Free-agent matchmaker: Dan Haren

Kelvin Kuo-US PRESSWIRE

Another installment of a series in which we pick the favorite for a player's services, and the team that we would like him to go to.

Dan Haren was considered one of the best pitchers in baseball at this time last year, having led his league in strikeout-to-walk ratio for three of the last four years. He is now a free agent, even though he didn't have to be. His pitching was so uninspiring last season, though, that the Angels weren't willing to pick up his $15.5 million option. Haren's contract had a $3.5 million buyout, which means the Angels weren't even willing to pay him the equivalent of $12 million. Very curious, indeed.

This means there are two possibilities:

1. The Angels have a self-imposed payroll cap, and they are supremely focused on keeping Zack Greinke, which means they couldn't abide Haren's (or Ervin Santana's) contract.

2. Haren's back is held together with bobby pins and chewed gum from a pack of '87 Topps.

It doesn't have to be either/or, as some combination of the two could be the reason Haren is suddenly a free agent. The Cubs almost swung a deal, with the Angels thinking they were about to get some Carlos Marmol aid, but the deal fell apart.

Cubs team doctor: Okay, this is just a routine, pre-trade physical, with ...

Dan Haren: /shinkshinkshinkshinkshink

Cubs team doctor: ... wait, what is that sound?

Haren: Vertebrae.

Cubs team doctor: Oh.

Haren: I think I left a set of keys in there, too. Long story.

Cubs team doctor: I will … I need to make a phone call. Gimme a sec.

There isn't official word on why the deal fell apart, but both the scuttlebutt and rumblings blamed his back. It was probably his back. Which means that there's a slightly used, top-of-the-rotation pitcher with a few dings, possibly a floor model, available at a low, low price. It's the Nordstrom Rack of the offseason!

The Favorites
The Padres as favorites? The Padres as favorites.

One rival executive predicts that free-agent right-hander Dan Haren will sign with the Padres. Staying on the West Coast is important to Haren, the exec says. Padres GM Josh Byrnes traded for Haren during his previous tenure with the D-backs.

It makes sense. Haren isn't going to get a long-term deal, and he would like to build up his value, maybe even on a one-year deal. Petco Park, even with the fences moving in, would be a perfect place for that. Haren could have gone to all sorts of different schools on a scholarship, but he chose a college an hour away from where he went to high school. You know who does that? People who feel comfortable with where they grew up.

The co-favorites would be the Dodgers, then, even though they already have six starters under contract next year. They clearly don't care, and they might sign Haren as a backup outfielder and Torii Hunter as a starting pitcher just to prove a point.

The Ideal
Boy, I'm going to have to fight every urge in my body to assign each free-agent pitcher to the Royals. I want to see them with an Anibal/Edwin/Haren/Greinke rotation just because. But, again, the West Coast thing is looming large on this decision, so it wouldn't be the Royals anyway.

Give me the Mariners, then, because they're basically the Padres. I know that Mariners fans and Padres fans are disgusted that I'd compare both teams to their dreaded interleague rival, but I gotta call them as I see them. Friendly park, even with the fences coming in, and a little money to spend on improvements. They wouldn't need to go big on a pitcher, with Erasmo Ramirez, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker getting closer to the majors, so a one- or two-year deal for Haren would be a nice bridge.

Begrudging prediction
Really, the length of the deal will let you know how Haren's back is feeling. A one-year deal means that Haren feels great, and he wants many, many millions next offseason. A two-year deal means that Haren would like a little security in case his back explodes. A three-year deal doesn't tell us anything other than the signing team doesn't care about risks or money in general … so, the Dodgers.

I'll stick with the Padres: two years, $24 million. In a series filled with wrong predictions, this has a chance to be the wrongest. Last year at this time, Haren probably would have gotten $100 million from a team, if not more. Maybe there's a team out there still willing to do that. They would be slightly insane to do that, but … well, the Dodgers. Josh Beckett can platoon with Adrian Gonzalez, you know.

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