Nationals Take the Dan Haren Shot

When the Angels allowed Dan Haren to walk away for nothing, the immediate speculation was that he’d look to stay on the West Coast. There seemed to be a natural fit with the Padres, and though there were lingering questions regarding Haren’s health, it was clear he was going to get a shot somewhere, and it was clear he was going to be in some sort of demand. Haren seems to have found a home now, on Tuesday, and it isn’t on the West Coast at all — it’s on the opposite of the West Coast, as Haren has an agreement with the Nationals for a year and $13 million.

The immediate implications are twofold. One, the Nationals have an agreement with Dan Haren! Two, with Haren, the Nationals would be removed from the Zack Greinke sweepstakes, almost certainly. Greinke had been linked most often to the Dodgers, Angels, Nationals, and Rangers, and Haren would round out the Nationals’ starting rotation, eliminating the need. Not that the Nationals were considered a favorite for Greinke’s services, but one less suitor is one less suitor, even though the Dodgers are all the suitors a free agent needs.

With Haren, the Nationals’ rotation would look something like:

Fine pitchers, all of them. When healthy, which is always the conditional. And when it comes to health, naturally, Haren is the biggest question mark. There’s a reason we can’t yet just say that Dan Haren belongs to the Washington Nationals — Haren still has to pass a physical, and people wonder.

Haren dealt with a back injury in 2012, and speculation is that a trade between the Angels and Cubs fell through when Chicago didn’t like Haren’s medicals. Buster Olney tweeted not long ago that league executives are concerned about Haren’s hip. Just as the Phillies didn’t actually end up with Wilton Lopez, the Nationals might not actually end up with Dan Haren, if something looks awry. And even if Haren passes his physical, to sign Dan Haren is to take a chance. Most recently, he wasn’t his normal self, and he’s now 32 years old.

But every contract ever is about balancing risk and reward, and here’s the thing about Haren: Haren’s 2012 performance wouldn’t be worth a one-year, $13-million contract. Haren’s performance in each of the seven seasons prior, though, would be worth the contract, and then some. Haren was one of the league’s most consistent, durable starting pitchers until he wasn’t, but he’s not that far removed from being a top-of-the-line starter, and he doesn’t even have to make a complete recovery to be worth the salary the Nationals are willing to commit.

Haren has downplayed his health issues, as one does when one is selling himself. The good news is that he pitched very well down the stretch. Over Haren’s final nine starts of 2012, spanning more than 50 innings, he issued just five walks with 43 strikeouts. The worse news is that this is what his fastball did, after averaging 90+ miles per hour before:

Month Fastball
April 88.8
May 88.7
June 88.8
July 88.3
August 88.2
Sep/Oct 88.0

There are indications that Haren recovered, and there are indications that he didn’t. There’s reason to believe Haren would further recover over the offseason, and there’s reason to believe he’s on a somewhat irreversible decline. Haren wouldn’t be the first good starting pitcher to no longer be what he used to be. That happens at some point to every single starting pitcher that exists.

So Dan Haren’s days of being Dan Haren might well be finished. But at $13 million, the Nationals aren’t paying Dan Haren to be his old self. They’re paying him to be only slightly better than he was in 2012, and that seems like a good gamble. A one-year contract minimizes risk, and if Haren actually does make a near-full recovery, he’ll look like one of the winter’s top acquisitions. If he’s simply fine, he’ll be worth the money and he’ll help the Nationals toward the playoffs. There are teams who wouldn’t have taken a chance on Haren, and he probably makes every team nervous, but Dan Haren on one year isn’t more risky than Zack Greinke on seven, or Anibal Sanchez on six, or Kyle Lohse on four. Dan Haren on one year and the cost of a qualifying offer seems like a smart risk, and the Nationals stand to reap the potential rewards.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


46 Responses to “Nationals Take the Dan Haren Shot”

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  1. James says:

    What could the Mariners give us for Michael Morse? We need a bullpen arm!

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    • philosofool says:

      Morse is a pretty bad fit for the Mariners, who already have several all-bat no glove players, most of whom are younger and could be part of future plans.

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      • chuckb says:

        I think M’s fans, who have watched their team struggle to score for several years, would disagree with the notion that they have several “all bat” players.

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      • philosofool says:

        Touche!

        My main point still stands: the M’s have no use for an 0.5 WAR offense first player.

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  2. Nik says:

    I think the Nats should have went for a safer pitcher. They have absolutely no depth in the rotation and if Haren goes down along with another SP (probability says this will happen), they’ll be in trouble.

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    • Greg says:

      Disagree. They’ve got Christian Garcia who they are stretching out to be a starter, plus Stammen & Duke. This is essentially a very small risk signing for the Nats.

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    • rarumberger says:

      They have that pitcher already – his name is Zach Duke. Yes, they’re still not in a position to cover more than one injury, but now’s not the best time to fill that need. Any depth pitchers they sign will need to accept minor league contracts, and right now those guys are all holding out hope for major league deals. The best time to pick those guys up is after a buttload of them are dumped/unsigned in the spring, a la Duke last year.

      With a couple of replacement-level arms in the minors, the Nats can rest easy for a while. If around the trade deadline it looks like they’re heading into the playoffs without enough pitching, they can pick up a rental.

      This is definitely a good move.

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    • Larry Yocum says:

      Haren is slated to be the 5th starter now though. Huge risk/reward play there. If he isn’t the old Dan Haren, he is still a normal 5th starter. If returns to form, the Nationals might be running one of the best 5th starters in the game out there. The true risk for teams would have been signing Haren as their #2 or 3 starter and giving him more years. This is a good gamble for the Nationals.

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  3. Jonathan says:

    I absolutely love this move for the Nationals. I can’t think of a team that can better absorb him not working out (Considering their rotation as is) and if he does work out that rotation is the stuff of nightmares. Combine them with a competent offense and this is a team I’d consider getting MLBtv to watch when my team’s not playing.

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    • Nik says:

      The rotation was already good, they should have went for a lower risk pitcher to hedge against injuries.

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      • jason B says:

        Eh, it just depends on their tolerance for risk. A lower-risk pitcher to fill out the rotation (in a similarly short-term, cost-effective manner) wouldn’t have the upside that a healthy Haren does. This signing carries more risk but also more upside.

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      • Nik says:

        That’s the point. They don’t need upside. They need to avoid injuries.

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      • Natman says:

        Malarkey! They had John Lannan, a 5th starter on a good team aka about a league average pitcher (ERA+100). They didn’t want him. They wanted a guy who was possibly a 2nd to 3rd on a good team (2-4 WAR pitcher). Its a great sign. At worst he’s Lannan. At best he’s Haren.

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      • Jason B says:

        “They don’t need upside. They need to avoid injuries.”

        In your mind, perhaps. When I’m on the cusp of contention for the playoffs, or perhaps winning a WS, I would opt for upside, personally. Your risk tolerance doesn’t necessarily need to be theirs (nor does mine, necessarily).

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  4. Colin says:

    Willing to spend $13 million on a injury question mark, but unwilling to submit a $13 million qualifying offer for Edwin Jackson.
    I’d think the former would be more likely to be a complete waste of money than the latter. Perhaps Rizzo promised Boris not to extend an offer? Bizarre.

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    • Will says:

      Yeah, the only possible explanation is that there was a under the table agreement not to tender a QO to Jackson in a ploy to maximize Jackson’s value this offseason. Jackson clearly wasn’t happy with how things transpired, because he fired Boras in July. But it was a no-brainer to offer Jackson a QO. If they were prepared to offer one to LaRoche, they’d have done the same with Jackson.

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      • Natman says:

        I don’t know if offering Jackson is the “no brainer” claimed. Jackson is simply inconsistent. Even in season. For example in 2010 in Arizona he was below average with an ERA+ of 82 while getting hot after the trade to Chicago. In 2011 he was above average for the Sox but about average for the Cardinals with an ERA+ of 104. And this year he had an ERA+ of 9. Listen Jackson has great stuff. I saw a few games of his and he can shut down a team with the best of them. But I also saw a few games and he can struggle mightily. Its a results driven league, and his label is continuing to be an “if” he puts it all together guy. I don’t know if $13M is good for a “potential” guy. Haren is in some senses a better bet in that it may just be an anomaly of a bad year. Haren has put it all together.

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    • dualie says:

      At worst he’s not on the mound at all.

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  5. Will says:

    Nationals are moving fast this offseason. The Winter Meetings haven’t even ended yet, and they’ve filled all their holes already.

    5th SP? Haren
    CF? Span
    1B? Michael Morse
    LH RP? Zack Day and Bill Bray

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    • Anon21 says:

      To be fair, the verb “fill” suggests more action than simply allowing Morse (already their player) to slide into his natural position. But as for the rest of it, I agree they’ve been quite active and have made some good moves.

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  6. Cidron says:

    And, its not like he is stepping in to be the ace of the staff. He is filling the FIVE slot in the rotation. The expectations out of the five slot that he, even if he misses some time, should be able to fulfill them. Its the Nats version of Blanton behind Lee, Halladay, and Hamels (philly rotation). Just pitch. Thats all we ask of you.

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    • Nik says:

      I would not be happy if my team just signed Joe Blanton for 13 million.

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      • rarumberger says:

        You would be if Blanton was Haren.

        Haren’s coming off one down year, and carries a risk of serious injury. This deal is pending a medical. If he passes the medical, this is a major win for the Nats.

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    • TKDC says:

      I just don’t see how you can see it this way, and if you do it doesn’t seem like a great signing. The Nats no longer have a reason to extend rest for any starters, so they should go with a traditional 5-man rotation that has the 5th starter only pitching when needed. For most teams, paying $13 million for that guy is a mistake.

      Honestly, if Haren is healthy, he profiles as at least the 4th best starter on the team, and Detwiler is the 5th starter. Detwiler was really good last year, but it seems likely that regression makes Haren (if healthy) a better option than him in 2013.

      I’m not saying Detwiler isn’t good enough to give 30-33 starts to over the course of the season, but paying $13 million for a 5th starter is an Evil Empire move, and I don’t think that is the Nats thinking.

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      • Pig.Pen says:

        Since most of you aren’t Nats fans and the Nats have never been worth taking note of after the draft concluded, you may not know that the Nationals are owned by Ted Lerner. Ted Lerner is the richest owner in baseball and worth billions. He is also 87 years old and wants to see the Nats win the series. Imagine you are 87 and a multi-billionaire would you spend 0.33% of your net worth on a starting pitcher that could get you over the hump?

        Call it “Evil Empire” if you will, I think he just wants to win.

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      • TKDC says:

        When they start actually signing tons of top dollar free agents and have a payroll that actually reaches closer to $200 million, then I’ll believe it. As of now, Dan Haren is the 3rd highest paid player on the team. This is a team that went into 2012 with Roger Bernadina and John Lannon as expected big contributors.

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  7. Ben says:

    A fascinating signing. The 1-year part of this makes it more reasonable, but the rest of it does seem somewhat illogical. I agree that it’s odd that the team didn’t tender Edwin Jackson a qualifying offer, but they are willing to sign Haren to 1-year and $13 million. PECOTA and Bill James give him solid projections, worth the money, so it all comes down to his health. The Angels’ lack of desire to take Haren back might show something about his hip, but as far as “taking chances” goes, the Nats are taking a semi-calculated chance. With the amount of talent on their roster, and the defense the team plays, this squad can overcome a bad/injury plagued Haren season. If it doesn’t restrict them from making other moves, the risk may be worth it.

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    • rarumberger says:

      Personally, I wouldn’t put too much stock in whom the Angels do or don’t offer contracts to. Which move over the last five seasons have they made that makes you think they have any sort of coherent plan?

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      • JeffMathisCera says:

        Well disregarding the Tony Reagins era (the first four out of the last 5 years), DiPoto and the Angels seem indeed have a coherent plan. One that included a pretty smart dealing of Ervin Santana who, while not injured, was in line for a similar payout had the Angels picked up his option.

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      • richman says:

        IDK, letting Figgins, Lackey, K-rod, etc walk worked out pretty well

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      • Justin Smoaked Cheese says:

        Vernon Wells, hello! Imagine what they could do with the $42 million that he’s still owed. They must have really wanted to get Napoli and Rivera out of town.

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      • Ben says:

        Call me an optimist, but I like to think that every front office has a coherent plan, the problem is that randomness and reality cause those plans to change. For a big market team like the Angels, those plans probably change a bit more than others. Just because a team has made a bad move doesn’t mean that the team didn’t have a cogent plan in mind when they made that move. Any other way of thinking about it is far to shortsighted.

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  8. safoster says:

    If Haren gets hurt, that’s when the Nats make creative roster moves in-season. Joe Saunders was a solid pickup for the Orioles down the stretch, and they managed to keep their rotation together when basically their entire rotation either got hurt (Hammell twice), or got sent to the minors for being ineffective. Some people are acting like this signing disallows the Nats to make moves mid-season if he doesn’t work out.

    If they signed him to a long-term contract with lots of guaranteed money, then you could call them stupid. In the grand scheme of this, this is low-risk, with very high reward possibilities.

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  9. chuckb says:

    Looks like a really good deal for the Nats.

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  10. Jonathan says:

    This is the shot I wanted Seattle to take.

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  11. JT says:

    As a Braves fan I am just glad this takes the Nats out of the running for Zack Greinke.

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  12. Alan_A says:

    I like the Haren signing. About Jackson – he profiles OK on paper, but the problem was that in the flesh, he tended to concentrate all his bad moments in a single inning, so that you’d wind up having to dig your way out of a five-run deficit. Actually, when you run a comparison, Jackson’s numbers are almost identical to Lannan’s – the Jackson signing puzzled me for exactly that reason. It seemed to be a triumph of scouting (“he throws hard,” “we can reduce his walk rate by adjusting his mechanics”) over metrics. Haren profiles a bit better than either Lannan or Jackson, even coming off a comparatively bad year. About Greinke – that’s nice to think about, but you have to factor in the need to hold cash in reserve as younger Nats players become arbitration-eligible or extendable – think Zimmermann and Desmond, not to mention Strasburg and maybe Harper. The Nats have done OK with value moves like this in the past. I’m hopeful.

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    • Will H. says:

      I found all these questions about not tendering Jackson odd, myself. They won his services for one-year for 11 million. They made clear they wanted more upside than that, so offering him a qualifying bid would assume that another team would want him for more than that (over 13 million) in addition to giving up a draft pick this year… when he didn’t do anything out of the ordinary last year.

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  13. monkey business says:

    One thing I heard last year was that the Nats hard throwers let teams adjust some to 93-95 MPH fastballs. Imagine going for an 88 MPH starter one day to Stras the next day. Yikes.

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