Signing Haren looks like a sensible move

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
9:56
PM PT
The Los Angeles Dodgers might have been able to wait and acquire a pitcher with better numbers over the past couple of seasons. Dan Haren might have been able to find a better opportunity elsewhere, in which he could have been an entrenched No. 3 or 4 starter and would not have to look over his shoulder if he hits a rough patch.

[+] EnlargeDan Haren
Jonathan Ernst/Getty ImagesDan Haren has led the league in starts three times in his career, pitching at least 216 innings every season from 2005 to 2011.
But sometimes, there is a perfect storm of intersecting self-interests.

The Dodgers, intent on entering 2014 with the best staff in baseball, needed to clean up the back end of their rotation and have seen -- and contributed to -- the soaring cost of starting pitching. Haren was born and raised 25 miles east of Dodger Stadium. He lives 50 miles south and thrived for most of his career pitching on the West Coast, mostly in Oakland and Anaheim.

So, the Dodgers and Haren have agreed on a one-year deal worth $10 million that will turn into a two-year deal if Haren pitches 180 innings this season. It seems like, even if things don’t work out perfectly for one side or the other, nobody’s going to end up too badly bruised.

Sunday night, Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis tweeted:



If you’re a Dodgers fan, you can be underwhelmed by Sunday’s news, but it’s hard to work up much reason to be upset.

Haren led the league in starts three times in his career. From 2005 to 2011, he pitched at least 216 innings every single season. With a low-90s fastball, a devastating split-finger pitch and a nasty cutter, he could sometimes dominate and was good for 200 strikeouts or more every season.

He’s not that kind of pitcher -- one who started an All-Star Game for the American League -- any more. The innings have taken their toll. The past two seasons, according to Fangraphs, Haren’s average fastball hasn’t broken 89 mph.

But about the time Jason Vargas agreed to a four-year, $32 million deal with the Kansas City Royals, Haren started looking like an excellent investment.

He doesn’t walk hitters. Never has. Though he was 10-14 with a 4.67 ERA for the Washington Nationals last season, he had a 3.29 ERA and 84 strikeouts in his last 15 starts after a short respite on the disabled list. He’s still just 33 and will be highly motivated to prove he can make the adjustments to rejoin the upper echelon of major league pitchers. Presuming he’s healthy, he looks like an excellent candidate for a bounce-back season.

Haren is a self-reflective perfectionist and an excellent all-around athlete, one who might immediately become the Dodgers’ best-hitting pitcher (and his former teammate, Zack Greinke, hit .328 last season).

The Dodgers had been talking to Haren since at least the beginning of last week. I was told he was weighing his desire to pitch close to home with the possibility other teams might present a better opportunity. He didn’t want to be looking over his shoulder as Chad Billingsley rehabs his way back to the mound, probably in May or June. He wasn’t sure what Josh Beckett’s status was.

The Dodgers have given mixed signals about whether they’ll make a serious run at Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka or not and, while the Haren signing doesn’t rule that out, it seems to make it less likely. Perhaps the second-year vesting option got the deal done or -- and this is purely speculation -- perhaps the Dodgers have decided the posting hassle with Tanaka, and the price tag, mean he’s not worth pursuing.

If the Dodgers go into next season with Clayton Kershaw, Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Haren and Josh Beckett in their rotation -- with Billingsley pushing hard to earn one of those last few spots -- nobody’s going to question their ability to get hitters out. And, now that they’ve begun to fill in some holes, their winter agenda becomes clearer and clearer.

After last winter's flurry of big-money moves, this could be the offseason of low-key, intelligent tweaks to what already looks like a championship-caliber roster. How did that strategy work out for the Boston Red Sox?

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Yasiel Puig
BA HR RBI R
.307 12 51 53
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Gonzalez 14
RBIA. Gonzalez 60
RY. Puig 53
OPSY. Puig .911
WZ. Greinke 11
ERAC. Kershaw 1.78
SOZ. Greinke 127