The Dan Haren Trade

JASON CLINKSCALES: While this isn’t exactly Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown and others, this Dan Haren trade has quite a few baseball people upset. It’s understandable when you consider that Haren is a strikeout machine; a somewhat rare thing, even in this resurgent year for pitchers. However, it’s hard to say that this deal will immediately give the will-always-be Anaheim Angels the last piece of the puzzle to grab the Wild Card.

After all, giving up 23 home runs and 161 hits in 21 starts is hard to ignore, even if, like me, you’re a fan of his.

There are plenty of other numbers that matter, of course. He’s remarkably durable and only once this season has he pitched fewer than five innings;  a 13-1 shelling in Atlanta where he allowed ten hits, two long balls, three walks and six earned runs. When he’s on – which he can be as long as that split-cut fastball gets going – he’s going to give once-familiar batters fits.

Yet, the difficulty of measuring this trade for the Angels is the reality than a starting pitcher only works every five days. A seven-game difference for the AL West crown, nine games for the Wild Card. While Anaheim grabbed the best available arm, they need a pick-up from the offense. This team doesn’t manufacture runs like they used to, even when the bats go cold. They’re not as slick defensively as in past years, either, which always helps cover a pitcher’s deficiencies.

This isn’t the same Angels team that held the division crown hostage for much of the last decade. Dan Haren in some respects makes up for what hasn’t come out of the Scott Kazmir deal last summer. Yet, considering how tough it will be for Anaheim to catch either Texas or the Wild Card contenders (unless someone falls asleep at the wheel), this trade may not have as much cache for the Angels for the rest of 2010 as it will for 2011.

JESSICA BADER: Even with Dan Haren, the Angels most likely will be watching the playoffs on TV this year. Yet that shouldn’t obscure what a good trade this was for Anaheim and what an awful one it was for Arizona.

 Haren’s contract runs through 2012 (with an option for 2013), and his $12.75 million salary for each of the next two seasons is a good deal less than – just to give one example – what the Red Sox agreed to pay John Lackey last winter. He’s striking out a batter per inning this year and sports a K/BB ratio near five, both figures consistent with his recent track record. Haren’s one major flaw – his tendency to give up lots of home runs – should be somewhat alleviated now that he will no longer be making his home starts at Chase Field. Essentially, the Angels have significantly upgraded their rotation for the next couple of years, and they really didn’t give up all that much to do it.

Even now, more than a full day after the news of the trade broke, I’m still in a state of disbelief over just how little the Diamondbacks got in return for one of the top commodities on this year’s trade market. Of the three pitching prospects the Angels gave up in the deal, only Tyler Skaggs seems to have much upside, and the major-leaguer going to Arizona in the trade is nothing to write home about.

Joe Saunders is precisely the kind of pitcher who gets overrated by “old-school” types because of a season or two with a gaudy won-lost record (17-7 in 2008; 16-7 in 2009), but he’s really nothing more than a back-of-the-rotation guy (career K/BB below two, less than five strikeouts per nine innings this season). He’s also a bad fit for his new home park, a pitch-to-contact type who isn’t a groundball machine in a launching pad. It’s also not as though the D-Backs will be saving all that much money, as Saunders is in his arbitration years already.

If no contending team had a better offer than the extremely underwhelming package that the Angels gave up for Haren, I’m stunned. The Diamondbacks appear to have squandered their biggest trading chip as they kicked off a rebuilding effort, and the Angels took advantage to reload for the near future, if not necessarily the immediate future.

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