Why Won’t Mets Get Aaron Harang?

The Dodgers traded excess starter Aaron Harang to the Rockies, who promptly DFA’d him. The Mets, in need of starting pitching, reportedly are not interested. Why not?

For the Rockies, this deal was about dumping catcher Ramon Hernandez‘s salary ($3.2M), and saving a few bucks — the Dodgers are also sending $4.25M in cash to Colorado to offset Harang’s $7M salary, and hoping to flip Harang for something of value. There’s a $2M buyout of a 2014 option in Harang’s contract, which it would seem the Rockies would have to pay that if he’s released and he somehow hooks on elsewhere and reaches its goals(?) — in which case, they’re not saving any money, because $7M + $2M bonus – $4.25M offset by Dodgers = $4.75M. The option for 2014 vests if Harang pitches at least 360 innings between 2012 and 2013, including 175 IP in 2013 (he threw 179 innings last year).

If my understanding of the contract — and my math — is right, then Harang has to pitch 181 innings this year for the option to vest at $7M for 2014. That will be tough to do unless he joins a team’s starting rotation immediately and doesn’t miss a start.

Oh — is that why the Mets aren’t interested in adding a veteran innings-eater to protect their young hurlers? Are they genuinely afraid that Harang will be healthy and effective enough to make 30 starts, and average 6 innings per start?

After a strong start to his career, Harang had an awful stretch from 2008-2010, then was rejuvenated in San Diego — the place where all bad pitchers go to resurrect themselves. He followed it up with a solid if unspectacular season in LA, posting a 10-10 record and 3.61 ERA in 31 starts. However, his walk rate jumped to an unsightly 4.3 BB/9 IP; something he was able to get away with because his HR rate dropped to a svelte 0.7 HR/9. He doesn’t strike out many batters and never did — the 6.6 K/9 last year is below his career rate, but his career rate of 7.3 is slightly skewed by his two dominant seasons in ’06 and ’07.

The wheels came off in ’08 when he experienced “forearm tightness” and related elbow issues — which he( blamed on Dusty Baker). Those type of ailments almost always signify an inflamed UCL, but he did not undergo Tommy John surgery, and perhaps “gritting through it” was the reason for his dramatic decline from ’08 to ’10. Chronic elbow pain could also explain Harang’s similarly significant control problems — that 4.3 BB/9 is about double what it was from ’05-’09.

At this point in his career, he’s a fastball/slider guy who mixes in a cutter, but it’s basically all the same speed, so he doesn’t fool anyone. His mechanics are flawed and his elbow ligament might be hanging by a thread. He doesn’t strike out many, and he walks far too many. Somehow, though, he trudges through and eats innings — don’t ask me how.

Maybe that’s why the Mets aren’t interested — as desperate as they are to find a starter, maybe they’re genuinely concerned that Harang WILL be the answer in 2013, earn the $7M option for 2014, and then blow out his elbow. But, this is the same team that wasn’t concerned about Shaun Marcum‘s chronic arm issues, and besides, if they’re worried about Harang’s health, they can buy out the option for $2M. Who knows, though — maybe the Marcum situation was a wake-up call announcing that signing old pitchers with bad arms is a bad idea; it would help explain the Mets’ similar disinterest in formerly beloved Chris Young.

Or, maybe the Rockies are expecting to get more in return for Harang than the Mets are willing to pay. There are already rumors that the Red Sox could be calling Colorado, as well as the Twins and Astros. If Harang is released outright, I’d think the Mets would kick the tires on him, but if acquiring him requires a young prospect, I can understand why they’d balk.

Regardless of the Harang situation, the Mets need to find an arm somewhere, soon. There is a mix of fragile and young arms in the bullpen that won’t hold up over a long haul of 4- and 5-inning starts by the likes of Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Hefner — and when the bullpen becomes strained, you’ll see the starters pushed harder to go an extra inning or two, perhaps beyond what they should be doing. The cumulative effect could be damaging beyond 2013.

What’s your thought? Should the Mets make a pitch for Aaron Harang? If not Harang, is there someone else out there worth considering? Do you think they can handle their issues internally? Why or why not?

Answer in the comments.

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About the Author

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.

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