Reds’ Harang A Fit For The O’s Rotation?

With news recently that the Cincinnati Reds have to cut payroll for next season, one of the names (and contracts) on the trade-block as a result is starting pitcher Aaron Harang. With the Orioles potentially in need of a rotation upgrade, could Harang be a bow-low candidate for them?

Harang was one of the more under-appreciated pitchers in baseball in 2005-07, when he posted seasons of 3.83 ERA (4.2 Wins Above Replacement), 3.76 ERA (5.4 WAR), and 3.73 ERA (5.2 WAR)*. After being a work-horse during that time – averaging 226 IP a year – Harang’s missed time due to injuries the last couple years. His strike-out rate also fell from the 8.3 K/9 area to around 7.7 K/9, and his walk rate ticked up from around 2.1 BB/9 to 2.4 BB/9. His fastball velocity stayed consistent around 90 mph, so that’s a good sign. Harang needs to limit the free passes and get K’s because he’s a flyball pitcher (just a 38% groundball rate career) and so is homer prone (1.2 HR/9 career, higher in ’08 and ’09).

He’s still a good pitcher, but his 1.8 WAR and 2.5 WAR the last two years points to more of a #2/3 starter than a #1. That’s valuable, but since he’ll be paid $12.5 M next year and (if he’s traded) $14 M in 2011 (or a $2.5 M buyout) he won’t likely provide much – if any – excess value to his team. If he bounces back some and is a 3.5 WAR pitcher then, assuming his option is picked up, he might provide in the neighborhood of $5 M in value.

* Interestingly, Harang’s ERA has been tracking his FIP very closely for several years. ’04: 4.86 ERA, 4.68 FIP; ’05: 3.83 ERA, 3.67 FIP; ’06: 3.76 ERA, 3.68 FIP; ’07: 3.73 ERA, 3.71; ’08: 4.78 ERA, 4.79 FP; ’09: 4.21 ERA, 4.14 FIP. I guess that means he’s a guy who most baseball fans  – stat-minded and not – should think of similarly, but even his low ERA seasons didn’t get much notice.

To acquire that the O’s would need to give up something between a C+/C prospect or two (on the high end) and a “PTBNL or cash considerations”. I assume the Reds would want cheap talent, so sending over Luke Scott (for instance) with some money coming back from Cincinnati would “work” but wouldn’t be viable. Would Harang for Justin Turner be unreasonable? I know Turner came over to Baltimore from the Reds for Ramon Hernandez last year, but that might be the kind of price the O’s would need to pay for the pitcher. As to the more general question of whether the Orioles should be interested at all, they do have a full rotation (Guthrie, Tillman, Matusz, Bergesen, Hernandez, with Arrieta on the way) and Harang in the AL East != Harang in the NL Central. That leaves me inclined to take him off the Reds’ hands only if the price is quite low.

There is always the possibility of the “trade” being expanded to include more players, but I don’t think the ones the O’s would be interested in (Scott Rolen or Brandon Phillips for third-base, and Joey Votto for first) are as likely to be dealt. The Reds just traded for Rolen this past season, so I can’t see him be turned around so quickly. Votto is blocking top prospect Yonder Alonso at first, but they probably have another year before that’s an urgent issue. Plus, picking up Votto would require a major haul of prospects and I don’t see Andy MacPhail making that kind of move during the rebuilding time. [Edit: “Asked about trading Joey Votto, Jocketty [Reds’ GM] replied, “Oh God, no.””]

Phillips is the most interesting option; he’s a second-baseman but could probably play third as well – and he’s a good defender (and a .265/.312/.430 career hitter). He could theoretically play 2010 at third and then move over to short (where he used to play and where he’d project as not too below average) in 2011 once Cesar Izturis’ contract is up and Josh Bell is ready. Phillips is going to make $6.75 M next year and $11 M in 2011 so that would lower the Reds payroll as well. There’s also club option for $12 in 2012, but if he gets traded that would become a mutual option that Phillips would be likely to decline.

As a 3 WAR player the last couple years, Phillips would be worth about $28 M for ’10 and ’11 while being paid only $17.75 M. That last bit is why I don’t really think the Reds would trade him, but if they were willing a Harang/Phillips package would be something to consider. At $10-15 M in excess value between the two (almost all from Phillips), the O’s would need to put some actual talent together. Nolan Reimold would be a possibility, since he would give the Reds a strong right-handed bat in right-field cheaper than the contract they’d need to tender to Johnny Gomes (who I guess they could then let go and save some more money). If you assume Nolan’s only a 1 WAR player the next 5 years then he would provide about $15 M in excess value to his team. A lot of possible variation there obviously, but the Reds throw in a quality prospect and you might have something.  Just doing it with prospects you could deal Brandon Erbe and Steven Johnson, and maybe another low-level arm. That’s actually something I’d give serious thought to. I doubt you’ll see either Red in an Orioles uniform to start next season though.

Boy is the Hot-Stove season fun.