D'backs/Angels Trade Analysis: Dan Haren, Joe Saunders, and More

If you regularly read my trade analyses here at Call to the Pen, you probably know my formula for breaking things down: I start with the obvious, move to the more nuanced, and then make a conclusion based on all the possible information there is on the players in the deal.

This time, though, I’m going to do things a bit differently. Today’s Dan Haren trade is so far out of the norm that I’m just going to come out and say my conclusion right off the bat.

The Angels won this deal. Huge.

Keep in mind that I usually come out on the side of long-term value, and thus, the team receiving prospects, in deals like this. I said the Mariners won the Cliff Lee trade, the Royals won the Alberto Callaspo trade, the Braves won the Yunel Escobar/Alex Gonzalez trade (because of the prospects the Braves got), and the Indians won the Russell Branyan trade.

Usually, I side with the team receiving prospects because they usually get one or two guys who could be as valuable as the “headliner” they sent out, and stick around with the team for longer (and cheaper). With the Lee trade, it was Justin Smoak. With the Callaspo trade, both pitchers the Royals received had the potential to be as valuable as Callaspo. With the Escobar trade, Tyler Pastornicky and Tim Collins were both valuable pieces…and so on.

So rest assured, the reason I say the Angels won this deal is not because Haren’s the one familiar name in it. It’s because of the glaring lack of upside in the package LA sent away.

(more analysis after the jump)

Dan Haren‘s a great pitcher. Maybe not as great as Cliff Lee, but still great. Forget the 4.60 ERA–he strikes out a batter per inning and walks under two per nine. That’s stellar. Okay, he’s let 23 balls out of the yard–that’ll happen in Arizona in a bad year for a flyball pitcher. The homers are a weakness, but he’s moving to a more neutral park, and his .350 BABIP is sure to come down close to his .304 career average.

He’s a difference maker on the mound. That’s the bottom line. He’s pitched well in the AL before, with the A’s from 2005-07. He has surgical command of his fastball and cutter, and his splitter is a deadly out pitch. You can nitpick at his stuff if you wish–he lacks a plus breaking ball, he’s a bit predictable in his pitching patterns–but it’s worked for six years running, three in each league, and as long as he’s healthy, Haren’s likely to be a good #2 starter at the least.

The Diamondbacks insisted that a “major-league-ready pitcher” be included in the deal, so the Angels sent Joe Saunders to Arizona.

That’s right, Joe Saunders is the headliner in a deal for Dan freakin’ Haren. That, right there, sets off all sorts of alarm bells.

Saunders is a major league pitcher, but not a particularly good one. He’s only a few months younger than Haren, and at 29, he’s not likely to get much better.

Saunders strikes out people about half as often as Haren does (4.77 K/9 to Haren’s 9.00) and walks them nearly twice as often (3.36 to 1.85). Saunders also has a higher career HR/9 than Haren, and will be moving to the smaller Arizona park.

Saunders relies on throwing the ball at the corners with a 90-mph fastball, okay changeup, and two subpar breaking pitches, and hoping hitters offer at a pitcher’s pitch and hit a ball weakly somewhere. It works well enough for him to be a decent back-of-the-rotation option (he has a 4.62 ERA this year and a 4.69 career xFIP), but he’s no Haren by any stretch.

The next player in the deal is reliever Rafael Rodriguez, who manages to somehow be less than half as exciting as the boring Saunders. Rodriguez is a 25-year-old reliever who throws a 90-92 mph fastball, a mediocre slider, and a changeup barely distinguishable from the fastball. Rodriguez has a 5.6 K/9 in Triple-A over his career, and he’s struck out 11 batters in 32 2/3 MLB innings, posting a 5.51 ERA.

So, uh, he’s pretty bad. At best, Rodriguez is a decent sixth man in the bullpen. You can pick those guys up off the waiver wire; why are you going out of your way to get one in a trade for an ace?

Finally, there’s Pat Corbin. Corbin is a 21-year-old lefty in High-A who is having a solid year, with a 3.87 ERA and 106/28 K/BB across two levels.

Corbin works with a fastball around 90 and a decent slider and changeup. His numbers are nice, and he’s young for the level, which is good, but the odds that he becomes anywhere near the sort of pitcher Haren is are extremely slim. A solid third starter? Maybe. At least as good as Saunders? There’s a real possibility. But an ace? He’s not striking out obscene amounts of batters and doesn’t have a huge plus pitch, so this guy looks to be a Randy Wolf type if absolutely everything breaks right.

There’s also a player to be named later, which obviously could swing the deal a bit differently, but unless that guy is someone truly special (rumors are it’s likely Tyler Skaggs, who is essentially Corbin, two years younger, with a better slider and worse changeup), that only makes this deal look slightly less insane from Arizona’s perspective.

Insane’s a strong word, and I understand that. But now that I’ve broken down the players involved, let’s look at the dynamics surrounding this trade that make it so tough to swallow from Arizona’s perspective.

First of all, when top pieces get moved in late July, they’re generally 1/2 or 1 1/2 year rentals–take Lee, for example. Not so for Haren, who has 2 1/2 years left on his contract, plus an option for 2013.

Right there, that means two things:

1.) Arizona DOES NOT HAVE to trade Haren right now, unless a really fantastic deal comes around.
2.) Haren should bring back more than what most 1/2 or 1 1/2 year rentals do. 2 1/2 or 3 1/2 years of Haren is certainly more valuable than 10 Cliff Lee starts.

Think what you want about the package of players Arizona is receiving, but even if you’re a D’backs homer, you have to admit that package isn’t exactly overwhelming. You don’t see those names and go “Well, hey, we must trade Haren now! Rafael Rodriguez needs to be in Arizona!!!”

Add in the fact that other teams were supposedly in on the bidding for Haren, and this deal becomes ridiculous. If this is the best offer out there, don’t trade the guy. Let him put up a better ERA than 4.60 next year, and send him out at that deadline. And if you’re going to do this in 2010, don’t make this trade on July 25…see what’s there July 31!

Essentially, what the Diamondbacks have done is traded an ace for a fourth starter and two guys who might become fourth starters. Sure, that might be selling Corbin and Skaggs (we’ll assume it’s Skaggs; he’s the 8th-ranked prospect in the system, so the PTNBL is not likely to be better than him, anyway) a bit short, but given how many things go wrong with the development of pitchers, if those two both come out as good as Saunders in the end, that’s a player development victory.

The Diamondbacks just traded Dan Haren for three copies of Joe Saunders. What’s next, the Cardinals trading Albert Pujols for three Travis Ishikawas? The Dodgers trading Jonathan Broxton for three Kevin Greggs? The Rangers shipping Josh Hamilton out for three Austin Kearnses?

Not to pile on Travis Ishikawa, Kevin Gregg, or Austin Kearns–or Joe Saunders, for that matter. They’re all solid players, and every team needs guys like them. But you don’t build your team around any of them, and, in fact, if you’re a contender, those are the guys you try to upgrade from.

The Mariners, in dealing Cliff Lee, got three such players–possible fourth starter Blake Beavan, possible setup man Josh Lueke, and possible second baseman/utility infielder Matt Lawson.

But they also got a potential All-Star in Justin Smoak.

That’s the problem with Arizona’s end of the deal. Nobody they’re getting stands a remote chance of being a core player.

When Arizona got Haren from the A’s in the first place, they sent away Chris Carter, Dana Eveland, Greg Smith, Aaron Cunningham, Brett Anderson, and Carlos Gonzalez.

In that deal, Smith, Eveland, and Cunningham are the “extra” guys and Carter, Anderson, and Gonzalez are the “potential core players.” Anderson and Gonzalez have largely realized that status, and Carter may yet as well.

And now it seems like the Diamondbacks thought getting the equivalent of Smith, Eveland, and Cunningham back was enough. It isn’t.

If I’m Arizona’s GM, and the Angels call me asking about Haren, I start out with “Mike Trout, Fabio Martinez Mesa, Trevor Reckling, and a fourth decent prospect.” I might come down a bit from there if other offers were bad, but to not get Trout, arguably the best prospect in baseball, or at least Martinez Mesa, a flamethrower currently carving up the Midwest League, is a complete and utter disgrace on the part of Diamondbacks management. I understand it’s turmoil there in the wake of Josh Byrnes’ (who I wasn’t too big a fan of, but I think would never have done this) firing, but if anything, that should make everyone proceed with extreme caution rather than making a careless and catastrophic move like this. If Jerry DiPoto is retained now, I’d be shocked (and, if I were a D’backs fan, extremely worried).

I realize that it’s now been over 1500 words and all I’ve done is lambasted Arizona. I should acknowledge the Angels’ outlook here. As you can expect, I think it’s great. Corbin and Skaggs are nice prospects, but Dan Haren is Dan Haren, and this isn’t a two-month rental. If it were, this deal might be more of a head-scratcher, given LA’s current place in the standings, but it’s not. The Angels just got, at worst, a very good #2 starter, and they didn’t sacrifice any guaranteed parts of their future to get him at a reasonable price for, likely, 3 1/2 years.

Arizona’s already last in the NL West, their farm system is considered one of baseball’s worst, they picked a likely back-of-the-rotation starter (scouts’ words, not mine; I don’t pretend to be too in the know on amateur baseball) sixth overall this year, and now…this. Arizona may be slipping into the Royals/Mets/Pirates/Orioles class of organizations that can’t seem to get anything right, and get met with criticism from all angles on just about any move they make. Being a Golden State Warriors fan, I know how that feels, and it isn’t fun.

What a mess for Arizona, and what a great day it must be to be an Angels fan.

Tags: Arizona Diamondbacks Dan Haren Joe Saunders LA Angels Pat Corbin Rafael Rodriguez Tyler Skaggs

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