Winter Meetings Day Two: Aaron Harang Heads North

December 6, 2011 at 7:39 am | Posted in Aaron Harang | 50 Comments

When we left off last night, the Aaron Harang signing wasn’t yet official, since it appeared Harang might be holding out for three years. This morning, Jon Heyman confirms that it’s done for two years and about $12m (though no details are out yet, you can bet that’s heavily backloaded). As you can imagine, I’m not thrilled, though I feel basically the opposite about this as I did with Jerry Hairston: Hairston is a usable piece who might not have been the best fit for the hole on this roster, while Harang fills a very real need – a veteran starter – yet might not be the best person to do so.

Harang, as you might know, was a very solid starter for Cincinnati between 2005-07, before his career fell apart with the Reds between 2008-10. That led him to the place where every troubled pitcher goes to resuscitate their career, San Diego, where the Padres gave him one year at $3m. I want to stop right here if I can, though, because I keep reading that Harang’s 2011 was a “comeback” or a “bounceback” or a “rebound”, and that’s simply not true.

Let’s look at Harang’s last three seasons in Cincinnati, where his career went south, and then his lone year in San Diego, shall we?

As you can see, he’s been largely the same pitcher over the last four years, if anything trending downward, since he’s walking more and striking out less. Not that a FIP in the 4s isn’t usable from a back-of-the-rotation guy, of course, but where is all of the business about his big comeback coming from? Oh, right: stats that don’t matter. Let’s take another look at that chart…

And there it is. Harang was only slightly better in 2011 than he was in 2010 (if even at all, since the K/BB stats are identical), but the change in ballpark environment (not to mention the improvement in the defense behind him, since the Padres were one of the better fielding teams in baseball last year) had a huge impact on his unadjusted and meaningless ERA and W/L totals.

Don’t believe me? In 17 starts at Petco last year, Harang allowed opponents to put up a line of just .240/.304/.380, largely due to a BABIP that was a below-average .252. On the road, that line shot up to .317/.374/.504, with the resulting OPS of .878 meaning that the average batter he saw away from San Diego produced like Robinson Cano, Josh Hamilton, Alex Gordon, or Jose Reyes, all of whom put up seasons like that this year.

The Padres recognized this and declined to exercise their portion of a 1/$5m mutual option (which I’ll grant, Harang wasn’t going to accept anyway). The Dodgers apparently didn’t, and where the team that should know Harang best wouldn’t even pay 1/$5m, the Dodgers saw fit to go with 2/$12m – twice the years, and more than twice the money. Where’s your Alex Tamin now?

Worse, the contract just doesn’t make sense in the marketplace. Just take a look at Freddy Garcia, who put up very similar stats to Harang last year (FIP of 4.12 vs 4.17, K/BB of 2.13 vs 2.14) while pitching in the tough AL East; Garcia returned to the Yankees last month for one year and $5m. Or even look closer to home at the 2/$10m Chris Capuano got from the Dodgers last week. Capuano’s 2011 was arguably superior (FIP of 4.04 vs 4.17, K/BB of 3.17 vs 2.14) plus he’s a lefty who’s a few months younger than Harang, yet Harang walks away with more money. Why? There’s no other answer here than “once again, wins and ERA garnered far too much attention.”

Now, I don’t want to sound like there’s no utility to this deal at all. I didn’t want Nathan Eovaldi to start the year in the rotation, so I acknowledge the need for another starter, and it’s not like Dodger Stadium is some hitter’s paradise. Harang, if healthy (a big if, since he’s spent at least a month on the DL in each of the last four seasons) can provide some use as a starter who can put up a FIP in the mid-4′s, which doesn’t sound like much but can be harder to find than you’d think. It’s just hard to see how this helps the team win, since now that Hiroki Kuroda is gone, you have Clayton Kershaw followed by the always uncertain Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, and two guys like Ted Lilly. Sure, it’s nice to say that these guys will be fine in the NL West because they still get to pitch in San Diego and San Francisco, but you’ve now picked up three of the most homer-prone pitchers in baseball – and Kershaw alone can’t pitch every game in Colorado and Arizona.

For all the money Colletti has spent on 30+ veterans this winter, I’m not sure the team is even one game better for it. But if not better, they’re at least older and more expensive. So that’s something, right?

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  1. I think you may have to take into effect that he has to overpay to get players to come over to the Dodgers because of the situation they are currently embroiled in. Who knows? I can’t wait for this guy to go. I’m tired of seeing these types of signings. Surprising that none of these players have played for the giants.

    • Colletti overpaid majorly before the McCourt nonsense began. It’s in his nature.

    • Doesn’t make any sense, we are supposed to “have no money” to spend……….

      • That’s why he’s doing so many two year deals… Not only are the players getting that extra guaranteed year, they’re basically deferring salary from year one to year 2, when McCourt will be long gone.

  2. Mike makes a good point on his closing comment. I was thinking about this last night. Kuroda was on everyone’s wishlist, but was never an option to come back given his money demands. Would you rather see the Dodgers make no moves and possibly fail with a bunch of youngsters or have Ned pull the trigger? Sure, Ned’s offseasons moves aren’t pretty, but you can make a case for each of them, barring Kennedy. Banking on comeback seasons from Ethier and Uribe, and a breakout season from Loney, the team might be decent. At least this is the rationale I use to keep myself sane. Just think, at least you’re not an Astros or Twins fan.

    • Well, you *could* have had Kuroda. Let’s say he gets 8 + 4 deferred. Save $4.5m on Rivera, $3.5m or whatever Harang will get in 2012, there’s your 8 right there.

      • Isn’t Kuroda looking for more than $12 this year? Not to rain on anyone’s parade, and I am a huge Sands’ fan myself, but did anyone really want to hand the LF reins to him after his couple months of success? If we didn’t sign Rivera, what would the options be? Hope for Sands to develop and have Hairston/Gwynn as his backup? I keep hearing that Rivera is not as sure a thing as Sands, but I don’t see it. Given, Ned could have saved some money on the deal, but how much? $1 Mil tops?

        • $12m-$13m was Kuroda’s target, I heard.

          I’m not saying there should be no backup plan for Sands – absolutely agree. But Rivera’s role should be as RH compliment to Loney / Ethier, NOT the starting left fielder – and I’m becoming more and more convinced that starting LF is indeed what the plan is going to be. For someone who can’t hit RHP, isn’t a good defender, and had one good month out of six last year – and was DFA’d! – that’s not a good use of resources to me.

          • Weren’t the pickings slim this year on the FA market for this type of right handed outfield commondity? I also agree that we overpayed for Rivera, but it didn’t seem like we had much of a choice. He seems to be preferred over the Type A’s and B’s looking for multiple years.

          • It’s as if nobody 25 and under already on the roster existed for the offseason planning. When the pickings are slim at the farmer’s market and the prices are higher with the food looking a little tired and worn out, I leave the market without spending my money.

      • The tough thing for me is the total amount spent on mediocre players. I actually can accept the Rivera contract, but would have been content to do the 8 and 4 for Kuroda and not signed Ellis and signed Harriston, and keep Sellers. Try later for another 5th starter cheaper or go with Evo.

    • Kuroda and Fielder, fill the rest with bums off the street.

      • Ned: “why go with legit all stars when I can save money filling the whole offseason with bums off the street!?”

        cuz let’s be honest, everybody he’s signed is a bum off the street (likely replacement level player).

  3. Why is it that when we could finally have used a prospect-for-veteran trade, Colletti isn’t able to go after Kevin Slowey? Sounds like Colorado gave up very little and only have to pay Slower 2.5-3M next year. He’s just as good (with much more upside) as the other fly-ball machines we just bought. Ugh.

    • Great point.

      • It wasn’t long ago that everyone expected big things from Slowey. Not sure he belongs in Colorado with his fly ball tendencies. He would be Cy Slowey in San Diego.

        The more I think about it, the more this angers me. Slowey is EXACTLY the kind of pitcher we needed, given affordability and the fact he’s walked roughly two batters in his career.

        With all that said, you see any trades coming, or do you think he signs MacDougal to a huge deal and calls it an offseason? And yes, let’s not pretend that deal isn’t coming. $3M a year for the former closer (shoot me now).

  4. I… I don’t get Ned Colletti. He makes deals and builds rosters in a way that would seem old fashioned in 1990. Tell me something Mike, wouldn’t you have rather committed 24 millions for two years of Hiroki Kuroda, not sign Capuano, Harang, Rivera and Hairston Jr. and have a remaining 5 millions of flexibility to fill the utility infield, right handed bat of the bench and fifth starter? Granted, this would probably mean having Nathan Eovaldi or Dana Eveland as fifth starters (I’m not saying going after Dontrelle Willis or Aaron Cook because such a move would require deep statistic analysis and I don’t think Colletti is capable of that) and going with Justin Sellers or a NRI as backup at short, but I don’t think a version of the Dodgers without Capuano, Harang, Rivera and Hairston Jr. is much worse than a version of the Dodgers without Kuroda. At least with Hiroki, Kershaw would have something sure behind him and Lilly would be the fourth starter, as opposed to having three Lillys in a row. They could even trade Matt Guerrier for a fringe prospect only to release some payroll space.

    Hell, while we’re at it, Colletti could even have been patient and trade Guerrier for Fedorowicz, while still keeping Travyon Robinson, and with Robinson and Sands on board they could have traded or non-tendered James Loney to have even more money to spend.

    But leaving “what could have been” scenarios aside, wasn’t Colletti promising a couple of months ago that the Dodgers would be players on Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols? How come that they had the money for a potential 200 million contract two months ago and now they’re scrapping pennies to sign two of the worst starters on the FA market? Or does Colletti has such low image of Dodger fans that he is willing to outright lie in their faces just because he thinks that would make them happy? This guy is not just a bad GM, he seems to hate everything he is doing.

  5. I predicted the 2 yr/12 mil deal for Harang yesterday when first hearing Colletti was targeting him. How did I come up with that contract? Well, Harang made 3.5 mil last year with SD so I would guess Colletti would automatically top that with 4 mil in 2012. Next, as we all know Ned has been using 2013 as final year in his most recent questionable contracts, and he would want to make this contract back-loaded. 6 mil in 2013. Now we’re at 2 yr/10 mil BUT as we all know, “Colletti is gonna Colletti” so throw in an extra 2 mil over the length of the contract and we now have 5 mil in 2012 and 7 mil in 2013. 2yr/12 mil and yes my brain did hurt after that thought process.

  6. Dodgers look like an 84 win team, almost identical to last year (actually worse, but last year’s team had some bad luck). The offense will be the same and the pitching will be a little worse. And that is assuming Ethier and Uribe bounce back. The only real possibility for doing any better is 1) Loney has truly changed his approach and is a good hitter now and 2) Sands wins the job from Rivera AND instantly fulfills his promise. Everything breaks right, they could win 90.

    • That’s a lot that would have to go right. I think at this point the Dodgers will be lucky to have a winning record, same position as they were in at the beginning of last season.

  7. Why does Ned love to backload contracts so much. It seems like he tells himself, “Ok, I can pay him 6 mil now and 6 mil next year… Or I could pay him 4 mil now and just figure out how to deal with the extra 2 mil down the line. Ok, done… Lets pull the trigger on this.”
    He just loves to handicap himself years later. How do you think he felt when he looked at this year’s payroll and saw all of the dead money he was paying to Manny, Juan Pierre (shudder), etc.
    I wish MLB had the pay structure of the NFL where you could just cut a guy and say, “Oh you didnt perform to your 3 mil first year, so you arent going to get your 24 mil second year cause we are cutting you right here and now. Later, loser!”

    sigh…

  8. The only thing this changes is the amount of backloaded contracts that will hamstring the next owner. But as Colletti points out, so what? The next owner, whoever they are, will have the pockets to absorb all this crap.

    .

    The Dodgers are still non-contenders. That won’t change over the winter. They will open at 30:1 with three teams in the NL West rated better than them.

  9. Even though players like Nathan Eovald and Jerry Sands come with risks I would much prefer to start the year with players both young and cheap and then fill any gaps mid-season with veterans as required. I hate the idea of crossing your fingers with vets like Ellis, Kennedy, Treanor, et al especially if ther money spent may have been enough to grab a Kuroda or Fielder along with some low cost fillers.

  10. I like how Colletti talks about things later this season as if he’s going to be here. If you have a limited payroll, why throw so much money at average talent? Ned’s a fool.

    • It’s almost as if Ned is the only person in LA who doesn’t know that he’s getting canned the moment the sale of the team is finalized.

  11. Ned is a terrible G Manager. Apparently he now thinks that all you need is depth. A good G Manager knows that (1) you must have the right perspective, (2) each position effects the G differently, (3) Sabermetrics does not help you find the G, (4) you must blindly try to find the G with hope, and (5) age effects the importance of G.

    • G’s up, hoes down.

  12. Mike, I think update for sins list.
    As we read about these trades and get ill, I think we are in the middle of the next sin. Manging to stretch his exit out so long that the 2012 season is permanently impacted.
    david

  13. It just feels like this year is going to be some sort of holding pattern until new ownership steps in and hopefully makes changes to the front office. It’s hard to see what good will come in the next couple seasons. Next year’s free agent crop looks bad. I, for one, am pretty damn pessimistic.

    I’m sitting here asking myself if I would have put up with a 2012 of young (probably horrible) middle infield production, an unknown season of Jerry Sands in left, no rotation depth, but with Prince Fielder at first on a long term contract. If you’re gonna re-build, you start with the Kemp contract, then you get Prince on a 6 year deal, and worry about the pitching staff next season. I’d compare it to Troy Aikman’s first season in Dallas: putrid. Guess what happened next? Rings for DAYS because you got your guy. I would endure losing 90 games next year if they at least had Fielder, Kemp and Kershaw and a bunch of AAAA players that weren’t special or a part of the future. Those are franchise cornerstones that you can start something with.

    Instead I’m left with a team of washed up, over the hill scrubs that should be warming benches in shitty markets instead of wearing Blue.

    This offseason is Ned Colletti’s death rattle. He’ll go down as one of the worst GM’s to ever lead a ball club. It’s freaking painful.

  14. As you can see from this years signing, I like what experienced players can bring to the team in non-tangibles.

  15. Just try to ignore my “husband”, as we will no longer be in baseball soon.

    • I knew it!

    • Aren’t you really Brian Sabean?

      • Who?

  16. Dre and billingsley for hanram?

    • Is hanram the new HoneyBaked Ham, as my “husband” Ned loves ham glazed.

  17. I hope this is the last year for: Infielders who can’t hit and have absolutely NO power, backloaded contracts, winter meetings with zero hope of signing top-level players, court reporting, fans getting injured, whining right fielders, half-empty stadiums and most of all…GM’s named NED! Frank McCourt, look what you’ve done to me!

    • +1

  18. At best, Colletti is building a team which will be marginally competitive in the NL West, and his job should be compiling a team that can win the World Series. That’s what’s most frustrating to me.

    In other news, the Twins have offered Cuddyer 3/$25, less than the 3/$30-33 we predicted.

    • at best?!?! he just threw $30 million at a group of players who will be lucky to accumulate 1 WAR over the season. almost certainly some of them will be negative WAR (i’m lookin at you Adam Kennedy) and while some will have a positive impact, that money would have been better spent on Kuroda and either a 5th starter or a util player. because lets be honest – these players as a group don’t project out any better than the youngsters that could’ve taken their places, and certainly don’t match their potential ceiling.

    • His job nowadays would be making a marginally competitive team for this year that can be either competitive or a clean slate for 2013 onwards. He managed to do neither. If the Dodgers compete this year is because all the other teams in the division ends up failing in an amazing way or a surprising shot at the Wild Card emerges. Locking Ellis, Harang, Capuano and Hairston Jr. for two years puts roadblocks in the way of Castellanos (if they actually move him to second… and that seems to be too much of an intelligent move for this management), Rubby De la Rosa and maybe Eovaldi. Add to that the fact that both Lilly and Uribe are locked through 2013 and you have a team that will have very little room to make improvements in the next couple of years, unless new ownership comes willing to eat a lot of these contracts, and it’s hard to do that if attendance is going down, which is difficult to turn around with a team that probably won’t even be exciting to see losing.

  19. FIRENEDCOLLETTINOW

  20. Has anyone read Ned’s book.

    This GM Dallas Green had 1 winning season in 6 years as GM. Helluva role model, Ned.

  21. Has Ned Collettii shot the Dodgers in the foot for 2013 also???

    With the signing of Harang. The Dodger rotation is presumably locked up for 2012 and 2013. Some times that is a good thing, but under these circumstances it may prevent a new owner with more funds to upgrade in the future.
    The 2013 Free Agent pitching market will be stocked! – Cole Hamels, Zach Grienke, Matt Cain, Hudson, Haren, Shields, Peavy, Danks, Dempster and many more. Such a good chance to upgrade and no place to put them on the Dodgers.

    Conversely, the Dodgers may have some open positions in 2013 – Ethier, Loney and Rivera may be gone, maybe a catcher opening, but the free agent market for those positions is absolutely going to be miserable.

    All our hopes are that new owners will be able to improve the team, but Ned has left very little possibility that they could trade for or sign upgrades

  22. unbelievable contract for harang. wtf ned

  23. [...] all of our moaning about Aaron Harang and the rest of Ned Colletti’s inexplicable moves has been, uh, [...]

  24. mike, Harang had a WAR of -1.3 in 2010 and a WAR of +1.9 in 2011. Since you value WAR (at least for hitters) but claim Harang was no better in 2011 than in 2010 except in W-L and ERA this seems like a contradiction. Either Harang was a good deal better in 2011 or WAR is a problematic stat for pitchers. Please comment.

    • Well, you appear to be using baseball-reference WAR. Fangraphs WAR doesn’t agree with that, saying he was more valuable in 2010 (albeit in more innings). WAR is difficult in that the two flavors don’t always agree (though usually not by as much as they are on Harang), and I agree that it is indeed problematic for pitchers, so I rarely use it for them. You’ll notice that in my season in review series, I only listed WAR for hitters, not pitchers.

      • thanks for the reply


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