On Sunday night, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim acquired RHP Dan Haren from the Arizona Diamondbacks for LHP Joe Saunders, LHP Patrick Corbin, RHP Rafael Rodriguez and a PTBNL presumed to be LHP Tyler Skaggs.
The reaction from most saber-slanted fans has been something along the lines of, “The Angels got Haren for WHAT?!” Haren, 29, has been one of the premier starting pitchers in the game for years. According to Fangraphs, his WAR totals since 2005 go as follows: +4, +4, +4.9, +6.5, +6.1 and +2.7 so far in 2010. Haren’s signed to a below-market contract that keeps him under team control through at least 2012 and includes a club option for 2013. The D-Backs surrendered that asset for an arbitration-eligible, back-of-the-rotation type in Saunders, a pair of decent lefty pitching prospects and a middle reliever?
That was my first reaction, too. But, rather than just relying on gut instinct, I thought it would be useful to attempt a more numbers-based evaluation of the trade. The key word here is, “attempt.” By no means is this back-of-the-napkin exercise going to be perfect — it makes some assumptions that you may or may not agree with. This is meant to be more of a conversation-starter about the merits of the deal from the perspective of the Angels and Diamondbacks, rather than some definitive judgment. With that warning out of the way, let’s try to measure what each team acquired in the trade.
First, the Angels’ side. Per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, Haren is making $8.25 million this season (leaving something like $3 million of his salary still to be paid) and $12.75 million in each of 2011 and 2012. His 2013 club option is for $15.5 million, with a $3.5M buyout if the option is declined. What sort of value does Haren figure to provide over that period? Let’s ask Oliver. A quick note: the Oliver projections listed here are for Haren as a D-Back; the switch in leagues could impact the numbers somewhat, but probably not tremendously so. Despite an inflated ERA, Haren is still pitching very well this season — a .355 BABIP, a 14.1 HR/FB%, a line drive off his forearm…this guy can’t catch a break. Oliver thinks he’ll provide 1.7 WAR for the rest of 2010. Haren’s projected to be worth five wins in 2011, 4.1 WAR in 2012 and 3.1 WAR in 2013.
If the Angels pick up Haren’s 2013 option, they figure to pay him about $44 million while getting something in the range of 14 WAR. If they decline the option, they’ll pay about $32 million while getting around 11 WAR. Let’s say that a win costs $4.5 million. In the first scenario (the option gets picked up), Haren has $19 million in surplus value (the value of his production minus his actual salary). If the Angels decline the option, Haren has $17-$18 million in surplus value.
So, do the Diamondbacks figure to recoup that lost value by acquiring Saunders, Corbin, Rodriguez and Skaggs? Let’s begin with Saunders. The 29-year-old is making $3.7 million in 2010 (leaving around $1.3 million in salary left to be paid), and he’ll be eligible for arbitration in 2011 and 2012. Oliver project Saunders for 0.8 WAR for the rest of the season, 1.5 WAR in 2011 and 0.8 WAR in 2012 (the same caveat as Haren applies here — this projection comes for his former team). That’s 3.1 projected WAR from now until he hits free agency. Let’s be a little more generous and give him 3.5 projected WAR.
It’s hard to say what, exactly, Saunders will get in arbitration. It’s generally accepted that players get roughly 40% of their free agent value in the first year of arbitration, 60% in the second and 80% in the third and final year. Using those numbers, Saunders’ salary wouldn’t budge at all. But, in reality, he’ll get a raise. This is speculative, but let’s say he gets a combined $12 million during those last two arby-eligible seasons. So, Saunders would provide 3.5 WAR (worth about $16 million on the free agent market) while making a little less than $13.5 million. That’s minimal surplus value, and if his arbitration salaries are higher, he’d provide no additional value above the salary that he’s making.
What about the prospects? Rodriguez’s value doesn’t figure to be great — though once a prized $780,000 bonus baby signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2001, he’s now a 25-year-old who posted a mid-four’s FIP out of the ‘pen at Triple-A Salt Lake City. Oliver projects him as a replacement-level talent this season, and slightly better than that in the years ahead. Baseball America ranked him as the 22nd-best prospect in L.A’s system prior to 2010, while John Sickels didn’t even list him as a grade C prospect. For the sake of argument, let’s say Rodriguez is a grade C pitching prospect. According to Victor Wang’s research, a grade C pitcher older than 23 provides about $1.5 million in surplus value.
Corbin and Skaggs are the more substantive gets. A lanky 6-foot-3, Corbin is equipped with a high-80′s fastball that sometimes hits the low-90′s, a decent slider and a changeup. The 21-year-old was ranked 12th in the Angels’ system before the season, and Sickels graded him as a C+ prospect. Corbin has performed well this year, with 7.88 K/9, 2.03 BB/9 and a 3.69 park-and-luck adjusted FIP between the Low-A Midwest League and the High-A California League. You could make a case for calling him either a B pitching prospect, which Wang’s research shows is worth about $7.3 million in surplus value, or a C prospect younger than 22, worth $2.1 million in surplus value. I’d lean more toward the C prospect value, due to his finesse repertoire.
Skaggs is thought to have the higher upside, as a 6-foot-4 teenager with an 88-91 MPH fastball and a slider that Baseball America calls a “knockout offering.” BA ranked him eighth in the Angels’ organization before 2010, and Sickels dubbed him a B- prospect. Skaggs has impressed in the Midwest League, with 8.96 K/9, 2.38 BB/9, a 51.8 GB% and a 3.11 adjusted FIP. I think a reasonable argument could be made that Skaggs profiles as a 76-100 pitching prospect, which Wang’s research values at $9.8 million in surplus value. Conservatively, a B rating ($7.3 million) could be used as well. Given the uncertainty of young pitchers far from the majors, I’d go with the B grade.
Under the scenario above, the Diamondbacks surrendered around $19 million in surplus value while receiving $12 million. But, as mentioned earlier, this is far from a perfect conclusion and it involves many assumptions on my part. It’s not insane to think of a future in which Corbin and Skaggs become solid major leaguers, and make the deal a wash. Then again, it could be a disaster if Corbin and Skaggs bust, and Saunders makes more dough through arbitration because of his win totals in past years. If I had to place a bet, I think we’ll look back on this trade as a day when the Angels added an ace at a discount price and the Diamondbacks gave up too much for too little.