RHP Dan Haren from the Arizona Diamondbacks for LHP Joe Saunders, RHP Rafael Rodriguez, LHP Patrick Corbin, and a player to be named later.
Haren hasn't been great this year, but he has a long track record of success. He has been one of the best pitchers in the majors for several years, and he is only 29 years old. Furthermore, some of Haren's peripheral numbers suggest some tough luck this year, in particular his absurdly high .350 BABIP. There are good reasons to think that Haren will bounce back, even though he is still pretty valuable this year.
Also, Dan Haren is signed through 2012, with a team option for 2013. Bottom line, the Angels just acquired a heck of a sidekick for Jered Weaver. Their rotation is set for the next couple of years. This deal is a tremendous boost to the team right now, as well as in the future.
So, what did the Diamondbacks get for such a valuable asset?
Joe Saunders is the best known name of the bunch. He has been a mainstay in the Angels rotation for the past four years or so. He is what he is; a pitch-to-contact type of lefty that relies too much on firmly hit fly balls to ever be spectacular. He is nice as a dependable guy at the back end of a rotation, but not much else. He will earn $3.7 million this year, and that number will go up again in arbitration this offseason. Saunders will be worth roughly as much as he makes next year, but in a position which is not all that hard to find someone who is more of a bargain.
Rafael Rodriguez is a 26-year-old reliever in AAA with the textbook definition of middling peripherals. In other words, the ERA is good, and he generally keeps the ball in the yard. However, his strikeout rate is low, meaning he gets hit around. MLB players tend to hit balls harder and more frequently than minor leaguers, so that is a concern. Moreover, the Angels have had some bullpen issues this year, and Rodriguez never got a look. He is the kind of reliever that can be found a dime a dozen at any point; a true throw-in in the deal. Given Arizona's bullpen woes, Rodriguez is a worthwhile addition, but hardly a guy who would swing the deal either way.
The gem of the trade for Arizona is Patrick Corbin. A southpaw drafted in the second round just last year, he is currently flourishing in advanced A ball. I know nothing about Corbin's repertoire, but I can tell you that he has all the numbers you would want in a prospect. He is young and inexperienced for the league he is in, yet looks both polished and overpowering. Corbin is definitely the type of prospect any organization would like to have, and he clearly is the centerpiece of this deal. The Diamondbacks must think very highly of him, because neither Saunders nor Rodriguez are impact players.
There is the player to be named later though, and given the pieces that are known, I hope this guy is the best or second best piece in the deal. Rumors are that Arizona has a short list of prospects that they will choose from, and that they believe the guy they get will be an impact prospect. Piecing these two pieces of potentially false information together, I wonder if the last piece is someone drafted this past June. Players cannot be traded within their first year of getting drafted, so they would have to be included as players to be named later. The Angels had tons of early selections, so it would make some sense that they would be willing to part with one of the guys they took. It's just a completely speculative guess on my part, but it would make some sense.
Still, as it stands now, what was Arizona thinking? Many believe it is a salary dump, but then why would they take on the not exactly expensive, but not exactly cheap, Joe Saunders? Sure, Corbin is a nice pitching prospect, but the best case scenario is that he equals Dan Haren. That's the best case, and I think most experts would agree that he is not likely to be quite that good. Why risk waiting three or four years to hopefully get a guy as good as the one you gave up, when you already have that guy locked in for a reasonable price for two or three more years?
Getting back to the salary dump theory, the Diamondbacks essentially freed up about $7 million on next year's payroll, assuming they offer Saunders arbitration. Chris Snyder, their backup catcher, will make $5.75 million next year. He is a solid backstop, with good power. Why not trade him before Haren in a salary dump? It would free up almost all the money freed up in the Haren deal, but impact the on-field product much less. It also would probably net the D'Backs some young prospect of value.
Another option would have been trading Edwin Jackson. He is slated to make $8.35 million next year. While Arizona probably would not have received a guy like Corbin back for Jackson, they also would still have Dan Haren to build their rotation around.
And really, how much salary does Arizona have to trim away? Their payroll is a shade north of $75 million this year, but that includes a little over $18.3 million being paid to players no longer on the team. Next year, those obligations sink to a measly $250,000. In other words, the Diamondbacks will naturally shed $18 million from their payroll next year no matter what they do. On top of that, Brandon Webb is set to hit free agency, and will make $8.5 million this year without pitching an inning (or very, very few) in 2010. Including Webb's salary, that's around $26.5 million that Arizona can get off its hands next year in money invested on guys that literally did not even play for them in 2010. If they let Aaron Heilman, Chad Qualls, and Kelly Johnson all walk away in free agency, the savings jump up to around $35 million. Ultimately, Arizona could have had a 2011 payroll around $50 million (roughly figuring in arbitration bumps) by sitting around and doing nothing.
I have an extremely difficult time believing that Arizona had to ditch Dan Haren because of financial limitations. There were incredibly easy ways to re-work their 2011 roster without impacting it the way that the Dan Haren trade does. They aren't even that imaginative. Just let people walk away at the end of the year! How hard is that to accomplish? Also, Chris Snyder and Edwin Jackson trades would not be that hard to accomplish either. I bet Arizona could even get a serviceable bullpen piece for Kelly Johnson, if not more.
I hate the Angels, so I don't want to give them credit for a great trade. This is a clear win for them, and it makes them the early favorites for the AL West crown in 2011. Instead, I won't give them any credit, aside from vigorously nodding their head up and down when Arizona decided that they needed to trade Dan Haren for pennies on the dollar.
This is precisely the kind of trade I hoped that the Mariners would not make with Cliff Lee. They did not, and it is a shame that the Diamondbacks did.