Grading the Dan Haren Trade

With the player-to-be-named-later in the Dan Haren deal now named as Tyler Skaggs by Fox Sports Arizona, it is time to evaluate the deal from both teams' perspectives. The Arizona Diamondbacks wanted to re-stock their ranks of young pitchers and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim want to catch the Texas Rangers in the AL West. Did either team accomplish their goals?

This trade accomplishes two things for the Arizona Diamondbacks; it frees up payroll and addresses their biggest organizational need: left-handed pitching.  Unfortunately, in terms of getting fair value for their ace pitcher, this deal falls way short.

Haren's contract calls for salaries of $12.75 million in both 2011 and 2012, plus offers the Angels a $15.5 million 2013 option or $3.5 million buyout.   Those are very reasonable salaries for a pitcher of his caliber.  Even though Haren's 4.60 ERA at the time of the trade was the worst he's posted since his rookie season, his track record and peripheral numbers suggest that he is a much better hitter than that.  Since Dan Haren was acquired by the Diamondbacks, he ranks second in all of baseball with 570 strikeouts and fifth with 586.3 innings.  Among pitchers that have thrown over 380 innings in that span, Haren ranks third in walks per nine innings and sixth in strikeouts per nine.  He has accomplished all of that despite playing in one of the least pitcher-friendly ballparks in all of baseball.

Joe Saunders represents the primary return for Haren in the deal.  He will be cheaper than Haren, as he makes only $3.7 million this year and will be arbitration-eligible for two more seasons.  He is only nine months younger, however, and has only enjoyed one season in the majors with an earned run average below 4.44.  His career rate of 5.1 strikeouts per nine innings will not play well in Chase Field, and he has walked a full batter more per nine innings than Haren has in their respective careers.  In a nutshell, Haren is a top-of-the rotation workhorse while Saunders is merely a solid back-of-the-rotation option.

Two of the prospects involved in the deal - Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin - were among the top 80 players selected in the 2009 June draft.  With those two in the fold, the D-backs now have a remarkable 10 players among the first 100 picks from that draft in their organization.  Like Saunders, Skaggs and Corbin throw from the left side, and could move quickly in an organization that has gone most of the season without a left-handed pitcher on their major league roster.  Also to their credit, both southpaws have performed well in their first seasons as professionals despite their youth and inexperience.

That said, both pitchers are not without their drawbacks.  Skaggs, who turned 19 this month, has the body type and repertoire that Barry Zito did at the same age, but the odds of him having a Barry Zito-type of career are long.  Most pitchers as slender as Skaggs who are drafted out of high school are injury-risks.  While Zito has enjoyed a remarkably healthy pro career, he is an exception, and even Zito has lost a lot of velocity on his fastball (at least 5 mph) over the past decade.  There aren't many pitchers in modern baseball history that have been successful with the low velocity and high walk totals that Zito employs every year. 

Corbin, who turned 21 this month, has a remarkable 17-5 record since turning pro, but has accompanied that with a worrisome 4.20 ERA.  His strikeout-to-walk-ratio approaches 4-to-1, but most scouts do not believe he will be able to maintain those kinds of numbers above A-ball with his stuff, which includes three solid-but-unspectacular pitches.  Of greater concern are the 15 homers Corbin has allowed in 165 minor league innings.  If his mistakes are getting hit that hard in A-ball, it does not bode well for the number of homers he will allow to major leaguers at Chase Field.  Like Skaggs, Corbin is very lean, and could therefore have difficulty with larger workloads.     

The fourth pitcher in the trade, Rafael Rodriguez, turns 26 in September and has been hit extremely hard in 32.2 major league innings (38 hits/.345 batting average against).  Even though he performed well in Triple-A this season, the D-backs already have a plethora of right-handed relievers in their mid-20s who have looked far better in the minors than they have at the big league level.  Rodriguez therefore brings very little value to the Diamondbacks in the deal.

Even assuming that Diamondbacks scouts are higher on these four pitchers than the general consensus around baseball, this is a puzzling move for interim general manager Jerry Dipoto.  Less than a month after taking over from dismissed GM Josh Byrnes, Dipoto felt the need to trade his best pitcher while he had an ugly won-loss record and ERA for questionable returns.  Given Dipoto's interim status, you would expect him to only make such a trade if the names coming back were bluer chips with higher upside.  Had Dipoto been able to corral a Joba Chamberlain, J.A. Happ, or Shelby Miller, he might have impressed his bosses enough to return as the full-time GM next year.  Instead, the four pitchers he got for Haren will need to really dazzle in the next few weeks for Dipoto to shake the interim from his title.  Even that may not be enough.

The deal makes much more sense from the Angels' perspective.  The division-leading Texas Rangers are within striking distance, particularly since the Rangers had played nine more home games than road games at the time of the trade and have been a far more effective team at home this year.   Haren has already shown that he can be successful in the American League and figures to perform better in a more home-run-neutral park, as Haren's 23 home runs allowed have clearly been his Achillies' heel this season.  Moreover, replacing the fourth-best pitcher in the Angels rotation with an ace like Haren has a trickle-down effect that makes the entire pitching staff - including the bullpen - better.  This will have a much more profound effect on the Angels staff than the Phillies' exchange of one ace for another in trading Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay last winter.

But there are some caveats for the Angels as well.  Haren's career ERA of 4.29 in the second half is nearly a full run higher than his pre-All-Star ERA, making it questionable as to how much he will help for their stretch run.  Part of the reason Haren falters late in the summer every season is undoubtedly his large workloads, and the D-backs have worked him even harder than normal this season due to the ineptitude of their bullpen.  While the Angels could not foresee that Haren would leave his first LA start with a forearm contusion after being struck with a Kevin Youkilis line drive, they should have known that his career splits and recent workload suggest that he should perform worse in the second half and could develop a fatigue-related injury down the road.

Still, this is far from an all-or-nothing gamble for this year.  The Angels will enjoy Haren for two full seasons after this one at an affordable salary for them.  If Haren continues to rank among the top half-dozen starting pitchers in the majors, they can even keep him a third season.  Most importantly, the Angels did not have to deplete their farm system of any of its best prospects in order to facilitate Haren's arrival.  Considering how many other teams showed an interest in Haren and that the Diamondbacks seemingly had all of the negotiation leverage, it is amazing what Angels general manager Tony Reagins was able to accomplish with this transaction.

Grades: Angels - A, Diamondbacks - D

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