But Haren had long been one of the best, most durable starters in baseball. From 2005 to 2011, as he bounced from the Athletics to the Diamondbacks to the Angels, he averaged 226 innings with a 3.49 ERA. Unlike the rest of the Nationals rotation, Haren relies more on cutters, change-ups and control. In his career, Haren has walked only 1.9 batters per nine innings, while striking out 7.6.
“Great athlete. Outstanding stuff. Gamer,” Johnson said. “He fits right in. . . . I’ve got some young guys that act like veterans, and they pitched like veterans last year for me. And a veteran like Dan Haren is just going to make things even better.”
Haren lost velocity on his fastball last season, averaging 88.5 miles per hour compared to a career average of just over 90. Some scouts believe the drop began before his injuries struck, which would add to the injury risk. But Haren also provides a significant upside for a relatively small guaranteed sum.
The Nationals had interest in going after both Zack Greinke and James Shields, but they found the cost — money in Greinke’s case and players in Shields’s — to be extraordinary. With long-term commitments to Bryce Harper, Strasburg and other young stars needed in coming years, the Nationals saved money and kept their young core intact.
And they still signed a pitcher who, when healthy, is comparable to fellow right-handers Greinke and Shields. From 2008 through 2011, Haren ranked seventh in the majors in wins above replacement, per FanGraphs.com, with 23.0 — essentially even with Greinke’s 23.4 and well ahead of Shields’s 14.6. The Nationals were able to land Haren with a one-year deal that, even if Haren flops, will do them no long-term harm.
“This is what we strive for,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “This is why we constructed the roster as we did. It’s always advantageous to have good, young controllable players. It was part of our strategy.”
The agreement works well financially for Haren, too. Between the buyout and the deal with the Nationals, Haren will make $16.5 million — $1 million more than he would have if the Angels picked up his option.
All that’s left for the Nationals are a few roster tweaks and small additions before spring training. Haren will gather then with his new team, now a destination for players who want to win.
“It’s gonna be fun to get going,” Haren said. “And I can’t wait to get to Florida.”