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How Nationals Signing Dan Haren Affects MLB Trade and Free Agent Markets

SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 31:  Starting pitcher Dan Haren #24 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pitches against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on August 31, 2012 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Ian CasselberryMLB Lead WriterJune 12, 2016

The Washington Nationals signed free-agent pitcher Dan Haren to a contract on Tuesday, giving GM Mike Rizzo the veteran starting pitcher that he wanted to shore up the back end of the rotation.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports initially tweeted out news of a one-year, $13 million contract agreed upon by Haren and the Nats. The report was later confirmed by Bill Ladson of MLB.com.

Haren had a $15.5 million option for 2013 with the Los Angeles Angels, but the team clearly didn't want to pay that money. At one point, it appeared that the Halos had a trade worked out with the Chicago Cubs for Carlos Marmol, but the deal fell through. The Angels opted to buy out Haren for $3.5 million instead. 

The first response to the Nats signing Haren is that this move obviously takes them out of the running for free-agent pitcher Zack Greinke. The Nationals may never have stood a chance to get Greinke if it came down to money, but D.C. was certainly an attractive possibility if Greinke wanted to sign with a World Series contender. 

With the Nats out of the bidding, it appears to be a three-team race for Greinke's services among the Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas RangersDan Plesac of the MLB Network reported that the rumblings at MLB's winter meetings indicate that it's really just down to the Dodgers and Rangers.

If the Nationals were a possibility to trade for an ace like the Tampa Bay Rays' James Shields, signing Haren obviously eliminates them from that competition as well. Shields could very well end up going to whichever team loses out on the Greinke auction. The Angels showed interest in Shields at the trade deadline. 

Could this also affect the New York Mets' attempts to trade R.A. Dickey? He figured to be a top target for whomever lost out on Greinke. The Dodgers and Rangers are among the teams linked in trade rumors to the NL Cy Young Award winner. 

With one less competitor for Greinke, however, the market for Dickey could narrow further. At the very least, the Mets may not find a willing trade partner until Greinke finally signs with a team. But that was probably the case even before the Nationals signed Haren. 

For the Nats, adding Haren to their starting rotation strengthens a team that already had to be considered an NL East and World Series favorite going into next season.

Signing Greinke would have given the Nationals a starting trio that may have topped the Phillies' top three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, but the Nats now appear to have the deepest rotation in the MLB. 

Haren will be an upgrade over Edwin Jackson as the Nationals' fourth starter next season. Jackson went 10-11 with a 4.09 ERA in 31 starts this year, giving the Nats 189.2 innings. Haren finished with a 12-13 record and 4.33 ERA, but a back injury limited him to 30 starts and hampered his effectiveness.

The back injury was obviously a concern for the Cubs and perhaps for other interested teams as well. The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo tweeted that the Red Sox were concerned about Haren's hip.

Keep in mind, Haren was a better pitcher in the second half of the season, compiling a 3.58 ERA in 13 starts after the All-Star break. If he is healthy and pitches at that level, the Nats have impressive depth in their starting rotation.

Haren is a 200-inning workhorse that every team could use in their rotation. Before this year, the 32-year-old right-hander threw 200 innings in seven consecutive seasons.

One other benefit of signing Haren, as pointed out by MASN's Dan Kolko, is that Rizzo can now shop Michael Morse around for prospects to replenish the Nats' minor-league system, instead of using him to trade for a starting pitcher. 

Morse would be a good fit for any team looking for a corner outfielder or first baseman who can hit for power. The Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians immediately come to mind, as well as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox to a lesser extent. The Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies would surely be interested too, but Rizzo is not going to trade Morse to a division rival. 

That also presumes Adam LaRoche will return as the Nationals' first baseman next season. The two sides have yet to agree on a contract, with the Nats preferring a two-year deal and LaRoche looking for a third year.

LaRoche's market has shrunk with the Red Sox signing Mike Napoli to a three-year contract. MLB.com's Britt Ghiroli shot down rumors that the Baltimore Orioles could be in the mix. The other teams that have shown interest are the Rangers and Mariners, according to The Washington Post's Adam Kilgore.                                                                                                          

The NL East was already shaping up to be an interesting race. Between the Nats, Braves and Phillies, there are some very good rotations at the top of the division. Depending on what the Mets do with Dickey, they could be included on that list as well. 

Speculation aside, we'll just have to wait and see if the Nationals signing Haren has any bearing on the Zack Greinke sweepstakes. 

 

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