2013 Preview: Washington Nationals Gambling On A Return To Form From Dan Haren, Who's Got Something To Prove

Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

The Washington Nationals added Dan Haren on a 1-year/$13M dollar deal after other teams expressed concerns about the pitcher's health following a 2012 season in which the right-hander went on the DL for the first time in his 10-year major league career.

Reports out of Boston this winter said the Red Sox expressed interest in Dan Haren. The 32-year-old, 10-year veteran was coming off a 2012 season with Los Angeles which saw him go on the DL for the first time in his career with a back issue that cropped up in Spring Training. There were also concerns about his hip. Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo wrote on Twitter (@NickCafardo) that the, "Red Sox didn't like what they saw on Dan Haren's medicals on his hip." ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes (@GordonEdes) added that though the, "Red Sox liked Haren... it was simply a matter of money. Weren't going to $13M after a season in which his velocity dipped."

Los Angeles Times' beat writer Mike DiGiovanni said it was a combination of concerns which convinced the Angels to decline Haren's $15.5M dollar option and instead buy him out at a cost of $3.5M, allowing him to become a free agent. The Angels were, Mr. DiGiovanni wrote, "... mindful of his high mileage and decreased velocity," and therefore determined that Haren, "... was not worth $15.5 million." Haren's average fastball velocity did decrease for the third straight season, from 90.5 mph in 2009-10 to 89.8 mph in 2011 and 88.5 mph in 2012 with the Minimum (min-Vel) and Maximum velocity (max-Vel) going from 86.1-94.1 mph in 2010 and 85.7-92.8 mph in 2011 to 86.2-91.3 mph in 2012. Haren's back forced him to the DL, but he came back and had a strong second half. The hip issue is one that Haren later said he's dealt with his entire career and as he explained, it's never forced him to miss time before.

Though Haren's velocity was down, his manager with the Angels, Mike Scioscia, told the LA Times' Mr. DiGiovanni that he expected a bounce-back campaign from the veteran right-hander in 2013. "'A lot of people might feel he took a step back this year,'" Scioscia told the reporter, "'but this guy competes so well that I think he’s a guy who will rebound and be strong next year.'" Haren had even rebounded during the 2012 season. After going (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 year, Haren was (6-5) with a 3.58 ERA, 14 walks (1.72 BB/9) and 56 Ks (6.90 K/9) over his last 13 starts and 73.0 IP, ending the year with a (12-13) record, 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 over which he was worth +1.8 fWAR.

Haren told reporters after he signed with the Nationals that he was surprised by the questions other interested teams had about his health. "If it makes anyone feel better," Haren joked, "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."

Haren was working hard to lose weight and improve his flexibility, and he said he was, "... 100% confident that I'll be healthy this year and be able to contribute on a high level." Nats' GM Mike Rizzo too expressed confidence that the Nationals would get the pitcher who finished the 2011 season 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 a recent interview, the Nationals' general manager said he expects a return to form from Haren.

"We feel that we've got ourselves a guy that's going to contribute for us throughout the full season," the Nationals' GM told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Grant Paulsen, "And the guy that pitched last year, if we get that guy we'll certainly be satisfied with that, but we feel that we're going to get the guy that pitched in 2011 and 2010 and then we'll really have ourselves a front of the rotation guy pitching as one of our five starters."

Addressing concerns about Haren's hip and the dip in the pitcher's fastball velocity over the last few years, the Nationals' 52-year-old GM and Executive Vice President said he's watched Haren pitch with the hip issue since he was in college at Pepperdine. "He's had this throughout his baseball career," Rizzo explained, "and we feel that he's going to increase range of motion in the hip which I think will translate into added velocity, which isn't his game, but I think that we're going to get back the guy that's pitching at 90-91 [mph] and touching 92 rather than the guy that's pitching at 88-90 and touching 91."

The Nationals and Haren are both gambling on a return to form, but as Haren and the Nats' GM noted in separate conversations with reporters, the Nats weren't the only team willing to sign the right-hander this winter. Once the Nationals expressed interest in Haren, however, he said things came together quickly. "When the Nationals really showed interest I was really zeroed in on them," Haren said, "And from the time they showed some interest to the time the agreement was made was really not that much time." It was also a sign, Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Mr. Paulsen, of the way the organization's grown over the last few seasons.

"To me, it really shows how far we've come," Rizzo said, "when a guy of Dan Haren's pedigree and background and skill set chose us over probably ten other organizations he could have been with." At last weekend's NatsFest, Haren told reporters including the Washington Post's James Wagner, that he's 100% and ready to pitch without restrictions in 2013. Haren's got something to prove. Though he's a little older than the last pitcher to take a one-year deal with Washington with the hope of turning it into a big deal, Haren's gambling that there's at least one more multi-year contract out there for him like the one Edwin Jackson (the pitcher he's replacing) got from the Cubs after helping the Nationals win the NL East last season.

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