The Washington Nationals are almost always pursuing under the radar deals, and today's latest signing is no exception. Mike Rizzo and the Nats have penned a one-year, $13 million deal with former Angels and Diamondbacks starter Dan Haren, according to Ken Rosenthal.
Haren will surely move into the bottom half of the Nationals' starting rotation, replacing free agent Edwin Jackson. On the surface, it's essentially a one-for-one swap. Both were signed to one-year contracts with the Nats, and Jackson made $11 million while Haren will be paid $13 million by his new team. They're both traditionally durable pitchers that throw a lot of innings.
A three-time All-Star who twice receieved Cy Young votes, there's a lot to be excited about with Haren. However, his 2012 numbers are definitely cause for some concern. His average fastball velocity has dropped three miles per hour since 2007. If that trend sticks, he'll be the only Nationals starter who doesn't break 90 mph on the gun for his fastball on average. The "lightest" throwing Nats starter is Ross Detwiler, who averaged 93 mph on his fastball in 2012. With the Nats push for power pitchers, Haren may not fit that mold. A drop in velocity over a long period like this may be a sign of aging or an injury, and the Nationals are certainly wary of that. Haren still has to pass a physical before the contract is final.
It's impossible to debate that Haren had the worst year of his career in 2012. It's the first year he didn't rise above a replacement-level pitcher, according to WAR, since his rookie season in 2003. He posted the highest ERA of his career, and his BABIP, FIP, and xFIP don't indicate he got particularly unlucky. He just wasn't that good. His 2012 K/9 isn't far below his career average, and it was nearly identical to his 2011 level, just with far less success overall.
Haren had one bad year over the course of a very impressive career, last season, but he's entering his age 32 season without a history of injuries and more than 200 innings in seven of eight seasons. That may be good, but it could also mean his body has slowly broken down over that time, resulting in his disappointing 2012 season.
Overall, if Haren can return to his 2011 and prior form, the Nationals will have stolen Haren with a reasonable one-year deal. If he doesn't, and he struggles with injury and throwing effectively, the Nationals only take the hit for one season, not for multiple years. This could be a great deal or a decent deal, but it can't be a terrible deal simply because it doesn't lock them into a long contract. And if it's good, just imagine: Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Dan Haren. Not too shabby.