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On Value and Credit

Posted by: John Bonnes Updated: July 25, 2010 - 10:09 PM

More and more when I talk to Twins fans about the trade deadline, I envision the conversation I’ll have with my kids when they get their first credit card. Ah, the freedom! Suddenly you can get those things that were always out of reach. And you’re making more money than you ever did before. Why not go get a Dan Haren? Damn it, you deserve it!
 
And I’m going to tell them that they actually deserve quite a bit more than that bauble. Especially when they consider the price.
 
Almost invariably, whenever I have heard Haren’s name mentioned in Twins trade deadline talk, the words “reasonable contract” have been uttered. (We actually had that same phrase in the Trade Deadline Primer. I almost modified it, and didn’t, much to my current chagrin.) “Reasonable” is true if you’re talking about the guy who posted All-Star seasons in 2007, 2008 and half of 2009.
 
But here are Haren’s stats since the All-Star break last year (over a year ago): 4.61 ERA in 240.1 IP including 38 home runs and (for those of you who care) a 12-13 record.
 
That’s not terrible. It’s not even bad. At the very least, he’s eating innings, and on the sexier side, there are 235 K and only 51 BB in those 240.1 IP. Of course, he’s also been pitching in the National League.
 
Would he have been an upgrade on the Twins staff? Sure. Even with Haren’s struggles, it would be like adding a rich man’s Scott Baker, with a little bit better ERA, a better ability to eat up innings, and the same weakness of giving up too many moon shots. And, like Baker, he has some big money coming his way – and that’s what REALLY makes him a rich man’s Scott Baker.
 
You know how we’re starting to sweat the $11 million that Baker is guaranteed through his next two years? Haren is going to make more than that ($12.75M) just next year. And that’s not the good news for Haren. The good news is that he’s guaranteed at least $29M over the next two years. Or, if his new club prefers, he could make $41M over the next three years.
 
If a player is a Cy Young candidate (which Haren was nominally last year because of his first half), that’s a reasonable contract. But if he’s posting a 4.60ish ERA and reliably offering souvenirs to the cheap seats, it’s a killer. That kind of money isn’t thrown around easily. There was only one starting pitcher last year who received anything close to that kind of money as a free agent – John Lackey, the biggest name on the market.
 
That’s why Haren was acquired by a team like the Angels, who have been among the most aggressive spenders for free agents in recent years. (They also were the team that lost the aforementioned Lackey, maybe not so coincidentally.) And it’s also why the package that landed him – a mediocre starter, two decent but not great prospects and a supposedly better prospect to be named later – looks so reasonable. 
 
What would the Twins have needed to put together to match or exceed it? A comparable package might have been something like Nick Blackburn, Rob Delaney, Shooter Hunt and some very young pitcher with a high upside (Deolis Guerra?) as the PTBNL. 
 
Would I be happy if the Twins were announcing that deal tonight? Sure. Just like I am whenever I overspend for a new toy. But I’m not sure I would be happy if my kids did it. And I’m quite sure I wouldn’t be happy this winter, with money tight, when the “reasonable” bill came due.
 
Unless I had a pennant to show for it.

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