Dan Haren was acquired this year by the Miami Marlins to take a place in the rotation without investment from the club. Haren came free of charge from the Los Angeles Dodgers, who used their significant coffers to extract more trade value from an ugly Andrew Heaney trade. While the Dodger turned Heaney into Howie Kendrick and got four other interesting players to add to their envious depth, MIami got a successful (but now struggling) Dee Gordon and a free year of Haren.
That free year has overachieved expectations, depending on what numbers you look at. On the one hand, Haren owns a 3.46 ERA and, if you ask how many wins he has produced based on that ERA, it is probably a good year. However, that ERA has stood on the back of some good luck on timing and sequencing; Haren has stranded a career-high 80 percent of the baserunners he has put on base. In the meantime, he is giving home runs up as he usually does and is continuing his slow strikeout and stuff decline. If you look at the peripheral numbers that he has put up in 2015, you would see a pitcher who is inching ever so closely to being an unplayable pitcher in the majors, but is not quite there yet.
There is a reasonably large dichotomy between the two world views of Dan Haren. That has not stopped a number of teams from having interest in the righty for this trade deadline. The question now is whether that interest can lead to a good move for the Marlins' future.
Haren has been a fascinating trade asset ever since he was dealt to the Marlins. At the time of the original deal, you could argue that Haren had zero trade value to the Fish, since there was an ongoing thought that Haren would not accept any moves to places outside of California and would simply retire instead of reporting to play. After some convincing, Haren decided to show up to Spring Training, and immediately he became an intriguing trade asset and value piece for Miami.
In terms of performance, this year's Haren is not all that different than last year's, but he appears to be trending in the wrong direction. Do not let the ERA fool you: he is doing a lot of the stuff he did in Los Angeles last year, but doing it worse. He still gives up a ton of home runs despite playing in the second-hardest park in which to hit homers in the majors. The move to Marlins Park has not changed his longball fortunes at all. Meanwhile, the strikeout rate is down to 17.1 percent, the lowest it has been since he became a full-time starting pitcher in 2005. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is the lowest it has been since 2007. While he continues to avoid the walk, hitters simply are not fooled anymore by his stuff. Haren's swinging strike rate is down to just 5.8 percent of his total pitches, the sixth-lowest rate in all of baseball among qualified starters.
One look at his stuff and you can easily explain why. Brooks Baseball says that Haren's release velocity on his fastball was at 89-90 mph in 2013. In 2014, that had dropped solidly to around 88 mph. This year, that is down to 87 mph, and that value appears to be dropping as the months pass.
That has pretty much hurt everything else he does, as Haren's other pitches have dropped significantly in whiff rate. Aside from his seemingly effective cutter, everything is falling by the wayside, and Haren continues to teeter on the border of being a playable pitcher or someone like Kyle Kendrick who can pound the strike zone and hammered.
However, that has not happened yet, and through good fortune, Haren has helped his cause by avoiding huge hits to drive home runs. He has allowed 17 home runs this season, yet 12 of those 17 have come with the bases empty. Four percent of his chances with no one on have resulted in homers, versus just 2.9 percent of his opportunities with men aboard. That has helped minimize the average damage of his home runs.
The Trade Value
Haren at this point may just be a ticking time bomb, but the great thing for the Marlins is that some team may be willing to jump on that bomb for a few reasons. For one, he has at least spent much of this year showing he can still pitch in the majors, even though his effectiveness is not as good as that ERA suggests. The fact that his ERA is so shiny will naturally make him more valuable to teams who pay less attention to the underlying numbers, though those are fewer and far between.
Perhaps just as importantly, however, is the cost. Haren is still free to any acquiring team interested in his services for the second half. The Marlins have no financial ties to the veteran righty, as they received $10 million from the Dodgers to cover his salary. They could send the remaining money left on his deal this year to any acquiring team and acquit themselves financially. Sending money has never been Miami's forte, but doing so makes Haren all value for any suitor.
Haren is a reasonably durable pitcher, as he has made 30 starts in each of his last nine seasons. He could be expected to do the same again and reach something like 180 innings. If he does, small incentives kick in that could total up to $2.5 million. Reasonably, he could reach $2 million of those incentives. Still, a projection of Haren's performance going forward is probably worth at least half a win and a bit less than one win. Take the midway point and say 0.7 wins and you have a player worth $5 million in the free agent market for the rest of the year!
In total, the trade value for Haren is something like $3 million thanks to his almost-free salary. What kind of prospect might that fetch? If we look at the latest research on prospect valuation, we see that pitchers at the tail end of the Baseball America top 100 are worth almost $10 million. Those type of players are usually B+ prospects, so a player worth $3 million may merely be a C-ranked pitcher or hitter at best. Miami might be able to get two lottery-ticket type players much like in the Casey McGehee deal or the deal that the Phillies got last year for Roberto Hernandez. Neither Kendry Flores nor Luis Castillo was worth much before the trade, but at least one guy has made a name for himself since the move. Miami might look for a similar trade for Haren's half season.