Aaron Harang Rumors

Quick Hits: Kusnick, Guerrero, Harang, Hart, Royals

In a revealing piece, Medium.com’s Joe Lemire profiles MLB agent Josh Kusnick’s rare birth defect and the life-threatening complications he faces to this day. Kusnick — the agent for Michael Brantley, Jeremy Jeffress, Steve Clevenger and Adrian Nieto, among others — was born with a defect called bladder exstrophy, which has led to 42 surgeries in his life despite the fact that he is just 32 years of age. Though Kusnick faces constant trips to the hospital, he remains in contact with his players while there, Brantley tells Lemire, and he even once negotiated a minor league deal for client Philippe Valiquette from his hospital bed. Lemire writes that Kusnick delayed his 43rd surgery in order to attend the 2014 Winter Meetings. I had the pleasure of meeting Josh at the meetings in San Diego and, along with the rest of MLBTR, would like to wish him the best of luck in his next operation on Wednesday of this week.

Here are some more notes from around the game…

  • Though he won’t be eligible to sign until July 2, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has already drawn significant interest from the Mets, Blue Jays and Angels, reports MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez (on Twitter). His father, of course, is the same Vladimir Guerrero that won an MVP with the Angels in 2004 and made nine All-Star teams in a 16-year career that saw him bat .318/.379/.553 with 449 home runs.
  • The Braves made a similar offer to the one-year, $5MM contract that Aaron Harang signed with the Phillies early in free agency, reports David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link). However, at the time, Atlanta was told that Harang had other offers for more money and more years.
  • Former Orioles and Indians GM Hank Peters, who passed away at the age of 90 this weekend, took a big gamble on John Hart, writes Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Peters plucked Hart — then a third base coach with managerial aspirations — off the diamond and gave him a front office gig because he felt strongly about Hart’s ability to evaluate players. Hart discusses the transition with Hoynes as well as his role in architecting the 1989 Joe Carter trade with the Padres. Hart assisted Peters in that deal prior to taking the GM reins himself and insisted that the trade couldn’t be made without acquiring both Sandy Alomar Jr. and Carlos Baerga — two critical components to the Indians’ 1995 World Series appearance.
  • The Royals have announced the retirement of longtime assistant general manager Dean Taylor. Taylor’s front office career began with the Royals back in 1981, as he worked his way from administrative assistant to assistant director of scouting. Taylor’s other stops around the game include working as an assistant GM during the Braves’ excellent run in the 1990s as well as Brewers GM from 2000-02. Taylor returned to the Royals in 2006 and spent the final eight seasons of his career there. Josh Vernier of FOX Sports Kansas City tweets that assistant GM J.J. Picollo will assume Taylor’s duties as vice president/assistant GM, and director of player development Scott Sharp has been promoted to assistant GM as well.

Phillies Sign Aaron Harang

The Phillies have added some innings to their rotation, announcing the signing of right-hander Aaron Harang to a one-year, $5MM deal. Harang, a client of ACES, can earn more through performance incentives and awards bonuses, per the team.

Aaron Harang

The 36-year-old Harang enjoyed a very nice rebound campaign with the Braves in 2014, pitching to a 3.57 ERA with 7.1 K/9, 3.1 BB/9 and a 39.4 percent ground-ball rate in 204 1/3 innings. Harang’s 3.57 FIP felt that his ERA was a perfect indicator of his skill set, although other metrics such as xFIP (4.03) and SIERA (4.18) felt that he was the beneficiary of some good fortune. Interest from Philadelphia was first noted last week by CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury.

For the Phillies, Harang will provide a much-needed stabilizing force in the rotation, and he comes at a price tag that isn’t prohibitive. While the Phillies don’t expect to contend in 2015 — they’ve already traded away Jimmy Rollins, Marlon Byrd and Antonio Bastardo — they still need someone to soak up innings in the rotation. Harang can do just that for manager Ryne Sandberg. He’ll join Cliff Lee and possibly Cole Hamels (depending on whether or not he is traded) in an otherwise thin rotation. Jerome Williams figures to lock down one spot, with David Buchanan the likely occupant of another. Beyond that, the fifth spot figures to be a competition between the likes of reported non-roster invitee Wandy Rodriguez, right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and eventually 2014 first-round pick Aaron Nola.

Harang’s peak came in the 2006-07 seasons with the Reds when he hurled a combined 466 innings of 3.75 ERA ball in the very hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. Harang posted a 124 ERA+ in each of those seasons and even finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting in 2007. He was off to a solid start in 2008, but many Reds fans will point to a four-inning, 63-pitch relief stint on two days’ rest (in an 18-inning marathon game) on May 25 of that season as the day in which things took a turn for the worse for Harang. Though he fired four scoreless innings that day, Harang wound up on the DL with a forearm strain and posted a 5.88 ERA over the remainder of the year. He never fully regained his form as a Red, although he’s had relatively successful stints with the Padres, Dodgers and Mets (in terms of ERA, anyhow) since leaving Cincinnati.

Harang’s contract is affordable enough that the Phillies should be able to flip him at the trade deadline if he’s pitching well. We at MLBTR agreed that a two-year deal could be possible for Harang based on his strong 2014 (as Zach Links mentioned in his free agent profile), but the market for Harang’s services never gained too much steam. The large number of quality arms on both the free agent and trade markets likely prevented that from happening, but Harang still managed to pull in a guarantee five times larger than the $1MM sum paid to him by the Braves a year ago.

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports first reported that a deal was in place (Twitter link).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Free Agent Faceoff: Back Of Rotation Starters

With another quiet day turning into an even less eventful evening, I thought we’d spice things up with a look at a particularly interesting segment of the free agent market: innings-eating veteran starters.

Sure, I’m joking. Almost by definition, a back-of-the-rotation innings eater is not a very exciting pitcher. But, then again, perhaps there is something to the idea that this corner of the universe has more intrigue than it might seem at first glance.

Targeting top-end players is fairly straightforward, whereas figuring whether to pursue one or another back-end arm involves much more careful parsing to find value. The fact that most such pitchers sign for short-term deals means that clubs must be right on the player in the immediate term; there is no time to fix them for the future. And then there is the fact that the performance of these players matters a great deal; unlike a utility man or reliever, innings-eating arms are expected to occupy full-time roles. Racking up losses because your number 4 and 5 starters are not competitive is a great way to dig a hole in the standings.

The potential impact of this type of player is evidenced by the list of the best durable, veteran starters still available, several of whom played for contenders in 2014 and one of whom even pitched in the World Series. For better or worse, all of the players listed were allowed to throw at least 150 innings last year, creating plenty of opportunity to add or subtract value.

Kevin Correia: The results are not usually that exciting, but Correia has logged at least 100 innings in every season since 2007. He delivered an average of 178 innings of 4.19 ERA pitching over 2012-13 before suffering through a rough 2014.

Aaron Harang: Last year’s shining example of the importance of choosing your innings eaters carefully, Harang put up 204 1/3 frames with a 3.57 ERA. Sure, there’s a lot baked in there other than his pitching, but the bottom line is that Harang rated amongst the game’s fifty best starters in terms of preventing runs and among its 25 best in logging innings.

Roberto Hernandez: The results haven’t been there for Hernandez, and there is not much silver lining given that he has seen a steady decline in fastball velocity. But he is quite a steady groundball inducer, and showed enough that the Dodgers traded for him and gave him nine starts down the stretch.

Kyle Kendrick: At some point, 199 innings is 199 innings, and that’s what Kendrick delivered last season. He is also a fairly youthful 30 years of age, and is not far removed from producing serviceable results.

Ryan Vogelsong: Though his peripherals are somewhat less promising, Vogelsong has posted pretty darned useful bottom-line results in three of the past four seasons. And he had enough in the tank to run his fastball up to the mid-90s in the postseason.

Chris Young: ERA estimators view Young’s 3.65 earned run mark last year as a mirage, but then again he has always outperformed his peripherals. It had been quite some time since the towering righty had handled a full season in a rotation, but Seattle happily converted his 165 innings of work into a 12-9 record in 29 starts.

Before you vote on the player you think will be the best bet for 2015, you might want to check out these custom Fangraphs leaderboards for a sense of their recent statistical achievements: last yearlast three yearslast five years.



Phillies Notes: Outfield, Pitching

The big story of the day is the trade of Marlon Byrd. We learned earlier this evening about reactions and the Reds side of the story. Here’s more on how the Phillies will adapt to life post-Byrd:


Phillies Interested In Aaron Harang

The Phillies have shown interest in free agent righty Aaron Harang, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com tweets. The 36-year-old Harang has also lately been connected to the Braves and Rockies after a surprising comeback season in Atlanta in which he threw 204 1/3 innings with a 3.57 ERA, 7.1 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9. Homer-happy Citizens Bank Park might not be the best place for Harang to continue that renaissance, however — his 37.8% fly ball rate in 2014 was his lowest since 2003, but he’s still a pronounced fly ball pitcher. Still, he could potentially provide the Phillies with a bit of stability in the back of their rotation.

In any case, Harang had to take a minor-league deal last offseason, but that won’t happen again this winter, despite his advanced age. MLBTR’s Zach Links predicted in October that Harang would receive a two-year, $14MM deal.


Rockies Notes: Harang, Johnson, Gee, Rosario

MLB.com’s Thomas Harding rounds up some of the names connected to Rockies’ offseason pitching search, including the new information that Colorado is interested in Josh Johnson and Aaron Harang.  Johnson may soon be off the board as he’s close to re-signing with San Diego, though Harang’s market has been pretty quiet this winter.  As Harding notes, the Rockies are looking for ground ball pitchers (such as Kevin Correia or Kyle Kendrick) who could handle the thin air of Coors Field, but Harang doesn’t fit that bill; the veteran righty only has a 38.2% grounder rate over his career.  The Rockies are still exploring trade possibilities and aren’t believed to have begun serious negotiations with any pitcher, Harding reports.

Here’s some more from the Mile High city…

  • One of those possible trades could involve the Mets’ Dillon Gee, though Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post (Twitter link) said talks are “on hold.”  Saunders thinks the two sides “were close” to a deal at one point.
  • Besides looking for pitching, the Wilin Rosario trade market has been the Rockies’ biggest offseason focus, ESPN’s Jerry Crsnick tweets.  American League teams are the “prime targets” for Rosario, as his long-term future may be at DH rather than catcher.
  • The Rockies want pitching back in any trade for Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez or Justin Morneau, though no deal involving any of the three stars is imminent, FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi reports (via Twitter).  Colorado has discussed all three players in trade talks this offseason.

Braves Notes: Upton, Gattis, Harang, Hart

The Blue Jays, Brewers, Cubs and Indians are the four teams on Justin Upton‘s revised no-trade list, FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi reports (via Twitter).  Upton’s contract allows him to block deals to four teams per year, and since his deal is up after the 2015 season, there have been whispers that Atlanta could explore trading Upton this winter.  One team notable by its absence on this year’s list is the Mariners; when Upton was with the Diamondbacks, he vetoed a deal that would’ve sent him to Seattle in January 2013.  Here’s some more from the Braves camp…

  • President of baseball operations John Hart denied a Joel Sherman report that the Braves were shopping Evan Gattis, calling it “absolutely inaccurate.”  Hart told the media (including David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) that “we are coming in with the idea that we don’t have to trade anybody.  We have not made a call (to see if a team is interested in any player). We have received calls on people; we haven’t had any conversations yet.”
  • Hart said the Braves will look to add starting pitching this winter, though they’ll look at the “B tier and down” rather than any of the big names on the free agent market.  If Atlanta did acquire a higher-caliber, it would likely be in a trade.  “Money could be freed up; there’s a lot of different dynamics there,” Hart said. “But from where we sit today, that would be the sort of level that we would be looking at.”
  • The Braves could be interested in re-signing Aaron Harang, though Hart said the team will wait to see how Harang’s market develops.  In a Free Agent Profile of Harang, MLBTR’s Zach Links predicted the veteran righty would find a two-year, $14MM deal this winter.

East Links: Santana, Sox, Cespedes, Phils, Mets

The Braves are expected to make a qualifying offer to Ervin Santana, reports David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In the event that Santana leaves, the team may pursue a top-of-the-rotation type of arm, O’Brien writes, but their lack of financial flexibility would make the trade market a more likely avenue than free agency. O’Brien adds that he finds it unlikely that Santana would accept the QO — a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree. He also notes that should the club lose Santana, it might be more motivated to try to retain Aaron Harang, even though he is in line for a sizable raise from the $2MM he earned in 2014 (including incentives). MLBTR’s Zach Links recently profiled Harang, pegging him for a two-year, $14MM contract. Santana was also profiled by MLBTR, with Tim Dierkes projecting a four-year pact worth $56MM.

Elsewhere in baseball’s Eastern divisions…

  • The Red Sox are prioritizing Pablo Sandoval and Chase Headley as the look toward the offseason, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The team may also look at Aramis Ramirez, though he’s not believed to be as coveted as Sandoval or Headley and is said to prefer a return to Milwaukee, per Heyman, who adds that the Yankees would like to re-sign Headley. Red Sox third basemen combined to hit just .245/.305/.351 in 2014.
  • Red Sox people strongly denied a previous report that Yoenis Cespedes is hated by the team’s coaching staff, Heyman writes in a second piece. One source called the report “totally untrue,” and manager John Farrell added on MLB Network Radio that the notion was “completely unfounded,” Heyman adds. He goes on to write that a trade of Cespedes is unlikely (though not impossible), given Boston’s overall need for power.
  • The Phillies announced today that their entire coaching staff has agreed to return to the club for the 2015 season.
  • Joel Sherman of the New York Post looks at the second round of changes coming to the dimensions of Citi Field and writes that the new dimensions may give some type of hint as to which players are most likely to be traded by the Mets this offseason. The Mets are planning to make Citi Field more homer-friendly and build the pitching staff around arms that emphasize strikeouts and ground-balls. Names like Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler fit that description, but Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee and, to a lesser extent, Rafael Montero are all more prone to fly-balls, making them more likely to be dealt.

Free Agent Profile: Aaron Harang

Last winter, veteran starter Aaron Harang hooked on with the Indians on a minor league deal and, at the time, he appeared to have a strong chance of being the fifth man in the Tribe’s rotation.  In March, when he was informed that he wouldn’t be a part of the Opening Day roster, Harang requested and secured his release.  That same day, he agreed to a big league deal with the Braves and he did not disappoint in Atlanta.  Now, the 36-year-old is hitting the open market once again and this time around he should only be fielding big league offers.

Strengths/Pros

Harang exceeded all expectations this season as he turned in a 3.57 ERA with 7.1 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9.  A lot of pitchers tend to tail off around Harang’s age, but this past year ranks as one of his very best at the big league level.  His ERA was the lowest it has ever been (ditto for his identical 3.57 FIP) and his 204.1 innings of work stands as his highest total since 2007.  Ultimately, his $1MM deal proved to be one of the better free agent bargains of 2014.Aaron Harang (vertical)

The 36-year-old won’t be held back by a qualifying offer and there’s reason to believe he could continue to deliver a ton of innings for his next team.  Harang hasn’t been on the disabled list with an arm-related injury since 2008 and he can hardly be penalized for his late season emergency appendectomy in 2009.

Harang didn’t magically discover the fountain of youth or go on a hardcore Julio Franco-esque diet this past season.  Instead, as he explained to David Lee of The Augusta Chronicle late last month, he has become a craftier pitcher in recent years.

I threw a lot more four-seamers when I was younger,” Harang said. “I had a coach show me how to throw a two-seamer, and I started doing it, and every year it seems to be more effective. Once you get used to throwing it and realize how key that pitch can be, you make those adjustments.

Harang made a concerted effort to start throwing more two-seam fastballs in 2009.  As Lee notes, in 2008, when he threw 64 percent four-seamers and 8 percent two-seamers, he posted a 4.78 ERA and averaged 1.7 home runs per nine innings.  This season, it was much more balanced with Harang throwing 29% two-seamers and 30% four-seamers.  Harang’s pitch velocity has faded a bit in recent years, but thanks to a different approach on the mound, he has been able to adjust and age more gracefully than a lot of his contemporaries.

Weaknesses/Cons

While Harang’s 2014 performance was strong, his 2013 campaign didn’t go quite as smoothly.  At the start of the season, the Dodgers traded Harang to the Rockies for Ramon Hernandez before he was quickly DFA’d and flipped to the Mariners just days later.  After posting a 5.76 ERA with 6.5 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in 22 starts for Seattle, the M’s DFA’d him in August.  Harang finished out the year with the Mets, meaning that he had bounced between four clubs all within that year.  In total, Harang had a 5.40 ERA – a number his next club doesn’t want to see – with 7.1 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9.  

This year, while his ERA was solid and his strikeout and walk rates were more or less consistent with his career average, some of the advanced metrics aren’t as crazy about his performance.  Both xFIP (4.03) and SIERA (4.18) feel that Harang’s ERA should have been a touch higher than 3.57.

Harang is putting less emphasis on his heater than he was earlier in his career, but it’s still hard to ignore his decreasing velocity.   Harang threw his fastball at an average of 88.8 MPH, his lowest average in the past eight years that it has been recorded by PITCHf/x.  If his velocity continues to lose steam, it’s fair to wonder whether his 6.4% HR/FB ratio from 2014 can be sustained.  For his career, Harang has a decidedly less sharp 10.2% HR/FB ratio.

Personal

Harang and his wife Jennifer have three children.  He knows how important fatherly wisdom can be as he attributes his 2,100+ innings of major league work to sage advice from his dad.

I would never teach a kid a breaking pitch until age 13,” Harang said, according to Anna McDonald of ESPN.com. “My dad wouldn’t show me one. He didn’t want [my elbow] to blow out. So I didn’t start throwing a curveball until I was 13 years old. I had the karate-chop one, where you just throw it and it spins up there. Your muscles aren’t developed enough, your ligaments aren’t developed enough to withstand it.

Harang, a San Diego native, told Dan Hayes (then of U-T San Diego) in 2010 that he prefers fish tacos to Skyline Chili, even though he has spent the bulk of his career in Cincinnati.  He also prefers The Simpsons to Family Guy, which is the right choice in my book.

Market

For his part, Harang told reporters, including MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, that he would be interested in pitching for Atlanta again.  The Braves undoubtedly appreciate his work this year, but they also know that they can’t retain him with another one-year, $1MM deal.  In theory, the Braves can trot out a starting five of Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran, Brandon Beachy, and Alex Wood.  However, Medlen and Beachy are recovering from Tommy John surgery with unknown return dates and it would certainly help to have a battle-tested veteran pitcher at the ready.

Still, he may not be in the budget in Atlanta and he may not take a discount to stay put since this could be his last sizable deal.  The Pirates are one team that could use a reasonably priced out-of-house addition to their rotation.  Harang may also find a match with teams like the Astros and Rockies if he’s not aiming for a likely contender.

Expected Contract

Last winter, Bronson Arroyo, also at the age of 36, secured a guaranteed $23.5MM over two years from the Diamondbacks with an $11MM club option.  Like Arroyo, Harang fits the profile of a durable innings eater who isn’t dependent on velocity for success and both had strong walk years before hitting the open market.  However, not all innings eaters are created equal: before Arroyo’s unfortunate UCL tear this season, he pitched 200 innings or more from 2005 through 2013, with the exception of a 199 inning total in 2011.  Also, Harang’s vagabond 2013 might hurt his case for big money.

We expect the Levinson brothers to readily bring up Arroyo’s name, but Harang probably won’t match his deal.  I predict Harang will land a two-year, $14MM deal this offseason.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Braves Notes: Floyd, Harang, Gattis, Bethancourt

We’re still six weeks or so away from the non-waiver trade deadline, but trade discussions are beginning to pick up around the league. Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports (via Twitter) that the Braves are already receiving interest in their starting pitchers. While the Braves certainly aren’t sellers, they can afford to move Gavin Floyd or Aaron Harang due to the presence of Alex Wood in the minor leagues, Morosi points out. Many clubs have been linked to pitching on the trade market, including the Blue Jays, Yankees, Orioles, Angels, Red Sox, Giants and A’s. Some have also speculated that the Pirates will make a move for a starter after Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano both hit the disabled list.

Here’s more on the NL East’s division leaders…

  • Mark Bowman of MLB.com writes that the Braves have had internal discussions about moving Evan Gattis to left field and promoting Christian Bethancourt to serve as the everyday catcher. In that scenario, Justin Upton would shift to right field, Jason Heyward would slide over to center field and B.J. Upton would fall into a reserve role. As Bowman notes, Bethancourt has hit very well over the past month for Triple-A Gwinnett, and there’s never really been any concern over his defensive skills, which are very highly regarded.
  • David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, however, hears a different story entirely. O’Brien writes that multiple sources within the organization have told him there hasn’t been any discussion of moving Gattis to the outfield, as he’s more valuable behind the plate. A move to the outfield, where he isn’t comfortable playing (according to O’Brien) would weaken the outfield defense and diminish Gattis’ value. O’Brien goes on to write that the Braves may consider making the switch if they feel they have no choice in a pennant race, but for the time being, a switch isn’t likely.
  • There’s simply no sense in the Braves’ decision to keep Dan Uggla on the roster at this point, ESPN’s Buster Olney opined over the weekend (Twitter link). The current situation helps neither the team nor the player, and both sides would benefit from Uggla being waived, Olney continues.