Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Time to pull the plug on Haren yet?


How much longer is Haren going to be wearing this hat? Photo nats official via

The Nats management waited and waited, but finally gave in and dealt with season-long performance issues in Henry Rodriguez, Zach Duke, Danny Espinosa and Tyler Moore in the first two weeks of June, DFA-ing or demoting as needed and bringing in replacements to try to do a better job and turn this season around.

So, when will it be time to talk about the train-wreck season that Dan Haren is having?  For $13M, here’s what the team has gotten in his first 12 starts, including June 12th’s meltdown:

  • a 4-8 Record with a 5.70 ERA and a 67 ERA+ (his ERA is 6th worst in baseball for qualified pitchers).
  • A 6-10 team record in games in which he’s started
  • a league leading 17 home runs allowed

A quick glance at his advanced stats doesn’t give much credence to any apologists that may try to excuse his line either; his BABIP is slightly elevated but not overly so (.320) and his FIP is still an unsightly 5.06 (5th worst among qualified starters).  Only his expected xFIP and SIERA numbers are relatively respectable, but xFip is just an estimator stat and often times never comes to pass, since it assumes silly things like the fact that Haren can’t possibly keep giving up this many home runs… an assumption that continued to be disproven as he gave up two more in his most recent loss in Colorado.

Game-Log analysis: Haren has yet to have a start where he shut out the opponent.  He’s only got 5 quality starts out of 12.  In half his starts he’s allowed 4 or more runs (not good when your team’s offense is only scoring 3.4 runs a game).  Haren’s only really had a couple of starts that were “grade A” in my book (his best start of the year was an 8 inning 4 hit performance in Atlanta of all places).  In his defense, he has gotten awful run support (2.84 runs per start), heavily indicating team losses every time he pitches.

I’ll admit it; I talked myself into the Haren deal big time after it was announced.  I ignored his 2012 struggles, looked back to the near Cy Young guy he was in 2009 and thought this was the move that could push the Nats to a 105 win team.  Now clearly whatever excuses we made for his performance in 2012 (back injury leading to diminished velocity leading to loss of his sinker leading to crummy numbers) seem like they’re covering up for an aging sinkerballer who never had lights out velocity and who now looks dangerously close to extinct as his very-hittable fastball flattens out and gets hit harder and harder.

So what’s the answer here?

Don’t talk to me about his salary; that $13M is out the door already.  Kaput.  Gone.  Look up the definition of a “Sunk Cost” in economic terms.  If you were worried about $13M in annual salary then you shouldn’t have bought a $15M a year closer who isn’t exactly a complete shutdown guy (Tyler Clippard has almost identical stats this year to Rafael Soriano for a third of the price and he didn’t cost us a 1st round draft pick, which as it turned out could have been spent on one of two pre-draft top-10 talents).  The decision needs to be made; do you still want to try to “win now” in 2013 as all the other off-season moves seemed to indicate?  Because the solution likely is going to be a bit more money and a few more prospects.

Short term (as in, the next week): see how Ross Ohlendorf does in his spot start (Answer: uh, he did awesome, holding a good hitting team to two hits through 6 in the best hitters park in the league).  If he’s anything remotely close to effective, I think you look at an invented D/L trip for Haren and send him on a rehab assignment tour of the minors.

Mid-term (as in, for the next couple weeks): do we have anyone else in the minors worth checking out?  Not on the 40-man and not with enough experience.  Maybe we give Danny Rosenbaum a shot if another spot-start is needed after Detwiler and Strasburg come back.

Longer term (as in, the next two months); Look at the trade market and look at who may be available leading up to the trade deadline.  We’re already seeing some teams completely out of it and clearly some guys will be available:

  • The Cubs probably will look to move Scott Feldman and especially Matt Garza.
  • The Astros probably will cash in on Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris (nobody’s likely interested in Erik Bedard at this point).
  • The Marlins would listen for offers for Ricky Nolasco, though perhaps not intra-division.
  • The Mets aren’t winning this year and could be moving Shawn Marcum (though perhaps not intra-division).
  • I think eventually Seattle becomes a seller: Joe Saunders and Aaron Harang should be dangled.
  • I also think San Diego eventually realizes they’re not going to win the NL West: Edinson Volquez, waiver pickup Eric StultsClayton Richards and our old friend Jason Marquis all make for possible trade candidates.

A few other poorly performing teams are probably going to be too stubborn to wave the white flag, which cuts down on the number of guys that will be available (see the Los Angeles Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Toronto specifically).

The only problem with a trade market move is this: all these teams are going to want prospects back.  And the Nats prospect cupboard has been cleaned out recently to acquire all these fools who are underperforming so far in 2013.  I’m not an opposing GM, so I can’t say for sure, but from a quick look at the Nats best prospects in the minors right now (basically in order: Giolito, Goodwin, Cole, Karns, Garcia, Skole, Purke, Solis, Perez, then guys like Hood, Taylor, Walters, Ray and Jordan round out the list) and I see a lot of injured guys or players on injury rehab, backups or guys barely above or still in A-ball.  I’m not trading a valued asset for an injury-risk guy who has never gotten above AA.  Who on this list is going to fetch us a quality major league starter?

Maybe we trade Haren along with a huge chunk of his remaining salary and multiple prospects to one of these teams in order to get one of these 5th starters back.  But that’d be an awful trade when it was all said and done (about as awful as, say, the Giants trading Zack Wheeler to the Mets for 2 months of Carlos Beltran in a failed effort to make the playoffs in 2012; with all the Giants 2013 pitching issues do you think they wish they had Wheeler back right now??)

Or, it very well may be that the Nats are stuck; we knew going into the season we had no starter depth and those MLFAs we did acquire (Ohlendorf and Chris Young basically) probably aren’t the answer.  But something has to give; we can’t give away every 5th start like we seem to be doing now and claw back into the NL East race.

17 Responses to 'Time to pull the plug on Haren yet?'

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  1. Funny, I was saying a lot of the same things to the wife just last night: that even though Haren is terrible we have no good options to replace him (no way did Ohlendorf convince me of anything last night–his recent track record is just too Duke-like) and a trade would damage an already thin minor league system.

    I would gather it will depend on how close the Nats are to contention come mid-July and whether Harper is back and fully healthy. If they are within reasonable distance and their young MVP candidate is crushing the baseball again, I don’t see how they don’t go for it.

    Also on Haren, I saw a stat yesterday that showed his first inning BAA has been outstanding and that he seems to tire and get much worse as the game goes on. Maybe instead of being a useless trade throw in, they send him to the pen to have a veteran guy out there and try to salvage some of his contract value.


    13 Jun 13 at 9:10 am

  2. Ah, Haren. Yes, he has been bad. Obviously. I liked the deal at the time too (putting aside the money, which I really had no opinion about). But it hasn’t worked out, and I agree that the $13m is irrelevant. The worst business decisions are made because someone made a previous decision ($13m). The best decisions are made by accepting the facts as they now exist.

    There aren’t a lot of good options. As you have pointed out well, they took a risk on the health of their rotation and didn’t provide a lot of fallbacks. Ohlendorf had a great debut, but there is no honest reason to think he’ll keep doing that. Young – where is that guy? Rosenbaum- meh. Without a trade, I’d probably do what you suggest. Stash Haren on the DL, throw O out there a few times to see if you catch some luck for a few starts. When that fails, maybe Young is healthy. After that, back to Haren, …….

    Would I make a trade? I dunno. This isn’t shaping up as a go for it year, despite their talk to that effect at the beginning of the season. 40% of their rotation has injury questions. Maybe they come back healthy for the RoS, but we don’t know that yet. The team hasn’t played well all year, and now has a substantial gap behind a team playing amongst the best in baseball. I wouldn’t mortgage the farm for that. Most of the guys that you mentioned present no discernible improvement over Haren/O/Young anyway, so I wouldn’t even bother with them. But I’d make a trade if some other team liked one of our prospects that I didn’t, and maybe absorbing a salary made the difference. Eury Perez, I am looking at you. If he brought back Nolasco, I’d do that. If they wanted something real, then I wouldn’t. I would just ride out the season, and expect to take my lumps. I also would keep Karns and Rendon up here, because I would start to look at answering questions for next season pretty soon.

    Not exactly giving up on the season, but not prepared to make serious trade of prospects to try to make a run. Too many other holes for that.


    13 Jun 13 at 9:19 am

  3. Haren fading: good point … but how is he “tiring” in the 5th inning of starts? Unless the dude has a white-blood cell disease, there’s no way he should tiring that early in games. 100 pitches/7 innings? Sure. 5th inning? don’t get it.

    You had to like Ohlendorf’s 1940s wind up though!

    Todd Boss

    13 Jun 13 at 9:42 am

  4. You don’t think this is a “go for it” year? I mean, looking at the record and the standings sure … but looking at what this team did in the last off-season, sacrificing prospects to acquire veterans in Gonzalez and Span, signing veterans (and blocking upcoming prospects) instead of going with internal options (Soriano, LaRoche), jacking up payroll significantly (especially the Soriano deal), it all screams win-now.

    Out of that list of 14 prospects i listed, here’s a realistic view of them in terms of trade value right now:
    – Currently on the D/L: Giolito, Garcia, Skole
    – First season back from significant injury/surgery: Purke, Solis
    – Healthy but underperforming: Goodwin, Cole, Walters
    – Healthy but trending like a role player not an impact player: Perez, Hood
    – Healthy and trending like a potential impact player: Karns, Ray, Jordan, Taylor (maybe).

    So frankly if you try to trade any of the guys in the first three categories you’re selling for 70 cents on the dollar. The 4th category (including the name you mentioned Perez) aren’t impact prospects; they’re skinny centerfielders who don’t hit for power. So that leaves the four names in the last category. Do you try to move these names or do you hold on to them as the diamonds in the rough they’ve turned out to be in the hopes that a kid like Robbie Ray turns into a super star?

    Todd Boss

    13 Jun 13 at 9:54 am

  5. Haren “tiring” in five innings doesn’t make any sense to me, either, but it is what it is. However, if he could harness his energy for an inning or two, he could end up being a far better righty option in the pen than Erik Davis (or possibly even Storen or Mattheus at this point). Sure, $13 million is a ridiculous sum to pay a middle reliever, but as you said it’s a sunk cost and they might as well try to get something in return since Haren will have near zero trade value.


    13 Jun 13 at 11:13 am

  6. Well, the Nats aren’t the only team with this problem. See Lincecum, Tim. $22M salary this year, 5th starter performance (though in his defense he has lowered his ERA over his last few outings to only 4.70). And ironically both the Giants and the Nats basically have nobody to replace him with in the minors so are stuck riding it out.

    Todd Boss

    13 Jun 13 at 12:46 pm

  7. Funny you mentioned Lincecum. I was thinking maybe you try to swap Haren for Lincecum ala the Jonathan Sanchez/Jeremy Guthrie deal the Rockies and Royals worked last year. It may not work out but maybe a change of scenery helps both guys.

    If not Lincecum there are also guys like Kazmir, Jason Vargas, Jeff Karstens (not sure about his injury status) and some other guys that may end up available.

    I also heard an interesting rumor, which we all know how those go, that the Brewers may be interested in parting with Yovoni Gallardo. The Nats were mentioned in the article and Karns was mentioned as a piece. If a package around Karns could get Gallardo I would have to think about that one since he could be controlled for next year and even 2015. I know the other prospects may have to be significant but at least Gallardo is not a rental ala Carlos Beltran for the Giants.


    13 Jun 13 at 1:12 pm

  8. Lincecum for Haren. Interesting. Haren’s fly ball issues would certainly play better in ATT park, where homers go to die.

    I too saw the Karns for Gallardo; just can’t believe that would be all it took to acquire Gallardo. If it was a 1 for 1 trade you make it yesterday. You don’t generally see teams moving controllable players at the deadline, hence my not including Gallardo. Vargas? I don’t think the Angels “can” give up and start moving players after all the money they’ve spent.

    Todd Boss

    13 Jun 13 at 1:35 pm

  9. It seems to me that some players on the big club have been overlooked as possible trade pieces. Lombardozzi and Kobernus could be packaged along with a Perez or Goodwin to bring back a suitable starter.
    Right now Kobernus has probably the most value and is at the top of his attractiveness. He is long term without a job in DC with Rendon playing second. There is a suitable backup in AAA in Will Rhymes for at least the balance of the season.
    Perez is also at the peak of his value if not actually a little past his peak. Either he or Cory Brown have value to a second division team.
    Goodwin, Walters, Hood are all expendable as none will be impact players or even starters in the big leagues.
    I would not sacrifice any pitching at any level in the system since it is already so thin.


    13 Jun 13 at 1:48 pm

  10. I think Vargas becomes available IF the Angels don’t get close to .500 by mid July.

    Here is an interesting though. If the Phils are out of it why not see if they will trade Lannan back. Obviously most teams don’t do trades within the division but a rental starter on an aging team with little farm system may be willing to make an acception.

    Gallardo would have to be a Karns + 1 or 2 deal I would think. I don’t know the quality of players that would have to be in the deal with him but I wonder if Marrero or Moore would interest them. They have no first baseman. Moore is more appealing due to his option status. Would you be comfortable with Tyler Moore/Nate Karns & PTBNL for Gallardo? Would that even get it done?


    13 Jun 13 at 2:42 pm

  11. Moore, Karns and a ptbnl for Gallardo is a “do that now” too trade for me.

    I just don’t see the Angels giving up in 2013, not with the amount of money and the win-now moves they’ve made.

    Todd Boss

    13 Jun 13 at 4:00 pm

  12. Good points About our utility players. Dunno if I agree about Brown having any value; still don’t understand why he’s on the 40-man roster. Completely disagree about Goodwin though; he was stellar last year, is generally considered our 3rd or 4th best prospect and I think he’s the CF of the future. 2 years from now he’ll be forcing the team to make a very hard decision about whether to renew Span’s option.

    Todd Boss

    13 Jun 13 at 4:02 pm

  13. “You don’t think this is a “go for it” year? ”

    I think it started as one, but no longer is one, at least from the prospective of trading some quality prospects. Here is how I look at it: would Garza, Gallardo or maybe Nolasco substantially improve our odds of the playoffs? I’d say no, it would only marginally improve them. There are too many questions about the rest of the team, and the Braves are looking like the real deal. So I wouldn’t trade Karns, Goodwin or those kind of guys for a guy here through the end of the season. If the team makes more trades solely because of previous ones, than that would be the same as keeping Haren solely because you gave him that contract in the offseason. And i don’t actually agree that the Gonzalez and Span trades would require that anyway. they are here for multiple years.

    As hard as it may be to accept, it is the middle of June and the Nats should either dig their way out of this with the players on hand, or bite the bullet and start positioning themselves for next year. If that means a prospect deal for Gallardo because they’d have him for two more years and they don’t like their internal options over those years, or what they expect to be available on the FA market, ok fine but those should be the reasons, not salvaging 2013.


    13 Jun 13 at 4:40 pm

  14. Wally, I have to politely disagree on another starting pitcher being a marginal upgrade. Right now Haren is costing the team significantly. In theory an average player, as far as I understand, should be worth 2.0 wins above replacement in a year. We aren’t even halfway yet and Haren is -1.1 (BRef WAR). If we had simply had an “average” performance out of his spot the team would, theoretically be 35-30 or 34-31, 3.5 or 4.5 back in the division. If you push that out for the rest of the season you are looking at roughly -2.5 WAR from Haren and a 4 – 5 win swing which is almost the deficit we are behind the Braves now. If you can replace that performance with a guy like Garza, Gallardo etc. who would be capable of adding 1 to 1.5 wins over a half season vs the -1.5 wins Haren is on pace for over a half season you can close a gap quickly.

    My interest is in Gallardo due to him being locked in next year. 2015 is only an option so if 1 of Jordan, Ray, Schwartz etc breaks through it isn’t a guaranteed commitment.


    13 Jun 13 at 7:49 pm

  15. I think its way too early to write off this year, even as the team sits as a .500 team 5-6 games behind Atlanta. 5-6 games in June is nothing. With the 2nd wild card keeping so many teams in the playoff hunt versus before (88 wins got the 2nd wild card last year), I don’t think teams are going to “give up” until deep into the season. And if the Nats are a handful of games above .500 on August 1st … they’re still going to be “in it.”

    A one-for-one replacement of Gallardo for Haren’s starts? I’d take it, despite Gallardo’s down year. Normally he’s a 110 ERA+ guy. Nolasco and Garza? Maybe not as much. But Haren’s been so bad, so hittable that i’d seek almost any replacement at this point.

    Todd Boss

    14 Jun 13 at 7:22 am

  16. PDowdy – I didn’t mean to say that an average SP would be a marginal upgrade over Haren, it certainly is bigger as you point out. But that making that switch would only marginally improve their overall playoff or division chances. I say marginal overall only because they have so many other issues. It is a subtle difference, but one that at least would cause me not to trade prospects.

    Todd – to me, it isn’t just a ‘go for it’ or ‘give up’ decision, there is a third option- stand pat and hope that your existing players can turn it around through regression to their true talent level, or return from injury. I could be all wet, but I’d define them as follows:
    ‘Go for it’ means trade future value (prospects you like) to enhance the present club via a major league player. I think we have too many holes to do that (at all times, I’d trade a prospect someone else values that I don’t for something I do, that is like picking up $20 on the street).
    ‘Give up’ is the reverse, meaning that you really think that you have almost no chance to get to the playoffs, so you trade current value (MLB players) not part of your longer term plan for future value (prospects). I am not advocating this either, because the Nats window still looks very good over the next 3-4 years
    Stand pat – hope your hurt players get healthy, or the under performers start performing. Tweak the edges but otherwise stay the course and be prepared if they don’t turn it around. This is the one that I’d recommend (and what I think Rizzo will actually do).


    14 Jun 13 at 8:39 am

  17. Fair enough on the “stand pat” theory. You have to admit, with the injuries we’ve had to key guys it is somewhat of a miracle we’re even .500.

    Todd Boss

    14 Jun 13 at 11:19 am

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