Even after the Royals traded away Zack Greinke, the knowledge that he’d be a free agent after 2012 was well known and the idea that he (presumably) might be an option for the Royals to sign for their rotation was a popular one.
Today, Greinke is indeed looking like he may impact the Royals search for a starting pitcher, but not quite in the way many would have expected two years ago. The Angels are reportedly interested in retaining Greinke, either by extension or a big contract when the season is over, and to make space in the payroll for him, starters Ervin Santana and Dan Haren may not have their options picked up.
If that happens, Haren would be a great fit for an improving Royals team.
Haren was one of many young pitchers to come out of Oakland after being traded from St. Louis as part of the Mark Mulder trade. In his time with the A’s, Haren surpassed 217 innings in each of three seasons and demonstrated great control and the ability to strike batters out. He was then dealt to Arizona for, among others, Carlos Gonzalez. The success continued. He put up 586.1 innings as a Diamondback before being dealt in July to Los Angeles.
Again, the performance has stayed strong. In 94 innings back in the AL in 2010, he had a 2.87 ERA. He finished seventh in Cy Young voting last season after another 200 inning season.
There are few pitchers who can boast of his consistent performance and workload.
Of course, that also means his services will come at a premium.
Haren is making $12.75 million this year and $15.5 million next year if the Angels pick up his option (which renders this conversation moot if so, but is still relevant for contract speculation). I’d imagine he would look to sign a deal that would at least average $16 million a year. For context, last December, Mark Buehrle signed a four year deal with Miami for $58 million. At the time of the signing, Buehrle was 32 years old. Haren’s 32nd birthday was on September 17. He’ll have about 500 innings less in the big leagues (as he debuted in 2003 which was Buehrle’s third full season in the majors).
Haren has better numbers than Buehrle, is slightly younger and has been more consistent. Buehrle’s ERA has ranged from 3.12 to 4.99. Haren’s has settled around the sub-4.00 territory nearly every year (in 2006, he was at 4.12; in 46 innings in 2004, he was at 4.50).
Over his career, Haren has walked less than two batters per nine innings (1.9 BB/9), and while Buehrle’s 2 BB/9 is right in that area, Haren has struck out 2.5 more batters per nine innings (7.6 vs. 5.1 K/9) than Buehrle. Their ground ball rates are similar (43.2% for Haren vs. 45.5% for Buehrle). Advantage Haren. Four years at $64 million might even be too conservative for Haren’s demands.
Fortunately (if you take the statement on good faith), David Glass has said he’s willing to open up the pocketbooks this offseason to improve the starting pitching. Dan Haren would be an improvement. If the Royals signed a second pitcher with him and opened up 2013 with Haren, Unnamed Starter, Luis Mendoza, Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar, that’s already better than you could have dreamed of for 2012. If the Royals non-tendered Hochevar and used Jake Odorizzi, there’s talent and upside present. If they were to re-sign Jeremy Guthrie and use him somehow, that’s another pitcher who should be effective next year. And then there’s still Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino returning at some point from injury.
There could be concerns though. Haren was placed on the disabled list in July with back stiffness, but came back after 17 days and has pitched better since. He has a 4.35 ERA for the year, but since returning July 22, he’s thrown 61.2 innings with a 3.50 ERA. He’s not getting any younger, either. Over his career, Haren has made 33 or more starts every year since 2005 until this year (he’s currently at 28 and might get two more this year), so there’s no notable injury history.
Teams don’t have to have a staff full of aces to get into the playoffs or even win them. It certainly helps, though, and the odds get better with a strong starter at the top and solid arms in the middle of the rotation. There will be injuries, too, so depth is important. With what they have already and what they may have next year, the Royals are set to have a handful of capable pitchers. Adding someone like Haren would be a huge addition to a rotation that’s been without a superstar since Greinke left.