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The Strike Zone

Haren would make deep, talented Nationals rotation even better

Dan Haren is a three-time All-Star and boasts a 3.66 lifetime ERA. (AP) Dan Haren is a three-time All-Star and boasts a 3.66 lifetime ERA. (AP)

NASHVILLE -- Baseball’s deepest one-through-five rotation resides in Washington, thanks to another one-year deal to an established veteran looking to rebuild his marketplace value. Last year the Nationals employed Edwin Jackson in that role, and news broke Tuesday via FoxSports.com that the Nationals had agreed to a one-year deal with free-agent Angels starter Dan Haren worth $13 million, pending a physical.

That phrase “pending a physical” is an important one, given Haren’s back injury last year and troublesome hip, but presuming he passes and the deal is finalized, he becomes baseball’s most overqualified No. 5 starter.

“I think it’s a great move if we can get him,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. “Great athlete, has outstanding stuff. Gamer. He’ll fit right in. . . . If we get that finalized, he’ll be a great addition.”

Haren, 32, had been the model of durability and pitchability. Prior to 2012, he made at least 33 starts and threw at least 216 innings in seven straight seasons with a 3.49 ERA. By attacking the strike zone with sinkers and cutters, he held opponents to less than one hit per inning while boasting a 4.3 strikeout-to-walk ratio; three times he led his league in K/BB rate.

In 2012, however, a back injury limited him to 176 2/3 innings and a 4.33 ERA. His hit rate jumped to 9.7 per nine innings, the worst since his rookie season of 2003, while his K/BB ratio dipped to 3.74.

A move to the NL ought to improve those numbers somewhat, as long as the injury issues aren’t a concern, but also the Nationals don’t need him to be an ace. They already have Stephen Strasburg, who will pitch without an innings limit, Cy Young finalist Gio Gonzalez and the underrated Jordan Zimmermann (who posted a 2.94 ERA in 2012 and is the love of scouts) and Ross Detwiler (a tall lefty whose fastball sits in the mid-90s and had a 3.40 ERA this past season).

Effectively, Haren replaces Jackson -- who was 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA in 189 2/3 innings last year -- in the rotation, and perhaps his most appealing attribute will be his ability to pitch deep into games. The Nationals had no starter throw 200 innings last year (though three logged at least 189), and collectively their rotation threw 953 innings, which ranked just 18th in the majors and the second-fewest among playoff entrants.

Even at $13 million Haren is a good value, given the constraints of this year’s market. Besides, as the old baseball adage says, “There’s no such thing as a bad one-year contract.”

-- By Joe Lemire

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