It hasn’t taken long for the hot stove to heat up and the rumor mill to start turning. It was known long before now that the Angels were unlikely to pick up Dan Haren’s option, but yesterday it broke that they will try and trade him before the date they have to make a decision on his option arrives. To a lot of people it doesn’t make sense to trade for a player that is about to hit the free agent market anyway, but if you think a little deeper it makes a lot of sense.
With the option Haren is basically going to be on a one year $15.5 million deal. After a down year teams might be reluctant to invite Haren in on a long term deal and if they trade for him it prevents any type of biding war from developing. $15.5 million is a lot of money for a one year deal for the 1.8 fWAR pitcher that Dan Haren was in 2012, but it is a great deal for the 4.4 or 6.1 fWAR pitcher Haren was in 2010 and 2011. For teams with money it could be worth the risk and because it is known that he is likely to be a free agent in a week it isn’t going to take a lot in prospects to get him.
Eliminate all top prospects and all major leaguers from the list of possible trade targets. A bidding war for Dan Haren is better than having to give the Angels someone like Alex Meyer. No team is going to part with a top prospect for a player that is about to be a free agent, especially one with the risk Dan Haren’s 2012 provide. The Angels need catching. They just lost Bobby Wilson on waivers and Hank Conger has never hit in the majors like he has in the minors. Conger is only 24 and still has a chance to develop into a good player, but what is better than one catcher with a chance to develop?
Two catchers with a chance to develop. It just so happens the Nationals can help out in that department. Sandy Leon only saw limited major league time this season, but in that time he hit .267/.389/.333. The more important numbers for Leon is his .311/.358/.422 batting line in AA. Leon is a good catching prospect who has always been thought of as a great defensive catcher. If his bat continues to develop as it did this season then he will be a starting caliber major league catcher.
Sandy Leon on his own for a pitcher of the pedigree of Haren shouldn’t be enough to get a deal done, but this is a unique circumstance where the Nationals would be trading for a player in order to not get into a bidding war, and having Haren in the fold doesn’t necessarily alter any other plans the Nationals may have. Leon may be the fourth or fifth player in any other trade the Nationals make, but he won’t be a centerpiece like he could be for Haren, and because Haren is only on a one year deal it wouldn’t keep the Nationals from handing out a long term contract to any other free agent they may desire.
The other situation is the deals offered for Haren are unacceptable and the Angels decline his option and let him become a free agent. This no longer means the Angels are done with Haren. It only means they don’t want to pay him $15.5 million for 2013. After informing Haren’s agent they aren’t picking up the deal the very next question is going to be, “What can we have him back for?” Other teams that might be interested in Haren’s services are the Brewers, Orioles, Diamondbacks, and any one else that needs a starting pitcher that could very well make below market value.
If Haren becomes a free agent his next contract could very well be in the three or four year and $36-48 million range. He is coming off a down year, but before this season he has been one of the most consistently good pitchers in baseball. Three of his last five seasons have been 6.0 fWAR or better. High strikeout/low walk pitchers like Haren don’t come cheap and the best way to insure he ends up on a team may very well be to make a trade for him and pay him higher for one year and re-evaluate a long term deal at the end of 2013.
The real question is not what does it take to get Dan Haren, whether it is via a trade or via a signing, it is what does Dan Haren add to the 2013 Nationals. Assuming no other moves Haren would be replacing Edwin Jackson and his 2.7 fWAR. Haren had a ridiculously bad season for Dan Haren and was worth only 1.8 fWAR. Last season was Haren’s worst season as a full time major league starter and unlikely to repeat. It is also the only time he has pitched under 200 innings since becoming a full time starter. It is more likely that Haren is able to get back to his career average fWAR of 4.7. Even at the $15.5 million of the option year that is a bargain and would improve the Nationals by roughly two wins.
There is little question that if healthy Haren can improve on what Edwin Jackson gave the Nationals in 2012. The big question is whether or not Haren will be healthy or if his back issues will be a lingering issue. Haren may not be worth a long term deal at this moment, especially considering the number of teams that could be vying for his services. If the Nationals can get him in a trade for a low level prospect like Leon or Rosenbaum it could be worth it. Haren could prove himself a valuable member of the rotation and end up getting the long term deal he would seek as a free agent this off-season for even more money next off-season.