Nats Get Their 5th Starter and Maybe More

Ken Rosenthal reported today that the Nats signed Dan Haren to a one year, $13M contract. The Nats needed another starting pitcher, and while some advocated trading some of their key position players for a starter, I always thought it would be unwise to do so. With the rotation of Strasburg, Zimmermann, and Gonzalez, I worried that any more real investment in the rotation might add a few wins during the year, but would be of no use in the playoffs. I worried that bolstering a rotation by taking away from their position players was trying to make an already top 3 rotation number 1 in the league, and it was unnecessary.

So what did the Nats do? HarenHesitationIt appears they threw more money at Haren than most were willing to do, without any long term commitment. This is what their payroll flexibility allows them to do. They end up getting a pitcher who is only 32, had been great up until last year, and was willing to sign short term. He isn’t totally healthy – what was worried to be a bad back (his issue this summer) actually ended up being a bad hip.

That bad hip is certainly of concern, but it didn’t affect him so much that he didn’t pitch well all year. Yes, he had a bad season. His final numbers from 2012 included a 4.33 ERA (87 ERA+) and only 142 K (his lowest total since 2004, when he wasn’t a full timer), but he sat out for a back injury, and pitched most of the year. He wasn’t so hurt that he couldn’t start most of the season, even if the hip was an issue. He ended up starting 30 games, with 176 2/3 IP, and only issue 38 BB. But his season numbers don’t reflect what he was able to do after coming back from injury. What may be more interesting to Nationals fans is how he performed after being put on the DL.

He returned on July 22, and didn’t miss a start after that day. In 13 GS, he had a 3.58 ERA, and 56 K and 14 BB in 73 IP. His strikeouts were still a little low, but he was an effective starter in the AL. This was presumably with the hip issue. His move to the NL, barring injury, should bring an effective pitcher. How effective? Well, he’s not the front line starter he once was, but the 32 year old could certainly have a great deal of success ahead of him. From 2007-2011, he compiled a 3.33 ERA, threw 1141 1/3 IP with 1029 K and only 220 BB. He finished top 10 in the Cy Young voting twice, in 2009 and 2011. He also lead the league in K/BB three times, in 2008, 2009 and 2011.

What’s exciting about the Haren signing is just how good this rotation can be with him, with little investment by the Nats. In Strasburg, Gonzalez and JZimm, it’s hard to argue that they don’t have a top 15 or even top 10 player in each rotation slot (#1, #2, #3 pitchers). Throw in Haren as your #4 starter, and move Ross Detwiler down to #5 and it only extends that down the line. It’s exciting for Nats fans, and probably pretty intimidating for their opponents. It’s one of those head shaking deals that, while nobody seemed to be going hard after Haren, now that he is signed, the league starts worrying, “uh oh, what if he’s still Dan Haren?”

I really like this deal. It doesn’t make them any weaker anywhere else, and it does nothing to prevent them from making any future moves. If his injury prevents him from pitching, this would be a bad signing. And if it prevents him from pitching well, it wouldn’t be a good move. But in neither of those cases would this be a disaster for the team’s future.  And if he can go out there for 25 starts, and does even just what he did for the second half of last year, it’s a great great deal. If he does come back healthy and is the Haren of the previous 5 years, this team will have the best pitching staff in MLB, perhaps the best in the last few years. Couple that with spectacular defense, and they might actually be able to beat teams without actually batting at all (wait, is that possible?).

Here’s a great video of Haren striking out a bunch of Tigers. It’s worth watching the end (starting at the 1:00 mark) to see Miguel Cabrera strike out and then curse the gods of baseball, Dan Haren, the evil of drink and everyone’s mom:

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