Did the Diamondbacks get enough for Dan Haren?

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):

Year Team Innings rWAR fWAR
2005 Oak 217 2.9 4.0
2006 Oak 223 3.6 4.0
2007 Oak 222.7 5.2 4.9
2008 AZ 216 4.8 6.5
2009 AZ 229.7 6.0 6.1
2010 AZ/LA 161 1.6 2.9

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:

Year WAR Value Salary Surplus Value
2010 1.8 $6.3M $2.7M $3.6M
2011 5.0 $20M $12.75M $7.25M
2012 4.1 $18.5M $12.75M $5.75
2013 3.1 $15.5M $15.5M $0
Total 14 $60.3 $43.7 $16.6M

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:

Year WAR Value Salary Surplus Value
2010 .5 $1.75M $1.2M $.55M
2011 1.6 $6.4M $3.8M* $2.6M
2012 .8 $3.6M $2.9M* $.7M
Total 2.9 $11.75M $7.9M $3.85M

*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:

Player Status Surplus Value
Tyler Skaggs Grade B Pitcher $7.3M
Patrick Corbin Grade C Pitcher $2.1M
Rafael Rodriguez

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.

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Nick Steiner
13 years ago

Good post Myron, I agree with all of this.  I would also like to see the “official” surplus value calculation for the other Cliff Lee deal (from Philly to Seattle).  That’s another deal that’s getting a bum rap.  I think people are probably a bit spoiled by the Texeira or Sabathia deals – teams definitely are valuing young talent more recently.

Sean Smith
13 years ago

I don’t think Saunders has much, if any, surplus value.  That is, as you mention, a product of him already getting 3.7 in arbitration.  He won’t be taking pay cuts.  Had he stayed with the Angels I would have suggested a non-tender as the best option.  I think Corbin and Skaggs are very good prospects though.  A team looking long term probably made the right move here.  Overall, good work.

Myron Logan
13 years ago

Thanks guys.

Sean, yeah, I debated changing the Saunders chart after I realized he made $3.7 this year, but I left it for some reason. I agree, his surplus is probably closer to zero, though he might be worth a few million if he can put up back-to-back 1.5-2 WAR years (not likely, but not completely out of the question).

That said, I think Corbin and Skaggs might be worth more than the $9.3M I’ve estimated here, potentially making up the $3-4M (if not more) for Saunders.

The main point, for me anyway, is that Haren isn’t worth *that* much. Great pitcher, no doubt, but it’s not like he’s signed for five years, $30M or some ridiculous team-friendly deal.

Tom Binger
13 years ago

The historical context of the Haren transaction is particularly egregious.  In December, 2007, Arizona sent Carlos Quentin to the White Sox for Chris Carter. Then Arizona flipped Carter to the A’s along with Carlos Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, Dana Eveland, Greg Smith and Aaron Cunningham for Dan Haren.

Now they’ve dumped Haren for Joe Saunders and a few middling prospects from the Angels, even though Haren’s salary is extremely reasonable and he’s under control for 2 more years. So basically, they gave up Carlos Quentin, Carlos Gonzalez, Brett Anderson and more for Joe Saunders and 2.5 seasons of Dan Haren.  That’s indefensible.

13 years ago

Well Tom you are of course correct that the Haren chain trade doesn’t look good from Arizona’s point of view, hopefully they learn from it.

But the point is that they couldn’t ‘undo’ the previous deals.  They can only deal with a view going forward, and in their assessment were not going to be competitive in the lifetime of Haren’s contract (which the post points out is not ‘that’ favourable), ergo they moved him, for what must’ve been the best offer they had.

I think the greater point is that the super SABR loved pitchers like Haren et al are just not thought of as being as valuable as WAR says they are by GMs

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