Dan Haren: Not Worth the Price (Part 2)

We know that the Arizona Diamondbacks did not get equal value in return for their package of six prospects, but did they get enough to contend for the playoffs in the next three years? Just how good will the Oakland Athletics get by 2010? Will we ever stop asking questions and finally start answering them? Yes, our analysis follows...

The Arizona Diamondbacks won 90 games last year, but they weren't a 90-win team.  Based on their run differential, this is a team that should have won 79 games.  We can probably bump them up to a .500 ballclub because of a stellar bullpen that helped them win some close games.  But clearly, this was a team that benefited from a lot of luck in 2007.  A little tinkering here and there wouldn't have guaranteed anything in a very competitive NL West division.

Fortunately for the Diamondbacks, they improve from a .500 team simply by maintaining the status quo.  Most of their young roster should perform better in 2008 than they did in 2007.  Also, if star players Randy Johnson, Orlando Hudson, and Chad Tracy can stay healthier in 2008, that should add several wins.  All of a sudden, we see the Diamondbacks in the thick of the 2008 divisional race without even having made a move.

Then the big splash we've been waiting for all winter happens: Livan Hernandez is out; Dan Haren is in.  The team went only 16-17 in Livo's starts last year.  Dan Haren figures to improve on that record, but probably not by as much as people expect.

We mentioned in Part One of our trade analysis that Dan Haren hasn't been as effective a pitcher away from pitcher-friendly Network Associates Coliseum.  In fact, he allows approximately one homer for every 7 2/3 innings he pitches outside of Oakland, which would project to 29 homers over the 220 innings that we can realistically expect from this workhorse. 

It gets worse.  Chase Field has increased home run output by about 18% over a neutral National League park over the past four years.  That adds another five homers to Haren's projected total: a whopping 34 homers that would have tied him for second most among major league pitchers last year... with none other than Livan Hernandez.  

Make no mistake: Haren has better stuff than Livo does at this stage of their careers, and he's always displayed better control than the Cuban defector.  But those who expect Brandon Webb and Dan Haren to become the best 1-2 punch in the National League can pretty much forget it.  Danny Haren profiles as a slightly above average pitcher with the Diamondbacks, although he should still be a workhorse.

Before we decide whether that is enough to take the Diamondbacks to the next level, let's examine whether it's better than what the Diamondbacks would have gotten had they not made that eight player deal with the Oakland Athletics.  Three of the players the Diamondbacks trade could have realistically impacted the major league team significantly in 2008: Dana Eveland, Carlos Gonzalez, and Greg Smith.

Eveland could have been a useful piece out of the bullpen, but then, so too could Connor Robertson, the reliever acquired by the Diamondbacks in this deal.  Both pitchers have shown lots of talent and promise, but both have also been set back by inconsistency.  Eveland might have had some extra value because he's left-handed, but it's hard to say that one of these guys would have made a much bigger impact than the other, at least for 2008.

Many people are saying that Carlos Gonzalez was superfluous to the Diamondbacks' future because of Justin Upton, Chris Young, and Eric Byrnes.  How quickly we forget that Diamondbacks right fielders combined for just nine homers and 123 strikeouts in 598 aggregate at bats last year, good for a .242 BA and .677 OPS.  Justin Upton will be great someday, and Jeff Salazar is a useful fourth outfielder, but what guarantee is there that these guys will produce in 2008?  Carlos Gonzalez is older and more experienced than Justin Upton, and batted .342 in the second half of 2007 between Double-A and Triple-A.  Upton batted .256 in the second half between Double-A and the majors. 

Can we really be certain that Upton will perform just as well as Gonzalez would have this year on offense?  We know that defensively, Gonzalez is far superior, as Upton only began playing right field in August.  Gonzalez, meanwhile, has one of the best outfield arms in all of professional baseball as well as plus range.

Then there's Greg Smith, who is 31-14 with a 3.27 ERA in his minor league career.  Smith has specialized in succeeding in hitter's parks and hitter's leagues throughout his minor league career despite pitching to contact for the most part.  In fact, there is every reason to believe that Smith could have put up similar numbers to Dan Haren had he played with the Diamondbacks this year, and he'll more than likely post a better ERA in Oakland than Haren will in the next three years.

It's therefore highly unlikely that the trade for Haren makes the Diamondbacks a better team in 2008, and it's absolutely certain that the trade makes the team worse for 2010, when Brett Anderson, Aaron Cunningham, and Chris Carter would all be making solid contributions and Gonzalez and Smith would be in their primes.  Haren may indeed have a solid year for the Diamondbacks, and the Diamondbacks may still make the playoffs in 2008, but the Diamondbacks have decreased their odds of making the playoffs in the far future without increasing them in the near future.

How good will the 2010 Oakland Athletics be with this newfound treasure trove of prospects?  A lineup with Daric Barton, Nick Swisher, Gonzalez, Cunningham and Carter appears formidable indeed.  Anderson, Smith, and Trevor Cahill should make an excellent core of pitching to build around.  It may not take as long as three years for these Athletics to become the powerhouse of the American League.    

If the Diamondbacks aren't making the playoffs regularly over the next few years, that could be a really painful thing to watch, particularly for Josh Byrnes, who could conceivably be forced out of baseball by age 40 on the basis of this one gargantuan trade.      

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