I still remember the fateful summer day Dan Haren was traded to the Angels for Joe Saunders. I remember spending nights upon nights sitting in my bed thinking "Why can't they just trade Saunders away, he's killing our rotation. Why won't they trade Saunders to Arizona in a package deal for Haren? That's stupid, Ryan. Don't be stupid".
I told all my friends the same thing, "They should just trade Saunders for Dan Haren."
"That's stupid" they all told me.
To be fair, the biggest reason I had a seemingly unrealistic eye on trading for Haren was because we graduated from the same high school and grew up in the same area. I was captivated by thoughts of having someone representing my alma mater on the Angels, especially when it's a pitcher as standout as Dan Haren. I still remember being giddy every time Dan Haren's Bishop Amat roots would be mentioned during live broadcasts, which wasn't too often.
I did think it was stupid that a GM would willingly take on a vastly under-performing Saunders for a team-ace like Haren. I still thought it was stupid until that summer day at Dodger Stadium. I remember watching the Dodgers "rally" against the New York Mets to a 1-0 victory in the later innings of a Kershaw victory. I had been distinctly following the Twitterverse due to the emerging trade deadline when Twitter had caught wind of big news from the Angels camp. The sudden rumbling of a big trade by the Angels emerged after Saunders was pulled off the field during pre-game stretches. The rumors were that the Angels could possibly be sending Saunders to the Marlins, possibly for Nolasco or Johnson, but I knew there was no wind behind those sails. I knew that fate had come together for the Angels that day, and when all was said and done they would be bringing Dan Haren back to Southern California.
Everyone in Dodger Stadium exploded, the Dodgers had finally strung together enough hits to pull ahead of the Mets 1-0 (lol). People were on their feet yelling with incredible electricity, there was excitement and magic in the air. I too was on my feet throwing my hands in the air that Sunday afternoon, letting out a victory cry of pure unadulterated joy. The Dodgers pulled it together long enough to pull the winning run from the Mets, but I didn't care, I didn't give a single damn for the Dodgers or their pity victory against the Mets. The Dodgers pulled that run together at the perfect time, because while everyone in the stadium was bursting with the excitement of the winning run finally crossing the plate I was on my feet for the news I had been wanting for so long.
The Angels had just traded for Dan Haren.
I look back at that moment now, all those hopes and dreams of what he could accomplish in Anaheim alongside Angel greats such as Jered Weaver and Torii Hunter. I was excited for the fact that my favorite sports team of all time was graced with the presence of a Bishop Amat alumni, my old high-school. After enjoying a fantastic season and a half with Haren and the Angels expectations were through the roof for the Angels pitching staff. These weren't unfounded expectations however, with Haren's track record we were all so confident we could expect the world of him; which is what we all did. After watching Haren break-down in front of our eyes with injury, fatigue and under-performance during the 2012 season it slowly became clear his position on the Angels was no longer secure.
After stomaching the bitter departure of Dan Haren to the Washington Nationals for 1yr/13mil both the Angels and Haren have moved on to different things, but is it really the end? Given the status of Dan Haren's contract with the Washington Nationals and the build of the Angels current pitching rotation could the two face a possible reunion in 2014?
Let's just look at this from a sentimental standpoint first, get that out of the way so we can move on the "logic" and "reasoning" that you all hold so dear. Dan Haren was born in Southern California, Dan Haren was raised in Southern California, he attended high school and college here, his family is here. All of the man’s roots lie in Southern California and it's no question that he absolutely loved the hell out of playing for the Angels. It wasn't just the playing for the Angels that he loved; it was playing with the Angels that he loved. Going out on the field every night with players like Jered Weaver and Torii Hunter, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, that gave much joy to Haren. No one in baseball was bigger butt-buddies than Jered Weaver and Dan Haren; their inseparable posteriors went so far as to fuel their pitching performances in the good half of Haren's run in Anaheim. Is it a coincidence that Haren went from giving the Diamondbacks 141 innings of 4.60 ERA pitching to giving an outstanding half-season, sub-3.00 ERA performance with the Angels following the mid-season trade? Not only that, but his first full year as an Angel was also one of the best years of his entire career. The friendship between Weaver and Haren was so strong that they would find themselves competing against one another’s pitching performances, and given the fact the fact that they pitching back to back in the rotation makes it easy to see how this friendly rivalry could come about.
It wasn't just Dan Haren who flourished as an Angel, his presence allowed players around him to flourish too. Is it any coincidence that Jered Weaver had the best year of his career following the Dan Haren trade? I don't know any other team where Haren could have such an influence with his teammates; he just doesn't have the some bonds that he has in Southern California. Sentimentality works a lot harder in baseball than you think; it worked when C.J Wilson was being courted by the Marlins and Angels. In the final hours of the negotiations the Marlins had a $100 million offer to C.J while the Angels had a significantly lower offer, but in the end the Angels won out. C.J Wilson recognized the opportunity to be back at home with his family and friends and play for an esteemed franchise in an amazing baseball city. It helps that the Angels just signed Albert Pujols and we're built to win a championship. It'll be the same case next year, Dan Haren will be a free agent again and the Angels will be coming off of a full year of Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton. I'm assuming Haren will have a bounce back year since his track record shows he's capable of doing so, at least enough of a bounce back to entice the Angels into resigning him.
The only real question that lies here is the Angels pitching staff. Given the uncertainty of the rotations build there could be a fair chance that come winter of 2013 a few new parts might be scrapped altogether. If a hole did happen to pop up in the rotation, which doesn't look like an impossible idea at this point, could the Angels be interested in filling that hole with Dan Haren? Let's say that Joe Blanton has such a bad year that he's left an awful taste in the mouth of fans and the front office alike, which isn't to say there already isn't a bad taste brewing already. Let's just imagine that the few "plusses" Blanton was signed for don't pan out so well in the coming season. If Blanton were to struggle with keeping his walks down and preventing rallies, or cannot eat as many innings as we are hoping for would the Angels hesitate to push him into a swingman role for the final year of his contract? I don't see why not, especially if Haren has bounced back with another 200+ IP season and expresses some desire to come back to Anaheim.
Let's imagine that after this season the Angels front office don't feel that Vargas' performance over the season is worth paying him $8+ million, or even anything in that general ballpark. Vargas is a free agent after this season so it's not really out there to expect him to walk after this season, unless he has a truly outstanding year as an Angel. I feel that Vargas' chances of walking next year are much greater than him pitching strong enough to warrant a re-signing, though a lot can be said to moving to a far superior team that has incredible playoff potential after a trade. Vargas' Southern California roots and close friendship with Jered Weaver, given their history as college teammates, could propel him to pitching on a different level mentally; this is what I like to call the "Dan Haren effect". I could very much see Vargas coming to Anaheim and having his personal history with Jered Weaver fuel his pitching performances night after night, he'll be playing in a far different atmosphere than he experienced in his days with the cellar-dweller Seattle Mariners. It seems to me that Jason Vargas has the best chance of being replaced next offseason and if the Angels need an inning-eater to take his place why not go after Dan Haren, especially when you consider the fact that he's a far better pitcher than Jason Vargas.
It should be said that Tommy Hanson is also a candidate to see an early exit from Anaheim if he does not pitch to expectations this year. Given his injury history and declining performance over the years as well as his arbitration eligibility next offseason another down year to add to the trend could mean Hanson will lose his job next year. You also have to take into account the Tommy Hanson's youth and his previous major league success, given those factors and the makeup of Tommy Hanson he could be facing a monster year for the Angels next season. Maybe not a monster season as in the typical sports understanding of the word, but if he can put up anything close to an above-average season it will be monstrous for his career and the Angels. Hanson is very much an x-factor in the Angels rotation which makes it very difficult to predict what kind of year we could expect from him.
Looking at the short term contract given to Dan Haren by the Washington Nationals it's easy to predict he'll be testing free agency once again next year, everyone is aware that Haren is just trying to rebuild his value. Last year was just a terrible series of unfortunate events for Haren, but it didn't help that he spent a lot of the season quietly trying to pitch through injury. This is less a question of "Will Haren rebound enough to catch the Angels interest?" and more a question of "Will the Angels pitching staff hold up through the season or will it need new parts after this season?". In my heart I would love for someone in the Angels pitching rotation to fall short of expectations in order to open a door for Haren, but in my head I want everyone on the Angels to put up career years (especially Joe Blanton).
No matter which scenario occurs I'm sure I'll be happy with the outcome, either a fantastic season by the pitching rotation or the return of Haren.
I'm sure we can all live with either or.