On Friday the Anaheim Angels sent relief pitcher Jordan Walden to the Atlanta Braves for starting pitcher Tommy Hanson. This led to some debate in the comments over the weekend about what sort of player the Indians might get back in exchange for Chris Perez. Some would argue that Perez has been the better pitcher and should clearly be worth a better return, others would say that because Walden will be much less expensive in 2013, he's the more valuable commodity and the Tribe won't be able to get as much in return for Perez.
Let's take a look at some of the pertinent figures for both relief pitchers. Here are their numbers for 2011 and 2012:
I know many will argue with leaving out 2010 because that was Perez's best season, but I don't think most general managers are overly concerned with what a relief pitcher did three years ago. If you disagree, feel free to give Perez a bump (Walden was just 22 that season, and pitched only 15.1 innings in his first taste of the big leagues and put up an ERA+ of 2010, for what it's worth).
I would also point out that Walden pitched only 39 innings in 2012, missing six weeks with a neck/shoulder injury. He made eleven appearances after his return, posting an ERA of 2.45. That's too small a sample to read much into, but if you're going to argue he's damaged, you should also acknowledge he was better after returning than before missing time and there's a case to be made that his 2012 numbers don't reflect how good a pitcher he is.
I think it's fair to say they've been pretty comparable pitchers, in terms of their overall production. Perez walks and strikes out fewer hitters, but the ERA+ and OPS+ figures are both very close. Given that Walden is two years younger than Perez, under team control for four more years (compared to two for Perez), and will make something in the ballpark of $6.5 million less than Perez in 2013, I think most every team in baseball would prefer to have acquired Walden.
The other argument I've seen is that many GMs value the "proven closer." I suppose that's probably true. Here are a couple stat-lines from 2011:
Pitcher A: 60.1 innings, an ERA+ of 127, 1.24 WHIP, 32 saves
Pitcher B: 59.2 innings, an ERA+ of 119, 1.21 WHIP, 36 saves
One of those pitchers was deemed not good enough to keep closing, the other one kept his position in 2012. I'm not sure Perez proved he was a better closer, the Indians just had lower standards for the job. Even if you rate Perez's skill as superior (and I would, narrowly), the teams that value his has kept his closing job (after an almost identical season to the one that cost Walden his) aren't likely to give that more weight than the additional money Perez will cost.
Another strike against Perez's trade value can be found in the reports today that the Pirates are having trouble finding a trade partner for their own closer, Joel Hanrahan. Hanrahan has been one of the very best closers in baseball over the last couple years, compiling 76 saves in 128.1 innings, with a 2.24 ERA/166 ERA+. His 2012 salary was lower than Perez's (though he's due a bigger raise after a better season and will probably make almost the exact same amount as Perez in 2013). He's only under team control for one more season, but he's been much better than Perez and would be the preferred target of any team.
Given the differences between Perez and Walden in age and cost, I don't think someone with Tommy Hanson's value is a realistic expectation. Also, I don't know quite how to rate Hanson's value. When many saw the trade they probably thought of the pitcher who finished 3rd in the balloting for the 2009 NL Rookie of the Year Award (laughably won by Chris Coghlan) after putting up a 2.89 ERA. Or they may have recalled the guy who threw over 200 innings in 2010 with an ERA of 3.33. Others saw a starting pitcher with an ERA worse than league average over the last two years, who's averaged a more pedestrian 152 innings. His velocity has dropped and he's had back and shoulder issues for two years now.
I think the Indians will have to settle for less than Hanson, but I don't know how to pinpoint what that means. Perhaps there's another starting pitcher on a team that no longer sees much of a future for him, one without the peak value Hanson had, and the Indians hit a winner and bolster their 2013 rotation. Maybe there's a B prospect out there and he pans out better than expected and the Tribe has a solid contributor a couple years from now.
I want Perez traded because I think the $7 million he'll cost can be better spent, but I won't be holding my breath for anything more than the baseball equivalent of a lottery ticket in return.