The Dodgers' only addition to their starting rotation this winter was a fairly stealthy move.
Their signing of veteran Dan Haren came early in the off-season, a few days before Thanksgiving, and it was -- at the time -- viewed as the precursor to a bigger-money move on the horizon. That move never happened. So, now, they have to get by with their two Cy Young winners, their reliable lefty, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Haren, for many years one of the most durable, effective starters in the game.
The various systems to project major-league players' performances are fairly optimistic about Haren's chances of bouncing back. Most of them predict he'll have an ERA in the 3.00's for the first time since 2011. Dan Szymborski's ZiPS system, for example, has Haren pitching to a 3.71 ERA over 162 2/3 innings. Interestingly, that innings threshold would put Haren below his vesting option for 2015 of 180 innings.
Then again, if he pitches that well, the Dodgers would probably try to bring him back any way. He probably wouldn't object. The Dodgers are Haren's sixth team, but in a way, they were his home team all along. We caught up with Haren at Saturday's FanFest:
Q. What does it mean for you to be able to come home and play, once again, in Southern California?
A. I couldn’t have been further from home and, obviously, the first half of the year was real tough on the field and then, off the field, not having family there made it a little tougher. I turned the year around, but it really made me realize how important it was and how much I wanted to be close to home. I played with the Angels for a few years and I had some really good years there and it was great having the family around. When I found out early in the off-season that the Dodgers were interested, it really fit the two criteria I was looking for: close to home and winning.
Q. You grew up in the San Gabriel Valley. Were you a crazy Dodgers fan as a kid, or what?
A. I was just a baseball fan in general. I would go to a few Angel games, a few Dodger games. Actually, my parents had season tickets to the Kings growing up, so I would go out to the Forum all the time. We were big hockey fans, too. Having played against the Dodgers for so many years and been rivals with them with Arizona and the Angels, it’ll be nice to be on this side for once.
Q. Did what the new owners have done at the stadium, particularly in the clubhouse and weight room, factor into your decision?
A. I live close, so when I agreed with the Dodgers, I came out here and did a little tour. I could not believe the changes they made in the clubhouse. As a visitor, you see it kind of coming through when you go to the weight room. It was pretty bad. I just can’t believe what they did. I don’t know where they got the room to do all that stuff, but it’s amazing down there, really first class. It rivals any new stadium that’s been put up.
Q. You went on the DL for a little while and came back and pitched much better in 2013. Did you feel any different or was it just a breather at the right time?
A. It was more of a mind frame I had. I kind of went back to the basics of why I was successful as a pitcher, which was keeping the ball down. When I’m missing pitches, I miss down in the zone. The game was going so fast for me, I don’t know if it was being 3,000 miles away on a new team and trying to do too much. I kind of just forgot why I was successful in the big leagues. I ended up keeping the ball in the ballpark way more and I got on a nice little roll there. Especially in September, I felt as good as I’d felt in a long time. The last game in Arizona was probably the best game I threw all year.
Q. Do you look forward to playing with Zack Greinke again?
A. Absolutely. I talked to him throughout the process. It’s nice, because I’ve been on so many new teams and it’s hard. I’m more of an introverted personality, so it’s hard meeting new people and making new friends. So, it’s nice having someone that I’m comfortable with, that I can talk to a little bit off the field, too. I’m definitely stoked to be in Arizona for spring training, because it’s so nice down there and I know a lot of guys.
Q. It’s been a while since you went to the playoffs and your two most recent teams had high expectations and didn’t go anywhere. What was that like?
A. The Angels, the year after we got Albert [Pujols] were probably the World Series favorites and then, last year, we were right up there. I don’t know if we were favorites, but we were expected to do a lot. Similar expectations this year, but I think the thing L.A. has got going for it is, I’m one of the older guys on the team. Guys are young and hungry and in the primes of their careers. It’s as good a pitching staff as I’ve been part of.
Q. Do you know Clayton Kershaw at all?
A. I don’t. I’ve faced him so many times. Last year, I lost, I think, 2-0 to him here. I’ve had many battles with him, he’s won most. It will be nice to see the work he puts in. I’ve heard his work ethic is unbelievable. It will be fun watching him pitch.
Q. So, bottom line, with a few days left until you report to Camelback Ranch, how are you feeling mentally and physically going into it?
A. Mentally, I feel great. Who wouldn't feel good joining a pitching staff like this and having a lineup of this caliber supporting me? Physically, I feel really good. I take a lot of pride in preparing body for the journey of the season. I've been durable my whole career because of it and, as I've gotten older, I've modified my workouts to make them as beneficial as I can.