Sunday, July 25, 2010

Angels get Haren

My first impression was that it is a bad move for Arizona. Upon further review, it just looks worse.

The Angels today received starting pitcher Dan Haren for Joe Saunders, Rafael Rodriguez and Patrick Corbin. In doing so, the Diamondbacks traded an excellent player who is under contract for two more years, at reasonable money, and did it at the lowest point in his value, getting minimal value in return.

First, Haren is not perfect, and is not a “counter” to the Rangers deal earlier in the month for Cliff Lee. Lee is the best pitcher in the American League right now, and no single player can counter the value Lee provides a playoff contender. He nearly single-handedly won a World Series for the Phillies last year. On the other hand, this isn’t meant to be a counter. Unlike Lee, Haren is signed through 2012. If the Angels can get back in the race this year, that’s great. Haren is immediately the ace of the 2011 and 2012 teams.

Haren’s drawback, and the one thing that keeps him from being elite, is the fact that he just gives up too many home runs. Last year, having a very good year, he was giving up a homer once every 33.7 batters. This year, it is up to 26.3 batters. Arizona is a tough place to pitch, but that’s simply too many. However, Haren’s 4.60 ERA this year is also a function of bad luck and bad defense. Arizona is the third worst team in baseball in defensive efficiency. Accordingly Haren has the 5th worst batting average on batting average on balls in play, at .344. The median qualified pitcher this year has a .288 BABIP, so if Haren was getting average luck and defensive support, he would have 22 fewer hits allowed this year, lowering his overall batting average against from .286 to .246, and his ERA about half a run. Moving to a more pitcher friendly park, in front of a better defense should on its own lower his ERA a good amount.

Meanwhile, Haren’s strikeout to walk ratio, the best indicator of future success, has stayed consistently near 5 for three years now – his 2010 stat of 4.86 puts him at 4th in the majors, just behind new teammate Jered Weaver.

Trading a very good but perhaps not elite pitcher like Haren isn’t necessarily a terrible move, but the Diamondbacks have done it in just about the worst way possible. Haren does not have free agency pending, so he did not NEED to be traded. So the Diamondbacks inability to get something to help them in the future in return is really a disaster for them.

Joe Saunders is the known piece here, and he did win 33 games the previous two seasons. However, he is not a building block for the future. First of all, he is only 10 months younger than Haren. Secondly, while his win-loss record is an unimpressive 6-10, his 4.62 ERA is right in line with his 4.60 of a year ago, and not significantly higher than his 4.29 career number. He strikes out less than five per nine innings, and his walk rate has climbed to 3.4 per nine. On pace to surpass 180 innings for the third straight season, Saunders is a solid back and of the rotation guy. The cost-savings for Arizona aren’t even going to be that great here. Haren is due $12.5M next year, while Saunders will likely early between $6M and $7M. So unless they plan to turn around and either trade Saunders or non-tender him, then Arizona is not going to save a ton of cash.

As far as the two prospects, neither are considered impact talents. Rafael Rodriguez is a 25 year old reliever, who has some good minor league ERAs, but his stuff is considered average and his peripheral numbers are not indicative of someone who is dominant. In 50 innings at Salt Lake, he has 30 strikeouts and 15 walks. At AAA since 2008, Rodriguez may be able to help some in the Diamondbacks struggling bullpen, but he does not profile as someone who will be a high-leverage guy.

Patrick Corbin is younger, and his numbers do show some flashes of potential. Only 20, he has moved up from Single A Cedar Rapids to High A Rancho Cucamonga, and shown good consistency, overall striking out 106 and walking only 28 over 118.2 innings, posting a 3.87 ERA. He was not on any prospect lists coming into the season, but he was considered an excellent athlete coming out of college, so the performance may be starting to catch up with the potential Still, his fastball peaks at only around 93, and sits at 89-91. His slider is considered his one “plus” pitch. He is a solid organizational piece to follow and develop, but not the prime prospect in a trade for an all-star.

Two years ago, Brandon Webb and Dan Haren looked like they would be the two aces at the front of a contending Diamondbacks team for many years. It did not work out that way, and Arizona fans cannot be blamed for being disappointed in their organization for failing to get more in return. Meanwhile, after an offseason that saw their team lose a lot of talent, and in the midst of a regular season that has them losing more games than usual, Angel fans have a right to be hopeful again about 2010 and the future.