Second Half Issue: Dan Haren Wants That Vesting Option

We all think the Dodgers are going to add another starting pitcher sometime before the trading deadline, but while the popular thought is David Price — the Dodgers being one of the few teams with the prospects to get him, the bankroll to afford him, and a playoff run to make it worthwhile — that’s potentially not the right direction. Another top ace would certainly be fun, but it’s not really a need, not when Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu are around, and knowing that it would cost at least one of Corey Seager or Joc Pederson. If you can live with a rejuvenated Josh Beckett getting maybe one or two starts in the playoffs, then maybe you don’t even need a top-three guy. You just need a guy who can step in to make sure that you never need to rely on Paul Maholm, Red Patterson or Stephen Fife making starts in what looks to be a very tight divisional race. We’ll get into who that might be before the deadline.

Of course, there’s more to this than just 2014, because another starting pitcher could potentially also help you for 2015 simply by existing. I generally try not to look too far ahead when there’s a very real playoff push coming, but there’s also a real consideration that needs to be worried about right now: Dan Haren, who starts tonight in St. Louis, has watched his solid start descend into a continual mess. Over his last 12 starts, he’s allowed 17 homers and a .522 slugging percentage; he’s struck out only 46 in 69 innings, while allowing 44 runs to cross the plate. He’s showing up in bad spots on the FIP and swinging-strike rankings. It hasn’t been pretty, and as he turns 34 in September, it’s clear his best days are behind him.

That said, a fifth starter is a fifth starter, and I’m not even desperately worried about replacing him in 2014. If you can, wonderful, but it’s probably not urgent. Here’s the thing, though: Haren has thrown 112.2 innings. As part of the contract he signed to join the Dodgers, he’ll get a player option for 2015 if he throws at least 180 innings this year. That’s only 67.1 innings away. As Haren’s issues mount, guaranteeing him $10 million or a roster spot for his age-34 season seems less than ideal.

So… can it be avoided?

Working in the Dodgers’ favor is that even though it’s only the All-Star break now, it’s not the true halfway point of the season. The Dodgers have already played 97 games, or approximately 60 percent of the season. If Haren kept up his current rate of innings, he’d throw 187.1 this season. Then again, maybe things are trending in the right direction, because Haren’s innings pitched per start keeps declining:

April: 6.2
May: 6.2
June: 5.7
July: 4.5

At that rate, he’ll throw negative innings sometime. Problem solved! Of course, July is just the two starts, one coming in Coors Field, so let’s not put any real emphasis on that number. Let’s instead note that if he were to start every fifth day for the rest of the season, he’d get about 13 more starts. To get to 67.1 more innings, he’d need to throw 5.1 innings per start, which is slightly less than he’s doing now.

Which means: this is going to be close. If everything goes as it is right now, he’s probably going to make it. If he misses even one or two starts, or has a terrible outing that gets him out after only an inning or so, he might not. It’s why if he has a minor injury — and I’m not saying he does — or the team wants to phantom DL him for additional rest, he’ll push back against it hard.

It all makes for an odd situation. I don’t really want that option to vest. I also don’t plan on rooting for him to go out and perform poorly, considering how tight the division race is. The best option, I suppose, is that he turns back the clock five years, though that’s pretty unlikely. Otherwise, a trade that brings in a starter and does anything to affect Haren’s role — whether that pushes him to the bullpen, or has a six-man rotation for a brief period of time, or, less likely, pushes him off the roster entirely — ought to be enough to keep him below 180.

You don’t really want the Dodgers focusing on contract games, of course. But I don’t think any of us are really dying to have Haren in the 2015 rotation, and if the contract vests and the Dodgers feel the same, it’s another winter and spring of “what do we do with Ted Lilly and Aaron Harang?” like we saw after 2012. Haren would go a long way towards quelling those fears with a good second half that starts with a solid outing in St. Louis tonight.

About Mike Petriello

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