Finding the Perfect Trade Return for Aaron Harang

I think we’re all in agreement that if and when a Dodger starter gets traded, it’s probably going to be Aaron Harang. That’s because of all the reasons we’ve been over before, mainly because he’s not a bullpen option and (unlike Chris Capuano) probably wouldn’t even consider the thought. So sure, it could be Capuano who goes, or Ted Lilly, but I don’t think I’ll get too much argument that it’s probably going to be Harang.

While we’d all like to think that Harang — coming off a decent 3.61 ERA season — could bring back the righty 1B/OF this team so badly needs or perhaps another option at third base, the problem is he’s just not that good. I know, I know, for a fifth starter that ERA over 180 innings isn’t that bad. But it’s also not backed by a 4.14 FIP, and as FanGraphs czar Dave Cameron noted on Twitter yesterday, “Teams interested in Aaron Harang might want to check his BB/K trend.” Let’s do that.

harang_kbb_chart_dusty

Boy, it’s too bad that giant floating head of Dusty Baker got in his way after 2007. So sure, Harang has some mild value. He’s also entering his age-35 season, is striking out less and walking more than ever, and can vest a $7m option for 2014 if he pitches 180.1 innings in this year — or almost exactly what he threw in 2012. That, plus the fact that the Dodgers have a full 40-man roster, means that more than likely they’re ending up with a decent-but-not-outstanding prospect return for him.

Taking a page from a discussion that Chris Jackson started in the comments yesterday, let’s try to figure out exactly who that player will be. With science! Sort of. Not really.

1. Identify the teams most likely to trade for Harang.

Other than a few teams like San Francisco, Detroit, & Cincinnati who clearly have no need for another starter, you could probably make some sort of case for about 20 other clubs in baseball that might find a small upgrade with Harang. But then you eliminate NL West rivals — I know, Harang in Coors Field would be fun — and teams like Houston & Miami that aren’t even in position to bother, and that list starts to shrink a little. To keep this manageable, let’s settle on the Brewers & Orioles (who scouted his start yesterday), and also the Twins, Pirates, & Mets, all among the teams who had been connected over the winter and could still use some rotation love. (And, it should be noted, largely don’t have the major league piece available the Dodgers would need.) No, I’m not including Texas, who just lost Martin Perez, because not only would Harang be a terrible fit in that park, they’re probably going to sign Kyle Lohse — and Robbie Ross might be better anyway.

2. Find prospects that are good, but not too good. 

Good prospects get included on top ten lists. Lesser prospects don’t even make the top twenty. For example, when the Dodgers traded Dana Eveland to Baltimore last year, they got Tyler Henson (ranked as Baseball America’s #22 Oriole prospect) and Jarret Martin, who I don’t believe was ranked at all. Harang’s clearly better than Eveland, so let’s stick with the #11-20 prospect range as defined in BA 2013. (Yes, I’m aware this is already flawed, because one team’s #24 prospect could be better than another team’s #14 guy, and when you get past the top five or so it’s all very subjective anyway. We’re trying to have some fun here.)

With our five teams, that’s 50 names. Time to narrow them down.

3. Eliminate anyone who had been a first round pick in the last three years or currently holds a 40-man roster spot. 

Teams are probably not willing to give up on a first round pick just yet, and the Dodgers will probably need to find at least one roster spot as it is for whichever reliever might make it — and two if they decide to have Tim Federowicz play every day in Triple-A, meaning Wilkin Castillo, Ramon Castro, or Jesus Flores would need a spot.

So long, Steve Johnson (BAL), Jed Bradley, Mark Rogers, Logan Schafer, Hiram Burgos, Khris Davis (MIL), Joe Benson — who I actually kind of like — Daniel Santana, Travis Harrison, Levi MichaelChris Herrmann, B.J. Hermsen (MIN), Robert Carson, Hansel Robles, Wilfredo Tovar (NYM), Vic BlackTony Sanchez, Andrew Oliver, Bryan Morris (PIT).

19 down, 31 to go.

4. Eliminate anyone else who was drafted in 2012, and therefore can’t even be dealt.

That’s you, Josh Hader, Christian Walker, Mason Melotakis, J.T. ChargoisLuke Bard, Tyrone Taylor, and sadly, you too, Torsten Boss.

That removes 7 more, 24 remaining. We’re halfway there.

5. Eliminate any outfielder at Double-A or above.

When trying to obtain minor leaguers, you generally look for best talent available rather than filling a need. In this case, the Dodgers have so many outfielders at the top three levels that guys like Kyle Russell are in genuine danger of being cut. (Or, perhaps, included in a deal like this.) Let’s assume they’re not adding more here.

The only three here are Cory Vaughn & Cesar Puello, who are probably not returning for third seasons at High-A with the Mets next year, and fellow Met Matt Den Dekker. We’re left with 21.

6. Eliminate anyone with the word “parasites” in the second paragraph of a story about them.

From a more technical perspective, they wouldn’t even be trading for a Cuban defector who has only just recently signed with Baltimore anyway, but…

Cuban defector outfielder Henry Urrutia, displaced in Haiti since the Orioles signed him to a $778,500 bonus in the summer, is expected to report to the club’s minor league facility at Twin Lakes Park some time this weekend.

“There’s a lot of unknown about what kind of shape he’s in,” Showalter said, “in more ways than one, parasites, other stuff you need to rule out.”

…no thanks. 20 left.

7. Eliminate anyone who still hasn’t made it out of A-ball after five seasons.

The fact that Nick Bucci is even ranked here says a lot about the state of the Milwaukee system, I think. 19 to go.

At this point, the low-hanging fruit is gone and we’re left with a lot of teenagers who haven’t yet left the Dominican and college draftees who are old for their leagues — and Minnesota, with only infielder Jorge Polanco remaining, has been almost entirely eliminated. Rather than really go through each and every one and make this stretch on endlessly, let’s hit the lightning round.

Give extra credit to any team that has been confirmed to be actively scouting Harang now.

We know that’s Baltimore & Milwaukee, though of course I’m sure many other teams are sniffing around.

Give extra credit to any team that has made similar trades with the Dodgers in recent years.

As discussed above, Ned Colletti and Dan Duquette hooked up on the Eveland deal last year. Colletti also swapped Chin-lung Hu for Michael Antonini with Sandy Alderson in 2010, a few months after the horrible Octavio Dotel deal with Neal Huntington, and Vinny Rottino for Claudio Vargas with Doug Melvin in 2009. The Dodgers and Twins haven’t agreed on a move since 1995, so they’re out entirely here. Baltimore wins this round because their deal was not only the most recent, it was the most similar.

So we’re going to go with Baltimore as the most likely destination, and the “winners”, somewhat subjectively from the few remaining, are A-ball outfielder Glynn Davis (described as “blazing speed, will take a walk” here and as high as Baltimore’s #7 prospect here) and 22-year-old Texan Clay Schrader, a lefty who has huge strikeout stuff — 157 whiffs in 116 pro innings — and the control problems to match.

Sexy? No. But then again, neither is the prospect of having Harang guarantee that vesting option.

(thanks to Dustin Nosler for some research assistance)

Where Aren’t Chris Capuano & Aaron Harang Going?

92topps_aaronharangJust from December alone…

Ken Davidoff, New York Post:

The Mets also have engaged in trade discussions with the Dodgers, who have former Met Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang, neither of whom likely would be in the team’s starting rotation if the 2013 season began today.

Jon Paul Morosi, Fox Sports:

The Mariners are a longshot for the 2013 playoffs but can make themselves more relevant with another move or two. Wednesday’s trade opened up a spot for a veteran left-hander in the Seattle rotation. (The Mariners spoke with the Dodgers recently about Chris Capuano, a source said Wednesday, but it doesn’t appear those talks have progressed.)

Ken Rosenthal, Fox Sports:

Los Angeles Dodgers — They began shopping right-hander Aaron Harang and lefty Chris Capuano at the winter meetings, anticipating that they would add at least other two starting pitchers.

Righty Zack Greinke and lefty Ryu Hyun-jin turned out to be those two starters, and now Harang and Capuano are even more in play. The Pirates, Mariners, Twins, Blue Jays and Indians are among the teams checking in, major-league sources tell FOXSports.com’s Jon Paul Morosi.

92topps_chriscapuanoRosenthal, again:

A trade for New York Mets right-hander R.A. Dickey is unlikely, sources say, and the Rangers might simply aim lower, seeking a fifth starter who would be an upgrade over lefty Martin Perez — say, someone like Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Chris Capuano.

Buster Olney, ESPN (along with everyone else)

An evaluator on Chris Capuano:”He’s going to have more value to a National League team.” LAD has talked to Pirates;Milw a nice fit on paper.

Nick Cafardo, Boston Globe:

Capuano could be a fit for Boston

…and so on. I have no idea where they’ll end up — probably one of the teams mentioned here, though I’m sure there’s others involved, too — but with the way the market has exploded this winter, suddenly two league-average guys on short contracts for reasonable salaries might have some value. Not a lot of value, of course, so anyone who thinks Capuano is bringing back Mike Olt of Kyle Seager needs to reset those expectations. If they can help bring back a righty outfielder, backup catcher, or decent B-level prospect, I think I’ll be happy with that.

2012 Dodgers in Review #28: SP Aaron Harang

3.61 ERA 4.14 FIP 179.2 IP 6.56 K/9 4.26 BB/9 1.5 fWAR B+

2012 in brief: Provided a steady, if unspectacular, back-end presence.

2013 status: Signed for $7m in final year of back-loaded two-year deal.

******

Aaron Harang is boring. Really, really, boring, with one obvious exception that we’ll get to in a second. I say that, believe it or not, without any negative connotation at all. Harang rarely went out and delivered an outstanding effort, reaching or topping 70 in Game Score just four times. (Clayton Kershaw, by comparison, did so 15 times.) But he was rarely awful, either, allowing more than four earned runs in a game only three times. Only three times – not the same three – did he fail to complete at least five innings; only six times did he get through seven.

What Harang did do was take the ball every fifth day and generally give the team a chance to win, more often than not getting pulled in or after the sixth inning having two to four earned runs. He was almost eminently average, and while you know how I feel about win/loss record, the fact that he ended up at 10-10 is just about perfect. He didn’t get hurt, he didn’t kill you, and he lasted through the entire season. For a fifth starter, that’s the kind of thing teams dream about.

That’s boring, and means it was a season largely without notable moments – hence the lack of quotables here – but it’s far from being without value. Don’t forget, this was a rotation that lost Ted Lilly for nearly the entire year, Chad Billingsley for almost half of it, and had a questionable Kershaw for most of the final month. To simply have someone being quietly reliable like Harang, is more than worthwhile.

That’s not exactly the same thing as being “good,” of course. What’s the main difference between the 14-7, 3.61 he had with San Diego in 2011 and the 10-10, 3.64 he had with the Dodgers this year? (Other than win/loss record being stupid, of course.) Well, it’s a funny thing; Harang’s strikeout rate held steady, but his walk rate shot up from 3.06 per nine to 4.26, highest since his rookie season. Yet while he put more runners on via the walk, he managed to avoid the big inning by restricting hitters to 0.70 HR/9 and a .277 BABIP, each career low marks. I’m honestly having a hard time seeing him repeat that next year; on the other hand, he did end the season with ten straight starts allowing three runs or fewer.

As vanilla as Harang’s season may have been, we’d be remiss not to note what happened in San Diego on April 13, his second start of the season:

Aaron Harang allowed a leadoff single to Cameron Maybin, and then proceeded to strike out each of the next nine batters. Aaron Effing Harang! The nine consecutive strikeouts topped Johnny Podres’ eight to set a new Dodger record and fell one short of tying Tom Seaver’s ten in a row for the big league record. Podres won some of the biggest games in franchise history. Seaver was a no-doubter Hall of Famer. Aaron Harang is Aaron Harang. Can’t predict baseball, indeed. Harang was touched in the fourth for three runs, including a Will Venable homer which broke the streak, but came back to whiff four more to tie his career high with 13 in his 6 1/3 innings of work. After a disappointing debut as a Dodger in the only loss of the season so far, it was an amazing turnaround for the veteran Harang.

Harang, of course, never approximated anything like that for the rest of the season. But sometimes half the job is just showing up, and he at least did that. Fine work, Aaron. Now enjoy pitching in Toronto or Seattle or Miami or wherever you’re inevitably headed once the Dodgers sign a couple of starting pitchers.

******

Next up! You think Aaron Harang is boring? Meet Joe Blanton!

Dodgers Keep on Hitting, But Miami Brings the Power in 6-2 Marlin Win

Down 4-2 in the 8th inning, Matt Kemp walked to load the bases. That brought up Adrian Gonzalez, who’d already driven in a run with two hits on the day, against Miami reliever Steve Cishek. This is the kind of situation fairy tales are made of; Gonzalez, having already hit more home runs at Dodger Stadium than James Loney had all year, up with a chance to end the homestand and his first weekend as a Dodger with a go-ahead grand slam.

With two strikes, Gonzalez swung and sent a hard-hit ball to deep right field. For the briefest moment, it seemed like he’d done it, as the crowd swelled to their feet, but “almost” wasn’t quite good enough, as the ball fell into the glove of right fielder Giancarlo Stanton on the lip of the warning track.

Unfortunately, that was as close as the Dodgers got to the big hit today, collecting 11 hits off six Miami pitchers but being unable to have a single one going for extra bases. In theory, that’s depressing, because the Marlins are a bad team, but I have to look at it from the other side, and maybe it’s just the excitement of the weekend’s moves which hasn’t worn off yet: including a hit-by-pitch and six walks – including two apiece from Kemp & Nick Punto – the Dodgers put 18 men on base today. Hell, even Juan Uribe broke an “0 since 2005″ streak to grab a pinch-hit. That’s unfortunate in the moment, but more often than not, if you’re getting that kind of on-base production, the runs will come. They did in the first two games of the series; it just didn’t happen today, and those games happen from time to time.

Over the three games against Miami, this team had 40 hits (just hits alone, not even including walks), and that’s with Gonzalez not even having played on Friday. Yeah, I think that’ll work.

Where the Dodgers had difficulty finding power, the Marlins brought it in spades. Aaron Harang & Shawn Tolleson allowed two longballs apiece, including a mammoth blast to dead center by Stanton and the first MLB dinger from rookie catcher Rob Brantly; Tolleson merely allowed a difficult deficit to get larger by letting Jose Reyes & Carlos Lee go back-to-back in the ninth. That was all the scoring Miami would need, though an error by former Marlin Hanley Ramirez allowed an additional run to score in the eighth. Don Mattingly used six of his seven relievers today, and while Kenley Jansen didn’t enter, he did warm, so we’d better all hope that Josh Beckett has a successful debut in Colorado tomorrow.

With the loss, the Dodgers fall 2.5 back of San Francisco, who send Tim Lincecum against Tim Hudson on Sunday Night Baseball tonight.

Dodgers Top Reds, But Have They Lost Dee Gordon?

From the second inning on, Cincinnati starter Mike Leake was absolutely dominant, allowing just two Dodger hits over his final six frames. Unfortunately for Leake, the first inning counts too, and a leadoff double by Dee Gordon followed by three consecutive singles and a Zack Cozart throwing error put three Dodger runs on the board. That’s all Aaron Harang would need against his old mates, allowing only a Devin Mesoraco solo homer to spoil an otherwise solid seven innings in front of a holiday crowd of over 40,000.

Not to shortchange Harang for his good work, but unfortunately I think we all know that’s not what the story of this game is going to be. Gordon led off against Bray in the eighth with a walk, then stole second. On ball four to Luis Cruz, he stole third as well, but was immediately replaced by Mark Ellis. While that seemed like a nice opportunity to get the returning Ellis a standing ovation, it quickly became clear that Gordon had injured his hand or finger while sliding into Cincinnati third baseman Todd Frazier or the base itself.

The lesson, as always, is that sliding head first is incredibly dangerous, and I’ll never understand why players insist on doing it all the time; though I can’t seem to find it right now, I’m almost positive I’ve called Gordon out for that here before. Replays looked to indicate that Gordon’s thumb may have been bent awkwardly, and while we don’t have a prognosis yet, I have to admit that it didn’t look good. If it’s broken, that’s probably at least six weeks.

If Gordon is hurt – and again, we don’t know the extent yet – all I can do is just throw my hands up and laugh. You think that things are finally getting better, that Ellis is back, that Matt Kemp & Javy Guerra are close, that even Andre Ethier‘s oblique injury isn’t as bad as it could have been… and now in the span of three days you’ve see Juan Uribe twist an ankle, Todd Coffey lost for the season with Tommy John surgery, and whatever Gordon did to himself tonight. If Gordon does hit the DL, that means that the only Dodger starters from the Opening Day lineup who survived the first half of the season were A.J. Ellis & James Loney. It’d be funny if it weren’t so absolutely absurd.

If Gordon is out, that means your shortstop situation is some combination of Elian Herrera & Cruz, assuming Uribe & Jerry Hairston aren’t really considered options there. Since I’m guessing 98% of Dodger fans hadn’t heard of either one on May 1, that’s a pretty bad situation, despite the surprisingly vocal contingent of Cruz fans, which leads to hilarious retorts like this:

While you can argue that Gordon had been poor and being without him isn’t a huge blow, it does throw another wrench into this team’s plans. With tonight’s win, they moved back into first place in the NL West, so they’re unquestionably buyers. But they may need a shortstop now. And a third baseman, since Uribe is awful. And a first baseman, since Loney is awful. And a left fielder, since neither Bobby Abreu nor Herrera is looking anything like they did in May. And a starting pitcher, since Nathan Eovaldi is struggling and Ted Lilly isn’t close to returning. How do you fill all those holes? But when you’re in contention, how do you not?

I’ll say this: for a team which has been really, really boring to watch recently, they’re managing to keep things incredibly interesting.

(Update: Eric Stephen reports Gordon’s thumb is dislocated, but not broken. He’ll have an MRI tomorrow.)