Nats ignore warning signs on Dan Haren, bow out of Zack Greinke sweepstakes

Tim Brown

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – While the Washington Nationals seemingly declared themselves out of the Zack Greinke market on Tuesday, they could be into the imminent peril market.

They did fill out their rotation with free agent Dan Haren, the 32-year-old right-hander who once was a regular All-Star and as recently as 2011 won 16 games. They did limit their long-term risk, as the contract was for $13 million over just one year, according to Fox Sports. And they did steer clear of an emerging bidding war for Greinke, whose free agency has generated speculation he could become the best-paid pitcher of all time.

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Assuming he passes the Nats' physical, Haren would slot into the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation, after Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann and in the neighborhood of Ross Detwiler. He effectively replaces Edwin Jackson, who was 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA last season, numbers a healthy Haren easily could match.

[Related: MLB free-agent tracker]

The Nationals seem to think Haren is healthy or can be by April. Their exams will confirm that or not. All we know without the medical file is the Los Angeles Angels preferred to pay Haren $3.5 million to leave rather than commit to $15.5 million for him to pitch, and the Angels knew Haren well and desperately needed starting pitching. The Chicago Cubs, another team that needed pitching, backed out of a trade for Haren, reportedly because they didn't love whatever was in that file.

What the Angels saw for most of 2012 was a pitcher incapable of repeating his mechanics, perhaps because of back issues, perhaps because of hip issues. Haren did not – or could not – finish his pitches, a restriction they believed stunted his velocity and command. For $12 million (the difference between Haren's 2013 salary and the buyout), they'd let someone else find out if it either would return next season.

The first meaningful domino of the pitching market turned out not to be Greinke, but Haren. And the first team out of the Greinke running – assuming it was completely in to begin with – was the Nationals, leaving the Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers and, if they have the stomach for it, the Angels, along with any under-the-radar entrants.

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