Dan Haren: Not Worth the Price (Part 1)

When the staff of FutureBacks.com heard that Carlos Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, and Emilio Bonifacio were being dangled for Dan Haren, we became concerned. Once we learned the final names involved in the eight-player deal between Oakland and the Arizona Diamondbacks, we became aghast. Dan Haren isn't that great of a pitcher, and the D-Backs moved five of their top ten prospects to acquire him.

Over the past two years, Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes has made a name for himself as one of the shrewdest front office executives in the game of baseball.  On December 14th, Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane showed why he's still the top dog when it comes to making trades.

Dan Haren came packaged along with Connor Robertson, a 26-year old minor league reliever who ranked #39 among OaklandClubhouse.com's Top 50 Oakland Athletics prospects.  The Diamondbacks gave up outfielder Carlos Gonzalez (ranked #1 in the FutureBacks Fifty), southpaw Brett Anderson (#3), outfielder Aaron Cunningham (#6), first baseman Chris Carter (#7), southpaw Greg Smith (#10), and southpaw Dana Eveland (NR).

It doesn't take a psychoanalyst to determine that this trade was unbalanced.  At the very least, this six-player package offered by the Diamondbacks here matched the Detroit Tigers' package of six sent to the Florida Marlins to acquire Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.  Does anyone really think that Haren and Robertson are worth as much as Cabrera and Willis?

Just in case someone does, we'll begin by comparing Haren to Willis.  The Diamondbacks control Haren's contract for the next three years, while the Tigers only control the D-Train's contract for two.  Haren will also likely make a similar amount of money over his three-year contract as Willis will in arbitration over the next two years.  This is a big-time financial edge for Haren and the Diamondbacks.

In terms of career performance, Willis has gone 68-54 (.557) with a 3.78 ERA, 6.7 K/9, and 3.0 BB/9.  Haren has gone 49-44 (.527) with a 3.82 ERA, 7.0 K/9, and 2.2 BB/9.  Slight advantage to Haren again, until we factor in how well each pitcher performed outside of their pitcher-friendly ballparks.  On the road, Willis is 35-23 (.603) with a 3.71 ERA and  .743 OPS against, while Haren is 28-23 (.549) with a 4.09 ERA and .763 OPS against.  Slight advantage to Willis.

One big argument in Haren's favor is that he performed better in 2007, and it's not even close.  It's worth noting, however, that by almost any measure, the A's featured one of baseball's best defensive units last year while the Marlins' defense was nothing short of pathetic.  Oakland finished second in the AL in  plus/minus rating, third in zone range, and fourth in fielding percentage.  Florida ranked last in the NL in all three measures.

Haren only impressed in the first half of the season despite the top-notch defense behind him.  His second half ERA was 4.15 in 2007, and rests at 4.11 for his career.  His value as a workhorse could be adversely affecting his overall value.

Lastly, we'll look at age.  Dontrelle Willis is nearly a year-and-a-half younger than Haren is.  By no means do the Diamondbacks have Haren under contract for the decline phase of his career, but the Tigers can realistically expect Willis to improve over the next two seasons, while Haren isn't likely to perform any better than he has in the past.

Overall, it's safe to say that if these pitchers do not have equal value, than Haren's only wins out by the slightest of margins.  With all due respect to Connor Robertson, who has a chance to be an effective major league reliever, he does not come quite as close to matching the value of a Miguel Cabrera.  So if the Diamondbacks indeed put up a prospect package equal or greater to the one that the Detroit Tigers shelled out, then the Diamondbacks came away with far less value for it than the Tigers did.

Ah, but money's an issue still, isn't it?  Miguel Cabrera made $7.4 million in 2007, and will likely command a salary of around $10 million in 2008.  The Diamondbacks could never afford such a salary for an outfielder, could they?

Apparently, they can.  Eric Byrnes is due to make an average of $10 million per season over the next three years.  Byrnes remains a fan favorite in Arizona, but if he had the same price tag as Miguel Cabrera did, how many Diamondbacks fans do you think would prefer Byrnes?  Particularly since Byrnes has an even worse history of second-half nosedives that Haren has?

The Diamondbacks were willing to risk the loss of five top prospects.  Instead of getting a historically great young hitter and a good young pitcher in return, they got merely a good pitcher. 

All of this is hypothetical, of course.  Signing Eric Byrnes to that three-year deal crowded the Diamondbacks outfield, so they needed to trade some of their outfield prospects and couldn't take on much extra salary.  That was mistake #1.  Then, they added two fantastic pitching prospects and a powerful first base prospect to a package with their two best outfield prospects, and didn't get anywhere near equal value in return.

So we move from hypothetical to tangible.  How much does Dan Haren add to the Diamondbacks' chances of making the postseason, and perhaps the World Series, over the next three seasons?  What exactly are the Diamondbacks losing with these six players for both 2008 and beyond? 

Premium FutureBacks.com members can find answers to these questions in Part Two of our trade analysis.

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