Over the weekend, General Manager Mike Rizzo said he “loved” Dan Haren and would require a large return in order to consider trading the veteran right-hander. Rizzo’s sentiment was not just empty talk.
One major league executive with a team looking for starting pitching said he inquired with the Nationals about Haren. The Nationals listened, but their demands prevented any deal from coming close. Essentially, the Nationals’ asking price for Haren ended the conversation.
“We love Dan Haren,” Rizzo said Friday afternoon in Kansas City. “He’s pitching extremely well for us. We would certainly listen. I wouldn’t be doing my job if we didn’t. But we would have to get ourselves a good package of players to consider moving him.”
Opposing teams have good reason to call the Nationals about Haren, who will become a free agent at season’s end. In nine starts and one converted save since he came off the disabled list, Haren has a 2.53 ERA over 57 innings. Haren passed through waivers earlier this month, so the Nationals are free to trade to him any team.
For Haren’s part, he prefers to stay with Washington for the remainder of the season.
“I want to stay here,” Haren said Friday. “I don’t think anyone has really given up hope. Of course I don’t want to leave at this point. We still can have a run left in us.
“I really haven’t thought about that. I’m more worried on day-to-day things. I’m worried about [my next start] Sunday. Whatever happens, happens. It’s really out of my control. There’s no use worrying about it.”
The Nationals are 8 ½ games out of the second wild card spot with 32 games remaining, but they have reason to not wave the white flag. Their next 19 games will come against the Phillies, Mets and Marlins. The Mets will be without Matt Harvey, who was diagnosed today with a torn elbow ligament. The Marlins are likely to shut down Jose Fernandez, who is on track to miss the Nationals when the Marlins visit Nationals Park this week.
Say the Nationals tumble out of contention quickly — say they lose three of their five games before Sept. 1, the deadline for teams to add players eligible for the postseason roster. They would apparently have even less reason to keep Haren than they do now.
But they would still maintain some motivation. They could control Haren for next season or gamble on trying to turn him into a draft pick.
The Nationals could offer Haren a one-year qualifying offer worth roughly $13.3 million. Haren would have a difficult choice if they did. He would be 33 and coming off a season in which he was perhaps the worst starter in the majors for the first half of the season. The draft-pick compensation tied to him would lessen his value.
But he also has an accomplished track record, he has rebounded in the second half to this point, and this winter’s free agent class is shaping up as weak. It’s not impossible to think Haren would decline a qualifying offer and seek a deal elsewhere. This is pure speculation, but he may even be willing to take less money to play on the West Coast, where he played for the majority of his career and still keeps his home.
All of that can wait. For now, he’s almost certain to remain a National, because they will only deal him for an overpay.