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Monday, July 26, 2010

A Karmic Swindle

It's been a busy summer for me, so posting has been infrequent, and it will probably continue to be sporadic through the next couple months.  I did, however, want to weigh in on some of the deadline drama.

Most recently, Dan Haren joined the Angels in what will undoubtedly be the most flabbergasting trade of the season.  The D-Backs interim GM traded away Haren for a handful of borderline talents.  Joe Saunders is a proven major-league pitcher of the back-of-the-rotation variety who is poorly suited to Arizona's home ballpark.  Rafael Rodriguez is a young, fairly potent middle reliever with a low strikeout rate, who probably won't every have closer potential.  Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs are both longshots, teenagers who haven't advanced past A-ball.  Skaggs was a late first-round pick in 2009, so he's a premium talent, but you don't build blockbusters around pitchers straight out of high school, a notoriously unpredictable commodity.  This is a truly forgettable package to receive for one the top ten pitchers in baseball, who shill has three seasons left on his contract.

For starters, let's compare the trade to a similar one that happened just a few weeks ago, when the rival Rangers acquired Cliff Lee from Seattle.  In return, they got the Rangers top prospect (heading into 2010), Justin Smoak, and a former first-rounder, Blake Beavan, who is currently pitching quite well in AA (11-6, 2.98 ERA).

I will agree that Lee is a better pitcher than Haren, but the difference is nominal.  Here are their numbers over the last three seasons ('08-'10):

Dan Haren: 37-26, 3.56 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 5.33 K/BB, 1.1 HR/9, 6.75 IP/GS
Cliff Lee: 45-20, 2.82 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 7.0 K/9, 5.38 K/BB, 0.6 HR/9, 7.22 IP/GS

Like I said, Lee is clearly the better pitcher, but the difference is not huge, especially when you take into consideration that Haren pitches at Chase Field, one of the most homer-happy ballparks in the league, while Lee has spent most of the last three seasons in pitchers havens (Cleveland & Seattle).  And, moreover, Haren's value is increased by the fact that he's two years younger than Lee and has three additional years left on his contract at below market value.  Haren will make $12.75 Million in each of '11 and '12, then has a club option at $15.5 Million in 2013.  With guys like John Lackey, A. J. Burnett, and Derek Lowe all making $15 Million or more per season in recent contracts, it's easy to assume that Haren could get well upwards of his current salary were he a free agent.  When Lee goes on the market this offseason, he will almost certainly gross over $100 Million.

Yet, somehow the Mariners got more in return for three months of Lee than the D-Backs got for three years of Haren.  That's just bad business.  But perhaps it's what the Arizona ownership deserves for firing Josh Byrnes.

Although the D-Backs have had a rough go of it in 2010, largely due to a disastrous bullpen and an underperforming rotation, Byrnes still brought together a very solid foundation of talent.  The lineup ranks 7th in the NL in scoring, despite down seasons from Justin Upton and Mark Reynolds, and an injury which cost Miguel Montero most of the first half.  With solid young pitchers like Haren, Edwin Jackson, and Ian Kennedy in the rotation and a fairly well stocked farm system, Arizona appeared only a year or two of development and a few deft moves away from serious contention.  Instead, ownership chose to scrap the best-laid plans because they did pay immediate dividends.

Now, they've traded away their most marketable commodity for pieces which don't make them better now or in the near future.  C'est la vie.

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