November 25, 2013
Reportedly agreed to terms with RHP Dan Haren on a one-year deal worth $10 million with a vesting option. [11/24]
Haren is the exception during an offseason in which seemingly every free agent is signing for more money than they would have a year ago. He was on the open market 12 months ago, and inked a one-year deal with the Nationals worth $13 million. A (mostly) disappointing season later, Haren is back and signing for less to head back west. The parentheses are required—and, as it turns out, are quite important—because the California native finished the season with a strong second half after coming off the disabled list with shoulder inflammation:
Bill James once theorized slow starters are more likely to receive flak for their slumps than hot starters; the idea being fans would remember the player's early-season statistics, exposed and naked and undiluted. Perhaps James should amend his theory, because a strong finish to the season seems preferred during the winter. Of course, Haren remained the same pitcher as he's been the past few seasons: a control artist with a deep arsenal and subpar velocity. He still used a three-pitch mix consisting of his mid-80s cutter, low-90s sinker, and mid-80s splitter; he just executed those offerings better during the second half.
But that's not going to keep us away from playing the what-if game—as in, What if Haren stays healthy? Last offseason taught us teams are concerned about his hip. That he made a trip to the disabled list in 2013 is a secondary thought here, since there was a mental fatigue aspect to the move. In fact, Haren's entire stay on the east coast involved mental hurdles. As he explained in September:
“From a personal standpoint, it was really tough,” Haren said. “I hadn’t been away from my kids. It’s a year of their lives I’ll never get back. From that standpoint, it’s sad. But one day, they’ll understand what I had to do to make a living. I think they’ll get it.”
This all makes for a great comeback story: Haren will be in his western comfort zone, reunited with his children, and 100 percent focused on repeating his second-half solidness. Except for one pesky detail: Haren pitched in California in 2012 and didn't do a particularly good job. That's not to say the Dodgers are erring by inking Haren—they're not—simply that success is far from ensured. For as well as he seems to fit the ballpark and the back of the rotation, it's hard to forget we said the same things a year ago. To quote Sam Miller directly, "If it’s just about a couple million bucks, or even a few million bucks, the Nationals made a decent bet on a pitcher who might be a disaster and might win the Cy Young award."
It's more than just a few million bucks, and Haren won't win the Cy Young. Yet the Dodgers are making a decent bet on a pitcher who might be a disaster, or who might pitch well enough to earn what amounts to another one-year contract next winter. —R.J. Anderson
Fantasy impact: Haren is going to be part of a great team with a strong offense and quality bullpen arms, and he is someone who can be a major contributor to the greatness of said team should he remain healthy. That sentence could’ve just as easily been pulled from his 2012 TA written about 50 weeks ago. There simply weren’t many venues that would severely change his outlook for 2013. It’s on him, not his surroundings.
He was a disaster in 2013 because he once again didn’t stay healthy, continued to drop his GB/FB ratio, and kept allowing home runs—all things he did the last time he was in L.A. as a member of the Angels in 2012. He labored through June in Washington before eventually hitting the DL for a minimum stint, but not before a 9.82 ERA in four starts that effectively sunk his season.
His game can succeed anywhere when it’s on point, but the trends are definitely disturbing. He continues to grade well in ERA indicators that focus on strikeout and walk rates, but his command and velocity have faded. His new ballpark has been more favorable to home run hitters over the last three years, but he didn’t take advantage of Washington last year, posting a 1.56 HR/9 at home compared to a 1.42 on the road. When he’s not right he could get bombed out of Petco Park, but at his best he can stifle home runs in Arlington.
Don’t be afraid to invest in Haren for your fantasy roster in 2014, but don’t put yourself in a position where you are relying on him. He should be no higher than your fourth starter in an NL-only league and paired with some high-upside young arms should he crash and burn again. In mixed leagues, you should have the majority of your active pitchers before considering him. If you are eager to take a shot, at least do so in leagues using a reserve roster. —Paul Sporer
R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @r_j_anderson