There are many signs in baseball that indicate that the career of a former MLB player is not what it once was — signing a minor league contract is one of them. The deal stands as a warning sign that the chances of making the big league club are becoming slimmer every year and this could be the last legitimate chance a guy has of making noise on a major league team. This week the Chicago White Sox gave one of these signs of last resort to starting pitcher Tommy Hanson.
Hanson, who last played with the Los Angeles Angels last season, struggled in Spring Training with the Texas Rangers, racking up a 6.43 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP in two starts. The once promising prospect in the Atlanta Braves‘ system, has not been the same since he was a staple in the rotation from 2009-11. Hanson realized what pitchers with arm problems always figure out; it can all go downhill quickly.
In 2009, Hanson exploded on the scene at the age of 22, finishing third in the Rookie of the Year voting while going 11-4 with an ERA of 2.89 and a WHIP of 1.18. During his sophomore campaign he lost a little of his velocity and struggled with his command. Hanson hit a league record fourteen hitters but finished the season with an impressive 1.17 WHIP. After a stellar 2011, the Braves started to notice that something was the matter. In a surprise move they unloaded Hanson to the Angels for Jordan Walden in order to shore up their bullpen.
Mike Scioscia and the Angels’ staff thought that they could turn the now derailing train that was Hanson around. After an injury-plagued 2013 in which Hanson had a 5.42 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in just 15 games, Los Angeles did not re-sign the once promising pitcher. Four months later Hanson sat without a contract on Opening Day and was looking to settle for a minor league deal in order to prove that he could make a comeback. He needed a team that desired veteran pitching depth that could give him a chance to be in the majors.
It is understood that most minor league contracts amount to nothing. Hanson might fall into that category if not for the situation he is put in. Felipe Paulino is a huge question mark in this year’s rotation. The team does not know if he can come back to form after Tommy John surgery. Erik Johnson struggled in his first start of the year and may need to be sent down to the minors to tinker with his off-speed pitches.
Even if both of these pitchers have successful seasons, like the old baseball saying goes, “a team cannot have too much pitching.” Due to Hanson’s track record prior to 2012, he has the talent to make an impact on the big league club. Maybe the White Sox can catch lighting in a bottle and find their next Esteban Loaiza. Remember him? The Sox signed him to a minor league deal in 2003 and he ended up starting the All-Star Game that year. That might be a little far-fetched but this is baseball — anything can happen.
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