The Nationals have added to an already impressive starting rotation by bringing Dan Haren on board. Haren will join his new team on a one-year, $13 million deal so long as his physical turns out the way everyone wants it to. Haren had the worst season of his career in 2012, and there has been plenty of speculation that there are medical reasons that play a role in his recent demise. The Haren signing presumably ends the Nationals’ recent interest in bolstering what was already the best part of the team.
Haren’s 2012 contributions wound up being worth just 1.8 WAR after the pitcher had hit at least the 4.0 WAR mark in his previous seven seasons. Haren posted a 4.33 ERA, 4.24 FIP, and 4.00 xFIP across 176 2/3 innings of extremely hittable baseball. Since Haren just recently turned 32, the reasons almost have to be physical. His velocity is continuing to drop, but Haren’s broad repertoire and pitching savvy make him the sort of guy who can withstand a velocity loss so long as he’s healthy and still has plenty of movement and command at his disposal.
Given Haren’s stellar track record and the fact that he’s not super-old, I like this signing just fine for the Nationals. They’re taking a risk by giving Haren such a large chunk of cash, but the important thing to remember is that this is a one-year deal. If he flames out and his injury concerns prove to be more concrete, Mike Rizzo and company are only on the hook for one rough season, and chances are Haren would still be acceptable in Washington and in the weaker league while diminished.
For what it’s worth, Haren did improve in the second half of the 2012 season after a particularly rough beginning. The 6’5″ right-hander put up a 3.58 ERA in 73 second half innings, and he struck out around four men for each one he walked. All in all, his peripherals stayed respectable all season despite his declining strikeout rate. Haren struck out 7.23/9 while walking just 1.94/9, and that kind of self management bodes well for his continuing success even if all isn’t necessarily right with his body. He’s aging and there are plenty of question marks, but the reward here outweighs the risk for a team that can afford to take a chance, and the Nationals can.