Boston Red Sox, and made his MLB debut less than three months later, smack in the middle of a heated pennant race. Hansen was not the best prospect in the draft, but was considered by many to be among the most polished — so it was not a surprise that he was in the Fenway Park bullpen so quickly. The 6’6″ St. John’s closer touched 98 MPH on the radar gun, had the best slider coming out of the draft, and was judged as having the appropriate temperament for short relief work. He zipped through 12 innings split between the Gulf Coast League and AA before laying an egg in Boston. Though he was a disappointment in his first four games as a big leaguer, most predicted future success as an MLB closer.
But that success never happened — and Hansen remains an enigma. A key part of the deal that sent Jason Bay to Boston and Manny Ramirez to LA at the 2008 trade deadline, the Pirates have dropped Craig Hansen from their 40-man roster.
Hansen can still bring it in the mid-90s and his slider is sharp, but he’s been wildly inconsistent with command. At one point the Red Sox adjusted what they believed were unsafe mechanics (hmm… can you say “Aaron Heilman”?) in an effort to improve his accuracy and prevent future injuries. As a result his velocity dropped to the low 90s temporarily, his slider became more inconsistent, and he had issues with confidence. After joining the Pirates his velocity returned but the slider remained inconsistent and missed most of 2009 with nerve issues in his neck and back. It took until August to diagnose his problems as Parsonage-Turner Syndrome — a condition where a nerve deteriorates and shuts down muscles in the upper back, shoulder and upper arm. A full recovery is expected, but it can take anywhere from 7 months to 5 years.
Why bring this up? Because Hansen is a quality arm, has local ties, and by being dropped from the 40-man, is available through the Rule 5 draft. Does that mean the Mets should roll the dice and pluck him from the Pirates this winter? It would be a bold move, with high risk. Even if everything goes perfectly with his rehab, Hansen is unlikely to return to the mound before next June, and wasn’t exactly MLB-ready before the nerve issues initially arose during spring training last year (though, they might have had something to do with his ineffectiveness). He’d be a major project no matter which way you slice it, and the Mets would have to be patient, looking at him as a potential candidate for the 2011 or 2012 team.
As a Rule 5 pick, he would have to remain on the 25-man roster for the entire 2010 season. But, he could be on the DL for most (or all) of it. The rules state that a player has to be active on the 25-man roster for 90 days in his first two seasons with his new club. Hansen turns 26 years old in a couple weeks, so there’s still time for him to make a comeback.
Should the Mets go through all this complication just to get a big arm in their organization — and one that has yet to prove himself at the MLB level? Probably not, but I wanted to provide all the details, as some fans might be intrigued by the former Red Storm fireballer. Regardless of what the Mets decide, I hope the kid can make a full recovery — it’s always sad to see someone on the cusp of greatness have everything taken away from them.