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:
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.