A week before the trade deadline the Arizona Diamondbacks dealt ace starting pitcher Dan Haren to the Los Angeles Angels for left-hander Joe Saunders and prospects Rafael Rodriguez, Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs (the now-confirmed PTBNL). The haul the Diamondbacks received has been met with a lot of criticism, considering they traded an star pitcher signed through 2012 at a reasonable price (with a 2013 club option). To truly evaluate the deal, though, we have to look at all of the moving parts, similarly to how we examined the Cliff Lee trade that took place earlier this season.
Dan Haren is obviously the biggest prize in the trade and his performance over the next three-plus years will go a long way in determining the winner and loser of this deal. This season Haren has put up a 7-10 record and a 4.47 ERA. Those numbers don’t look too pretty, but his underlying stats are more in line with his career numbers. For example, his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.06 is well above his career average and his xFIP of 3.43 is also better than his career norm.
Haren’s career track record is impressive, as he’s been excellent since becoming a full time starter in 2005 with Oakland. Check out his year-by-year WAR since 2005, using FanGraphs’ and Rally’s version (location at Baseball Reference):
The FIP-based fWAR looks a little nicer, but either statistic shows just how good Haren has been. That said, there are some legitimate reasons for concern over the next few years. First, Haren has been heavily worked, throwing well over 200 innings a season every year as a starter. That speaks to his durability, no doubt, but it’s also taxing on the arm. Further, his best years are most likely behind him, as we know that peak performance for pitchers is generally in the mid-to-late 20s.
The Angels are acquiring a top-shelf starting pitcher, but they are also getting him when his performance (mostly his durability) should start to gradually decline. With that in mind, it’s no sure thing that Haren’s performance will deteriorate over the next few years. For instance, a number of his comparables from Baseball Reference, guys like Roy Halladay and Kevin Brown, actually improved in their age 30-32 seasons (compared to their 27-29 years).
We can attempt to discern Haren’s surplus value by using our Oliver projections on Haren through 2013:
There are some factors that could push Haren’s surplus value over $20 million, like a slight playoff bonus for this season and the compensatory picks Arizona will likely receive when he departs. He’s a great pitcher and a valuable asset for the Angels, but he is being paid somewhat handsomely and is entering his 30s.
The only major leaguer heading to Arizona is Saunders, a serviceable left-handed starter who gobbles up innings at a near league average rate. Saunders’ strikeout numbers (career 5.1 per nine) don’t inspire a lot of confidence, but he does limit walks and he puts up decent enough groundball rates. His pitch-to-contact style isn’t ideal for hitter-friendly Arizona, but Saunders should at least help to fortify a rotation losing its best member.
Saunders makes about $1.2 million for the remainder of this season and is under arbitration through 2012. Here’s a look at his projected surplus value:
*estimated based on Tango’s 40-60-80 rule
Saunders’ 2011 and 2012 salaries will likely be higher than my estimates, as he’s already making $3.7 million this season. Conversely, the large projected drop-off from 2011 to 2012 seems a bit harsh. Estimating Saunders’ surplus value anywhere from zero to $5 million is probably reasonable, depending on how you project his performance and salary. He does help to soften the blow from losing Haren, at least somewhat. Of course, the main reason the Diamondbacks dealt Haren is to rebuild by acquiring prospects. Let’s take a look at the three pieces they picked up.
Tyler Skaggs, a 6-4 lefty who just turned 19, is the centerpiece of the deal for Arizona. Skaggs was drafted 40th overall in the 2009 amateur draft. He’s spent this season at Single-A Cedar Rapids, putting up a 3.61 ERA in 82.3 innings (82 strikeouts, 21 walks, six homers). Prior to the season, Skaggs was ranked as the Angels’ eighth best prospect by Baseball America, ninth by Kevin Goldtsein and seventh by John Sickels. Skaggs is going to need time to develop, but the projectability is certainly there.
Patrick Corbin is another young lefty (just turned 21) who is in the midst of an excellent sophomore campaign. In 126.2 innings split between Single-A and High-A, Corbin has struck out 118 while walking 30 and surrendering nine home runs. Prior to the season, he was ranked 21st in the Angels organization by John Sickels, but it’s safe to say that his stock is on the rise.
Rafael Rodriguez appears to be an organizational filler type, as he’s pitched almost 800 innings in the minors since 2002 with relatively unimpressive results (6.9 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9). He’s appeared in 32.2 innings in the majors over the last two seasons and he’s been hit very hard, with a 5.51 ERA and a K/9 of just three. Using Victor Wang’s research on the surplus value of prospects, here’s what we can expect out of the trio received by Arizona:
|Tyler Skaggs||Grade B Pitcher||$7.3M|
|Patrick Corbin||Grade C Pitcher||$2.1M|
Adding Saunders to the equation gives us about $13.25 million in total surplus value going to Arizona. That mark is shy of Haren’s $16.6 million, but it really isn’t too far off, especially considering there’s a large margin of error here. Haren’s surplus value may be a bit conservative, but at the same time Skaggs and Corbin are having very good years and their prospect status is on the rise. To me, it appears like a relatively equal swap, though I’d certainly be willing to give the edge to the Angels.
With that in mind, I don’t fully understand the negativity toward the Diamondbacks’ side of this deal. Yes, they traded a very good pitcher and they probably didn’t have to go into full rebuild mode right now. They did, however, get a couple of nice pieces in return, not to mention a serviceable starter in Saunders. Sure, you would have liked to see them get a bit more out of Haren, perhaps from a contender in the heat of a pennant race. But maybe the market just wasn’t there for Haren, for whatever reasons.
It seems that Haren’s value is a little overrated. He’s under control through 2013, but he is making more $40 million in that time period (if the option is picked up). That’s not a ton of money for an ace starter, but it isn’t exactly a bargain either. The Diamondbacks probably could have got a little bit more for the rights to Haren, but in the end the package they received is at least a respectable return.