Can Craig Hansen Get the Monkey Off His Back?

hansen-monkeyCraig 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.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Brian October 31, 2009 at 5:18 pm
    What are MLB’s rules about the rehab time required for a rule 5 draft?
    Depending on that answer, it would be like a $25K bet/investment that he wouldn’t heal before September 2010 (when his presence wouldn’t affect the roster since it is expanded), and if he did heal after this time we could rehab him during offseason and hope for the best with him in 2011. If it works out then we spent $50K for a possibly really useful arm, if not, like say he comes back early and stinks, we get $25K back anyway.
  2. joejanish October 31, 2009 at 5:51 pm
    I’m pretty sure that a player can be on the DL for the entire season, but would have to be on the active roster for a total of 90 days during the following season. One way or the other, he’d have to be active for a combined 90 days between the two years — or be offered back to his original team.
  3. Harry Chiti November 1, 2009 at 1:00 pm
    The minors are littered with guys who can throw hard and fail to produce results in the big leagues. The Mets, as can all teams can find guys like this any day. The real key is finding someone who can figure out if they can throw to the corners or develop a secondary pitch to make their high speed fastball more effective. The Mets couldn’t make Parnell effective, why would this guy be different?
  4. joejanish November 2, 2009 at 12:30 am
    Harry, I think you can count the number of guys in the Mets’ farm system who throw 95 on one hand — and have a few fingers left over. So I wouldn’t exactly say the minors are “littered” with people who have this kind of talent.

    In contrast to Parnell, Hansen actually has a secondary pitch — a plus slider. His issue is consistency with that slider since the Bosox messed with his mechanics. Like Parnell, however, Hansen throws a pretty straight fastball.

    But you may be right — the Mets may not be capable of developing a hard-throwing pitcher. Which is a problem, isn’t it?

  5. Mike November 2, 2009 at 9:43 am
    Joe, that is a problem and fundamentally it pretty much ends this conversation, but I think something else is worth discussing. I understand that bad mechanics for a pitcher need to be changed for health concerns, but why does it always seem that a pitcher is drafted because they throw 95+ and then the organization changes their mechanics only to call it a disappointment that the velocity suffers? Should it not be that this is to be expected? Why then, if it is, do teams draft guys with bad mechanics that the team knows they are going to have to change likely resulting in a velocity drop? That adjustment seems to often result in a lack of confidence and then a bad start to the pro career which the player may never get past.

    You are a pitching “guru,” so I’m asking why not just leave a guy alone, let him throw 95+ with bad mechanics, and try to slowly adjust a few things to better keep him healthy as opposed to completely reworking the mechanics all at once?

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