The Angels, Dan Haren, and Playing It Safe

It’s decision time for the Los Angeles Angels. It’s decision time for everybody, but the Angels are a part of everybody, and like everybody else, they’re trying to figure out what their 2013 big-league roster might look like. They just traded Ervin Santana to the Royals. They were going to decline his option, and this way they effectively declined his option and also added a potential reliever. Now the Angels have to figure out what they’re doing with Dan Haren and Torii Hunter. A Haren decision in particular will have to be made quickly.

The Angels have until tomorrow to decide whether to pick up Haren’s $15.5 million 2013 option, or whether to buy it out for $3.5 million. Thus the Angels have until tomorrow to decide whether Dan Haren is worth $12 million over one year. From many reports, the Angels are currently trying to trade Haren, just as they did with Santana. Doing so would free up money for Zack Greinke, who is supposedly the Angels’ top offseason priority.

Let’s operate here under two assumptions:

  1. the Angels greatly prefer Greinke over Haren
  2. the Angels do not wish to pay both Greinke and Haren

Those assumptions seem pretty safe to me. The Angels have been free with their money in the past, but every team has a budget, and the Angels apparently aren’t real interested in paying eight figures for a would-be fourth starter. Now let’s take a glance at how the Angels’ present starting rotation looks, leaving Greinke and Haren out:

There are candidates for that fifth spot — it’s not like the Angels as an organization have but four starting pitchers — but this organization isn’t deep. It’s deep in some places, and it’s deep in the wallet, but it isn’t deep in starters. If we were to represent organizational depth with a ball pit, the Angels’ starting pitcher ball pit would be sparsely populated by balls.

The Angels, of course, will address their rotation, because the offseason is just starting, not just finishing. The Angels fancy themselves a contender and a contender needs to have starters. The Angels seem like they’re going to go all out for Greinke, because they know him and they like him. Maybe the Angels ought to even be considered the Zack Greinke favorites. But one cannot just assume that Greinke will re-sign, and that makes me wonder about the Angels’ approach with Haren.

There’s apparently a sense of urgency when it comes to dealing Haren away, although reports could be incorrect. If the Angels were to deal Haren in the coming days, they’d get a player return, but they’d mostly be saving money. They probably wouldn’t get a very good big-league starting pitcher. Their rotation would be thin, and in need of a significant upgrade if the Angels want to go to the 2013 playoffs.

It seems to me there’s a safer route. I’ll quote Nick Cafardo:

Angels righthander Dan Haren is drawing interest from “several teams,” including the Red Sox, according to a major league source.

Right now, there is reportedly trade interest in Dan Haren. Dan Haren isn’t going to get more or less expensive. If teams are interested in trading for Haren today, it stands to reason teams would be interested in trading for Haren later in the offseason. Maybe not as many teams, but some teams, perhaps even more desperately. One figures the Dan Haren trade interest wouldn’t just evaporate.

Reports have suggested the Angels want to clear Haren before dealing with Greinke, but perhaps they should keep Haren until or unless they get Greinke locked up. If the Angels had their way, they’d have Greinke re-signed by now, but he’s probably going to take a while to sort out his options. There will be plenty of teams interested in his services, and they’ll all be offering big money. Greinke might not sign before the winter meetings. A lot could happen between now and then.

If the Angels were to eventually re-sign Greinke, odds are there would still be teams interested in trading for Haren. Starting pitching is always in demand, Haren would be a short-term commitment, and he has very recently pitched like he belongs at the front of a rotation. If Greinke were to end up somewhere else, though, the Angels would have Haren as a fallback. They’d have Haren for, essentially, a year and $12 million.

The problem with Haren is, naturally, his most recent season. For the first time since 2004, he posted an ERA worse than the league average. For the first time since 2003, he posted an FIP worse than the league average. His xFIP was very slightly better than the league average. Haren’s velocity dropped, and he landed on the disabled list with a back injury he’d tried pitching through. Between June 9 and July 3, Haren allowed 27 runs in 27 innings.

But when Haren came back, the Angels suggested the physical issues were mostly gone, and that what remained was mechanical. It makes sense that a guy pitching hurt would alter his mechanics, and it became a matter of getting Haren back on track. For whatever it’s worth, over Haren’s final nine starts, he registered 43 strikeouts and five unintentional walks. Three of those starts, granted, were against Seattle.

In 2011, Dan Haren was worth 6.1 WAR. Those days are probably gone — Haren’s only getting older — but those days are also recent days. Prior to 2012, Dan Haren was legitimately fantastic. In 2012, Dan Haren was more roughly league-average. He seems to be something of a bounce-back candidate, and at $12 million, he wouldn’t have to be worth a ton to be worth the contract. And on a one-year deal, the risk would be fairly low.

There’s always the option that the Angels could decline Haren’s option and then try to re-sign him at a lower price. Doing so, though, would expose Haren to the market, where he could sign anywhere. The Angels would have competition, and it might require a multi-year commitment to get Haren back. It’s a gamble. Losing Haren and hoping for Greinke is a gamble, because no matter what the Angels’ odds might be for re-signing Greinke, they aren’t 100 percent.

Picking up Haren’s option and holding onto him for the time being wouldn’t lock the Angels into having Haren for 2013. It would just give them support as they work on signing their top priority. There are other starting pitchers out there, of course, but none are as good as Greinke, and few offer Haren’s blend of risk/reward. The Angels know they can have Haren for one year, they know his 2012 was affected by an injury, and they know in 2011 he pitched like an ace. Other pitchers would cost unknown amounts of resources, in terms of players, money, or years. If the Angels ditched Haren and missed out on Greinke, they’d survive, but would their rotation be as good as it would be had they not ditched Haren instead?

Ultimately, the Angels are the most informed, here. Analysis has shown that re-signed players outperform regular-signed players in terms of $/WAR, presumably because the original organizations have the most information. The Angels know the most about Haren’s repertoire, and they know the most about Haren’s back. Maybe the Angels simply see too many red flags — that’s something to consider, if the Angels hurry to trade Haren away.

But at least statistically, there’s an argument for keeping Haren around, if only until Greinke makes a choice. If Haren can be traded now, he could probably be traded after Thanksgiving. And if you just end up stuck with Dan Haren, well, there are worse starting pitchers to end up stuck with on a one-year commitment.

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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.

26 Responses to “The Angels, Dan Haren, and Playing It Safe”

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  1. Daven says:

    Great article. I wouldn’t mind seeing them let him go though. He’d be a great pickup for the Mariners with his high upside and off year lowering his value somewhat.

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    • Kazinski says:

      The Mariners have much better places to spend $12m than for 1 year of Dan Haren in a year that they are unlikely to contend.

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  2. Lukehart80 says:

    Jeff, you’ve matched my thoughts on this almost exactly. I don’t understand the rush to move him when there’s so much other uncertainty around the rotation and the market for Haren’s services stands almost no chance of drying up between now and Spring Training.

    If the disaster of your off-season is that you end up paying Dan Haren something like 8% of your payroll in 2013, you’ve done alright.

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  3. brendan says:

    jeff, if the angels buyout his option, can they still make him a ‘qualifying offer’? If so, they could possibly have haren at one yr/$16.5M or a nice draft pick if he decides to sign elsewhere. That would be a $4.5M gamble, but mostly I was wondering if it is allowed under the CBA rules for this qualifying offer stuff.

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    • Yes, I believe that’s possible.

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      • David says:

        Wouldn’t he likely just accept a qualifying offer, since he is rumored to want to stay in anaheim? And would it even save them any money from just picking up the extension?

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      • Pirates Hurdles says:

        It would cost them money to go the qualifying offer route, but not a ton. His option is $15.5 and the qualifying is $13.3 + $3.5 option buyout = $16.8.

        I don’t understand why they want to give him away now either. Why not pick up the option then make a trade later as Jeff is suggesting? Do they know something that everyone else doesn’t?

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    • Choo says:

      I love the new element of the qualifying offer. I might also take this opportunity to state that Jerome Williams’ strawberry pastel glove bothers me far more it should. It just does. A lot.

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      • cuscus85 says:

        He wears it in memory of his mother who passed away from cancer.

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      • J.D. says:

        No excuses.

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      • Choo says:

        Aw man. I should have known. My own mom is down to her final days after a long battle. Thence I hereby declare, from this moment forth, even if it makes me nauseous to gaze upon it’s pleathery glare, Jerome Williams’ Hello Kitty glove is now my favorite glove in the history of the world.

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  4. wily mo says:

    yeah this all sounds pretty sensible

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  5. Matt says:

    Yeah it almost makes too much sense. The Angels have to be smarter than this. Perhaps there is a driving factor not considered? Maybe Greinke (we all know he’s a little off) wants a show of good faith that they’re committed to him? I know it’s a helluva stretch, mostly just posing the idea that there is some other reason for their position on this whole Haren situation…

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  6. Steper says:

    Thanks Jeff, the best artilce I’ve read yet regarding Haren. I’ve been beating the drum for weeks now that the Angels would be foolish to let him go with so much uncertainty in their rotation. The man is a 1B or 2 pitcher when healthy and that’s a proven fact. So unless there are lingering back issues, and maybe even in spite of lingering back issues, the $12M seems immaterial. As you said, the reward is worth the risk for one year.

    Besides, how can teams llike the Angels expect their fan base to be “loyal” to them even when they come up short, yet they in turn discard a top of the rotation type pitcher after one down year? Heck, they gave Santana more time to earn his way out of town then they ever did Haren.

    By the way, if he is gone by this time tomorow this would be the 2nd time Dipoto jettisoned Haren (once in Arizona), what’s up with that?

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    • wily mo says:

      i think it’s only fair to assume that dipoto has a job lined up under the table with whatever team winds up with haren

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  7. TK says:

    I tend to agree that picking up the Haren option makes sense since they could still trade him later.

    However, I kind of get a chuckle out of the Nick Cafardo tidbit. That unnamed source could easily be Haren’s agent and/or the Angels themselves, trying to bolster his value. Hot Stove season is a bad time of year to give credence to anonymous tipsters.

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  8. bothstillplaying says:

    Complicating matters is the not-yet-mentioned fact that Haren has a limited no-trade clause, with the ability to block trades to 12 other teams……Haren has stated he’d be willing to stay with the Angels on a short-term deal for “fair” value….so, other possibilities include, declining his $15.5 option, making him a qualifying offer of $13.3 to at least insure at a minimum getting a draft pick, having Haren accept the qualifying offer (a nice quick $$$ for Haren), but without the limited no-trade clause…..also, are we sure the rules for such limited no-trade clauses apply to the $15.5 option?

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  9. You had me at “sparsely populated by balls.”

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  10. DrEasy says:

    Assuming there are teams outside of his no-trade clause that Haren still doesn’t want to play for, they should dangle the threat of trading him to make him re-negotiate a contract for cheaper. As a frustrated Jays fan, that’s how I imagine Peavy’s deal happened. :(

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  11. BJsWorld says:

    This article is right on. There are a lot of worse mistakes than giving Dan Haren $12m over 1 year when your rotation is paper thin. I view Haren strictly as insurance. If Greinke + someone else signs then you trade him. If you don’t land Greinke and another arm you keep him. Expecting a 2 win season isn’t asking a whole lot from a guy like Haren.

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  12. rorschach says:

    “If we were to represent organizational depth with a ball pit, the Angels’ starting pitcher ball pit would be sparsely populated by balls.” ha

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  13. stan says:

    This is the first of many times the Angels will have to dance around the Pujols contract. Given the line of teams anxious to trade for Haren, there’s no doubt that he’s worth $12M or even $15M for the coming year, yet they’re going to have to deal him to fit Greinke into the payroll.

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    • BJsWorld says:

      Why would you suggest that?

      Dumping Hunter, Izturis and Santana is $33M saved. The NET increase by keeping Greinke at $20M and Haren at $13M is an overall increase of $7M over 2012.

      Even with arb raises and escalators the Angels could keep Haren AND Greinke AND stay under the 2012 payroll threshold.

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  14. Sage says:

    Dan Haren is old, but not too old to say he should be traded because he’s aging.

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  15. Erik says:

    Well looks like the Angels must think something is wrong with Haren, because they just picked up a terrible relief pitcher with a terrible contract in exchange.

    I’m sure this team has a quality starter they are ready to promote from high A ball into the 5th spot of the rotation next year…

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