It has not been a good season for Dan Haren. Last night was no exception, as he only managed 4 IP, gave up 3 HR (to take the season lead in the NL) and 5 ER. He brought his season ERA up to 5.45. If the Nats understand economics, and the concept of a sunk cost, his $13 M contract (which ends this year) should be irrelevant to whether he continues to pitch. Other than the very fortunate circumstance that it ends this year, that is.
If he continues to perform well below what could even be expected of a 5th starter, the team will certainly have to look to someone else to fill his role. Right now, with 2 starting pitchers on the DL, Haren will most likely continue to head out to the mound for at least another 2 or 3 starts. By then the Nats will have a better idea as to just what he can bring.
It’s easy to look at 5.45 ERA and say he just brings runs, but of his last 5 starts, 3 of them were Quality Starts, 2 were downright good. If you go back to his last 8 starts, he has 5 Quality Starts in there. If he can bring that, as a fifth starter, they’ll probably take it even with the occasional blowup. But if last night’s start is going to be the norm, they’ll find someone new. Who could that be?
These guys are on the team right now, and in some cases have been filling in for Detwiler and Strasburg. At some point those two guys will be back, so maybe one of the fill-ins could take that 5th spot.
Nate Karns – Has taken Detwiler’s spot in the rotation and the 25 year old (but legitimate) prospect hasn’t been very good. In 9 IP he’s struck out 9, and only walked 3, but he’s given up 6 ER, and 4 HR. He still has a chance to turn things around, and still has potential, but he may well be shipped back to AA. He was spectacular in high-A last year, but even in AA he hasn’t been great, so he could probably use more work in the minors.
Ross Ohlendorf – The former Pirate/Padre/Yankee is 29, and has a 7.94 ERA from 18 starts and 4 other appearances over 87 1/3 IP the previous two seasons in the majors. He hasn’t been that good in AAA this year, with a 4.32 ERA in 11 starts, although he has 62 K to 27 BB in 66 2/3 IP. I wouldn’t have even thought of him as a replacement, but he is supposed to fill in for Strasburg in the rotation. I have a feeling it will not go well, but if it does, then he’s an option.
Daniel Rosenbaum – The 25 year old minor league pitcher was the one I thought would take Strasburg’s spot in the rotation. He’s pitching well in his first year at AAA, with a 3.48 ERA, although his peripherals are a bit scary – in 62 IP this year, he has 38 Ks and 28 BBs. That won’t fly in the majors unless he can really keep the ball down. Which he does well, actually. He’s a groundball pitcher who can induce double plays and keep the ball in the park. I have a feeling we will see him in DC this year, and he is probably the next guy up.
There are a few guys in AA who might surprise us with a visit such as Caleb Clay, Paul Demny or Blake Treinen, but while they have had better results than Karns in AA, they don’t have the stuff he does. If I had to guess on any of them, it would be Demny, but I’m not sure any of the three are a legitimate option for the rotation this year.
There are always options out there to trade. And the world of options is as vast as the world of players out there. But the Nats don’t have much of a farm system to trade away at the moment. And their offense is hurting enough that a 5th starter role wouldn’t be something they are likely willing to give away the farm (so to speak) in order to obtain.
So for this little exercise, I’m looking for guys who could be considered rentals, who have been playing well enough that the Nats might want him, and who are on teams that might be willing to give players up.
Ervin Santana (KC) – He may not be super cheap, since right now he’s got a 3.03 ERA. He has trouble keeping the ball in the park, but he has gotten results this year. He’s in the last year of his contract, and the Royals are in last place. He is a bit scary because of the HRs, but that may help depress his price.
Erik Bedard (HOU) – A familiar face in this area, Bedard has a 4.76 ERA with the AL Astros. A move to the NL might do him good, although perhaps getting kicked out of the rotation for a hot second helped him enough. Since he’s returned, he’s started 5 games, has a 2.79 ERA and struck out 20 while walking 10 in 29 IP. Not the ace he used to be, but that could be useful. And what do the Astros need from a 34 year old? A trade for a young guy, that’s what they need.
Rickey Nolasco (MIA) – He’ll probably be overpriced, since he’s the ace of the staff. But that has much more to do with the staff that Nolasco. He’s got a 3.61 ERA and his 67 K to 20 BB in 82 1/3 IP looks nice. I think he’s out of reach for what they would be willing to offer, but it’s worth a shot.
Scott Feldman (CHC) – He’s been surprisingly great for the Cubs this year, and the 30 year old journeyman starter is normally thought of as precisely a 5th starter/swingman. But this year he’s got a 2.84 ERA in 11 starts. His poor track record will probably make him affordable, although the Nats might be wary of regression. Sometimes, though, guys just have good years.
Matt Garza (CHC) – Garza’s the bigger name on the Cubs rotation, but he’s actually been out most of the year. He’s only started 4 games, and his ERA of 4.03 is actually the 5th best among Chiacgo’s starters. He’s had his health issues and is coming off a not-spectacular 2012 before the injury (but an ERA+ of 105 that the Nats would take in a second). Could he be had for cheap? Maybe – the name might drive the price up a bit, but he certainly won’t be missed on the Cubs compared to what the other starters have been doing.
Ted Lilly (LAD) – Well, he’s a guy with a track record, on a team with a bad record, and he’s got an expiring contact. But he’s 37, and he hasn’t pitched much the last two years. His 5.04 ERA in his 5 starts this year also doesn’t look too pretty. Then again, he had a 3.14 ERA in his 8 starts in 2012 could give you hope. It’s a possibility, and a probably cheaply acquired risk.
Jason Marquis (SDP) – He’s got a 3.72 ERA, he’s got a 7-2 record, he’s probably good enough for just below league average ERA, and… I’m sorry, I can’t …
Ok so there certainly are some options out there, and there should be players available. Which teams are going to continue to be in last place, and therefore who is really available, is yet to be seen. The Nats certainly look like they need a new fifth starter at this point. But because 2 starters are currently out of the rotation, it’s hard to imagine Haren not getting at least another start or two. So it’s certainly possible that he goes out there and gives a couple of quality outings before they feel they can make a move in his spot. But with what he’s done so far, I doubt it.