The Washington Nationals' 1-year/$13M dollar deal with Dan Haren became official today, with the Nats announcing what had originally been reported earlier this week. Haren traveled to the nation's capital for a physical on Thursday. Asked about landing the 32-year-old right-hander this afternoon, Nationals' general manager Mike Rizzo told reporters that the deal was a sign of the way Washington's organization has grown over the last few years. "To get a pitcher of Dan Haren's caliber," Rizzo said, "we feel fortunate that we could land him. I think it says a lot about where we've come as a franchise. Dan had his choice of a lot of organizations."
The LA Angels Haren pitched for over the past two and a half seasons and the Boston Red Sox are two of the teams believed to have expressed interest in the free agent starter, but he liked the idea of pitching in Washington and things moved quickly once he knew there was interest on the Nationals' part.
The interest was mutual, the 10-year-veteran explained this afternoon. "I did have quite a few other choices," Haren told reporters, "but the Nationals just kind of fit for me. Although it's east coast, I've primarily stayed on the west coast my entire career, when I was leading up to being traded or was traded and didn't get traded, I had kind of sold my family and myself on the possibility of moving east. So we were all kind of ready for it. And then when the Nationals showed some interest, I had a lot of interest from different teams, but the momentum started picking up there [in D.C.] I think it was Sunday or Monday and the Nationals just kind of fit for me."
"Obviously the club they have," Haren said, continuing to explain his decision, "winning close to a hundred games last year, with the majority of people coming back. I think I just fit well with the rotation. Just being able to eat innings and give the team a chance every time out. With the offense that we have, we have tremendous defense as well, great bullpen... I think we can only improve on what the Nationals did last year."
Haren finished the 2012 season in LA with a (12-13) record, a 4.33 ERA, 4.24 FIP, 38 walks (1.94 BB/9) and 142 Ks (7.23 K/9) in 30 starts and 176.2 IP for the Angels, but the right-hander dealt with back issues that cropped up in Spring Training and stayed with him throughout the first half, leading to a DL stint around the All-Star Break. Haren said today he was confident that in spite of the concern other interested teams reportedly expressed, he would be 100% ready for 2013.
'I know it was a question mark for a lot of people," Haren said, "If it makes anyone feel better, like I told you before there [were] lots of teams that were interested in my services. Obviously I passed the physical. I feel great right now. I understand that teams had concerns, otherwise I probably would have gotten a 3 or 4-year deal, but that said, I think I have a lot to prove this year. Very confident I'm going to stay healthy. I feel great right now. Probably going to start throwing here in a week."
Haren explained that he had done some things to help him lose some weight and increase his flexibility that were recommended to him last year, but overall he said, "I'm 100% confident that I'll be healthy this year and be able to contribute on a high level."
If Haren can get back to being the pitcher he was in 2011, the Nationals will have gotten a bargain on the right-hander, who was (16-10) with a 3.17 ERA, 2.98 FIP, 33 walks (1.25 BB/9) and 192 Ks (7.25 K/9) in 35 games (34 starts) and 238.1 IP in his first full season in LA. He'll be joining a rotation in D.C. that includes Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler. Haren's familiar with some of his new teammates already. He faced Zimmermann in a 2011 duel Nats' skipper Davey Johnson said was, "... one of the better ones I've ever seen." Stephen Strasburg's pitching coach* at San Diego State University was the best man at Haren's wedding and he's familiar with Gio Gonzalez from Gio's time in Oakland.
"It's a really exciting rotation to be a part of," Haren said today, "I've been a part of some good ones, including last year. We didn't quite live up to the expectations, but this year is going to be fun for the team and for the fans especially."
To further assuage any concerns about back/hip problems that have been mentioned often in the press before and after Haren signed with Washington, the pitcher went into more detail about the issues, one that's been around for a while and one which he thinks he's over. "I've never missed a day for any hip issue," Haren explained, noting that he's not a doctor, but he said it's a long-standing issue that's been a "management thing," but, "... I have to just take care of it and it's never caused me to miss any time and I'm sure it won't cause me to miss any time this year."
As for the back, Haren described it as "lower back stiffness." The right-hander missed 18 days on the DL, but said he threw a bullpen and made a minor league start during that time. "Came back after that," Haren explained, "And mechanically I was a little out of whack, I got into some bad habits, but I felt physically good and then toward the end of the year, I think late August into September I started feeling really good. Mechanics started [to come] back and I had a lot more success. I definitely finished up last year the way I expected that whole year to go."
"It took me a while to kind of remember how to pitch like I was," Haren said, "but toward the end of the year I started feeling really good." The numbers back up what Haren said. He was (6-8) with a 4.86 ERA, 24 walks (2.08 BB/9) and 86 Ks (7.47 K/9) in 17 starts and 103.2 IP in the first half of the 2012 season with opponents putting up a .297/.333/.484 line against the right-hander. After the DL stint, Haren had a 3.58 ERA with 14 walks (1.72 BB/9) and 56 Ks (6.90 K/9) over his last 13 starts and 73.0 IP, holding opposing hitters to a .243/.282/.432 line. The pitcher admitted that all the question about his health were a bit of a surprise, especially the hip.
"It was frustrating for me," Haren said, "just because it's tough for someone to deal with so many injury questions on something I've never missed a day for, not even getting pushed back a day from a start in 10 years for it, but I don't know what MRIs say, I don't know how I test out," but that said, he continued, "... there was plenty of interest in me and a lot of my medical stuff was out there, and there was still tons of interest. That being said, when the Nationals really showed interest I was really zeroed in on them. And from the time they showed some interest to the time the agreement was made was really not that much time."
Haren believes he's healthy. He's happy to join the Nationals' rotation. And he thinks he learned from what he dealt with last season. D.C. GM Mike Rizzo's happy with the deal too. "He's a three-time All-Star, his credentials are impeccable, and we feel really good that he's with the Washington Nationals. He had a lot of options, and a lot of different opportunities to go to a lot of different ballclubs. Once we expressed interest in him, he certainly focused in on us and was pleased that we wanted to sign him and ultimately [we were] the team he chose."
(ed. note - " * = After Haren made the comments about Strasburg's pitching coach at SDSU, the Nats' no.37 tweeted the following correction..."):
…cont) he is the current pitching coach at SDSU but he wasn't mine when I played there— Stephen Strasburg (@stras37) December 7, 2012