The best team in the Majors during the regular season last year is doing what it can to maintain that status going into 2013. Earlier today, the Washington Nationals signed starting pitcher Dan Haren to a one-year, $13-million deal. The Nats are hoping for a bounce-back year from the right-hander after one of the least productive of his career with the Los Angeles Angels.
From 2005-2011, Dan Haren was a workhorse for the Oakland Athletics, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Angels, throwing more than 215 innings each year and adding more than 200 strikeouts in three of those seasons. He was one of the most reliable pitchers in the league during that stretch, with an ERA that eclipsed 4.00 just once. His performances earned him three consecutive All-Star nods and he finished in the top 10 in Cy Young balloting twice.
Last year, however, things changed. He managed just 176.2 innings, about 50 innings fewer than his previous 7-year average. At 12-13, he posted his first sub-.500 season since starting 14 games in his rookie year of 2003 with the St. Louis Cardinals. His 7.2 K/9 was his lowest since 2006. Those numbers could, at least in part, be attributed to a back problem that landed him on the disabled list.
The health concern with Haren now, has to do with his hip, which turned off some other potential suitors. The Nationals, though, with money to spend and a desire to make a deeper run in October, were comfortable enough to offer big money for a short-term risk; a deal that benefits both sides. Washington adds a 32-year-old pitcher who has been nothing but dependable, aside from one down season, and Haren has an opportunity to re-establish his value in an effort to sign a longer-term contract next year, while still earning more money this year than if the Angels picked up his option.
With Haren, the Nationals are looking to fill the fifth starter void left by Edwin Jackson. Jackson pitched 189.2 innings, had a 10-11 record, 168 strikeouts, and an ERA of 4.03. Even with those numbers, the Nationals still had one of the best starting staffs in all of baseball with Steven Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Ross Detwiler. None of them is older than 27 and they will continue to anchor the rotation and the team seems to believe that Haren should provide no worse than comparable production to what Jackson did last year, assuming he stays healthy.
As for the Angels, they were still reportedly interested in retaining Haren for one year, but for a lesser salary. They preferred a more incentive-laden deal that, even if fully reached, still would have fallen short of what Washington committed. LA’s focus will now continue on signing Zack Greinke as they and the Los Angeles Dodgers remain the favorites for his services. With Haren signing for 1-year at $13 million, though, Greinke’s price may have just gone up and the Angels may be forced to spend because losing both Haren and Greinke in the offseason may put them in too deep a hole to keep pace in the AL West.