During the winter meetings this past December, we heard about Dan Haren’s fierce desire to stay in Los Angeles as a member of the Dodgers, with the right-hander even going so far as to say he would retire if he were traded. Dodgers’ GM Andrew Friedman called Haren’s bluff, shipping him to Miami with Dee Gordon in what turned out to be a chain of events resulting in the Dodgers nabbing Howie Kendrick from the Angels. With this trade deadline, there was no such threat of retirement from Haren: he’s now moving to Chicago to add depth to the Cubs’ rotation.
Though the Cubs kicked the tires on some of the better pitching help on the trading block, there was never really the sense that they needed to pull that particular trigger, as their rotation currently sits in the top five in baseball for ERA, FIP, and xFIP. With a starting four of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, and Kyle Hendricks — each of whom have made at least 20 starts this season while contributing at least 2.0 WAR — the Haren deal represents a depth move to fill innings in that fifth starting slot down the stretch. Given Haren’s impending free agency this winter, the move is also purely about 2015.
Haren should be an upgrade 0ver the Cubs’ current weak options for their fifth starting spot. Even though he’s dealt with a continued velocity decline (his average fastball velocity has fallen 4 MPH since 2011, down to 86 MPH this season), he’s found a way to make it work, relying on his curveball and cutter more to post numbers that, on the surface, look good (namely a 3.42 ERA in 2015).
The ominous news comes when we dig a little deeper: he currently owns the highest strand rate of his career (82.5%), the lowest BABIP (.248) and is showing extreme fly ball tendencies this season (he’s second-highest among qualified starters in fly ball rate, at 49.1%). That final issue could become a problem with the move to Wrigley, as he’s going from a very pitcher-friendly home park in terms of home runs to a more neutral home run setting. Giving up home runs has always been an issue for Haren, and they could pose a serious problem should that high fly ball rate mix poorly with a less forgiving environment.
The bottom line with regard to projecting his performance: as a Cub, Haren will need to avoid regression in those categories above to continue to have the success he enjoyed for the Marlins in 2015, which is a shaky bet considering he hasn’t shown the skills to maintain those figures in the past.
The good news: he’s always been relatively healthy (requiring only a couple 15-day DL stints during his career), and is a good bet to be more productive than what the Cubs have seen out of their fifth starters this season. With Travis Wood finding success out of the bullpen, Tsuyoshi Wada recovering from multiple injuries, and Dallas Beeler, Donn Roach, and Clayton Richard not able to find much success during their very brief tryouts, Haren will at least bring some stability to the back end of the rotation.
A final consideration is Haren’s impending value in free agency, as he’ll now garner more attention for the contending Cubs, especially if they make the playoffs. If Haren can continue to post the sort of results we’ve seen so far in 2015, he could be in for a nice multi-year deal this winter.
For the Marlins, the deal is yet another in a long line of sell-offs to bolster the farm system. Going to Miami is shortstop Elliot Soto and right-hander Ivan Pineyro, the latter of whom seems to provide the bulk of the incentive for the trade.
While Soto’s glove has accounted for most of his value during his time in the minors (with his bat showing little upside), the 23-year-old Pineyro was once a highly-regarded prospect that stumbled during his introduction to Double-A in 2014 before hinting at better success toward the conclusion of last season’s Arizona Fall League. Pineyro usually works in the low 90s, flashing an above average curve with a sometimes average changeup.
Finally, the Cubs added a power bullpen arm in Tommy Hunter, shipping Junior Lake to the Orioles in return. Hunter will no doubt add depth to the late inning duties for the Cubs, slotting in alongside Pedro Strop, Jason Motte, and Hector Rondon at the back of the bullpen. Though Hunter doesn’t post the gaudy strikeout numbers usually accompanying an arm with upper 90’s potential such as his, his performance out of the Orioles bullpen has been above average since his conversion from a starter in 2012.
For Lake, it’s the end of a seven-year run with the Cubs that never materialized into big league production: with many seasons of above average wRC+ at the Triple-A level, perhaps a change of scenery is what Lake needs at this point to finally take the step toward producing in the majors.
In the end, the Cubs have given up little in the way of top prospects to add important depth to both ends of their pitching staff. There is the risk of regression with Haren, something the Cubs are no doubt acutely aware of; however, their goal of capturing an element of consistency with their fifth rotation spot is likely to be realized, all the while hoping that the final few months of Haren’s contract can yield the sort of success that he enjoyed during his time with the Marlins. It was an easy gamble to make, given the size of the potential payout and the chips still left in their possession.
Owen Watson writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @ohwatson.