What If Dan Haren Continues to Struggle

 

Dan Haren's Nationals career is not off to the best start. He has allowed the most homeruns in baseball and his HR/9 sits at an unsightly 2.0. He has always been a high homerun pitcher but his career high of 31 back in 2010 yielded an HR/9 of only 1.2; much more in line with his career average of 1.1. There should be some regression to the mean in that department, and if he does then his ERA should meet his xFIP and he will be more of a 4.18 ERA pitcher for the rest of the season, but that is “if”.  

Haren wasn't signed to be much more than a mid-4.00 ERA pitcher and the Nationals were hoping for more consistency than they got out of Edwin Jackson. Jackson's final numbers look decent enough with a 4.03 ERA, 8.0 K/9, and 2.8 BB/9, but his inconsistency led to the Nats having a record of 12-19 in games he started. Good for a .387 winning percentage. The Nats are currently 4-8 in games Dan Haren has started. Good for a .333 winning percentage. So far there isn't much difference between what Jackson gave the Nationals and what they are getting from Dan Haren, but Haren is pitching worse.    

His 5.45 ERA is eighth worst among qualified starters, his 4.96 FIP is ninth worst, and as stated above his 15 homeruns allowed are the most in baseball. While there should be some regression to the mean and he hasn't given the Nats much less than they got out of Edwin Jackson last season if he continues to be one of the worst starters in baseball the Nats are going to have to find a solution. As Nathan Karns has demonstrated in his time in the majors that solution is not going to be an internal one. The Nats are going to have to make a trade and either consider whatever portion of the $13 million still owed Dan Haren sunk cost or try and move him to the bullpen and get something out of him.  

As the second doesn't appear to be an option the Nats are going to have to eat about a third of the $13 million owed to Dan Haren and take on an additional contract. That shouldn't be an issue as the Nats have drawn the fifth most fans in the NL and have eclipsed one million patrons before school is out in Virginia. This is looking like a profitable year for the Nationals and not hanging around .500 would make it even more so. The motivation then exists to add any type of contract it would take to improve the team and if Dan Haren is still struggling come mid-July then his spot will be one of the first the Nats look to.   

For the Nationals making a trade isn't going to be easy. Anthony Rendon is now in the majors and his bat should be firmly entrenched in the line-up by the trade deadline leaving the Nationals with little in the way of top-top prospects to trade. Brian Goodwin is looking more and more like a future major league center fielder as the days go by and the Nats are stocked with pitching in the lower minors, but the best of the best at the trade deadline require major league ready talent and the Nats just don't have it, but as demonstrated by the Dodgers and the Blue Jays last season there is another way. Teams that have jumped the gun into free agency and then discovered that the player they signed isn't as good as they thought have been willing to take lesser prospects in return early in a contract just to move the contract, and speaking of the Blue Jays rumors are starting to circulate that they may be looking to dump RA Dickey's contract in much the same way as they picked up the Marlins contracts this past off-season.  

It should be mentioned that Dickey's contract isn't that bad when compared to other starting pitchers. He is owed $30 million in guaranteed money over the next four seasons but the contract breaks down as $5 million this season, $12 million in each of the next two, and a $12 million option with a $1 million buyout. So it is essentially a three year $30 million deal. Dickey also happens to have an ERA of 5.11 and FIP of 4.98 which isn't that much different than Dan Haren. The difference is that Dicky is a knuckle ball pitcher. The first reaction to this and his struggles is that the jig is up. He is a gimmick pitcher with an oddball pitch and the league has figured him out, but Dickey plays in one of the most hitter friendly launching pads in baseball, and the numbers show that in seven starts at home Dickey has a 5.61 ERA and in seven on the road 4.63. That is an entire run difference. Move him back to the NL where he doesn't have to face the DH and suddenly you have a more than serviceable back of the rotation starter.     

Taking on Dickey's contract would allow the Nationals to trade less to the Blue Jays if they are indeed looking to dump it, and as the Nationals paid $11 million for a fifth starter last season and $13 million this season, then $12 million for the next two seasons with a $1 million buyout isn't too extravagant, and it wouldn't interfere with any extensions the Nationals wish to hand out as the two big ones, Desmond and Zimmermann, are both scheduled to become free agents after Dickey's contract would be up. Buying out of the arb years does cost money, but it shouldn't cost any more, and could possibly cost less, than going to arb with the players.   

RA Dickey isn't the only starter that will be available at the deadline, but with the Nationals lack of close to major league ready prospects it is tough to imagine them being able to work out a trade for the likes of Matt Garza, Bud Norris, Ricky Nolasco, or James Shields. Especially James Shields considering what the Royals had to part with to get him in the first place. The best move the Nationals could make is looking at underperforming starters on big contracts and offering to take that on and betting on the talent to improve. The only rumors circulating at this moment focus on Dickey, but CJ Wilson and Mark Buehrle are both on large contracts and haven't performed to expectations and the Nationals had interest in both when they were free agents. Whether they are available still has yet to be seen, but if Haren continues to struggle, the Nats get over .500, and one of this big contract under performers becomes available that is the type of deal the Nats should make or the only type of deal they will be able to make.   

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