Trade Of Ervin Santana Puts Pressure On Pittsburgh Pirates To Pursue Dan Haren

By Jeff Moore

The Los Angeles Angels made their first move of the off-season on Wednesday, sending starting pitcher Ervin Santana to the Kansas City Royals for 26-year-old minor league left-hander Brandon Sisk.

There were a number of teams for whom Santata made sense, but the Royals got to them first. The Angels may not be done, either.

Also available could be Santata’s former rotation-mate Dan Haren, who should draw even more interest than Santana did.

Haren is coming off a down season, and he’s not a true ace. However, when he’s healthy, he’s in that group between aces and number two starters. That’s a pitcher than can help a lot of teams.

The Pittsburgh Pirates need to step to the front of that group.

In addition to being a good addition to a starting rotation that needs more high-end talent, Haren comes with limited risk. Unlike a free agent starting pitcher of his caliber, the Pirates would only be on the hook for one year of Haren’s salary, who is scheduled to be a free agent after the 2013 season.

If the Angels decide to move Haren, it would be so that they can re-sign free agent pitcher Zack Greinke. The Angels won’t be asking for much for the lefty either; they’ll likely want a prospect better than the one that Royals gave up (Sisk). The Pirates could likely obtain Haren for one mid-level prospect, someone along the lines of lefty Jeff Locke.

For the Pirates, who have a young nucleus of position players poised to begin contending, it’s imperative that they make some moves this off-season to take advantage of this window of opportunity. Acquiring Haren won’t be enough for the Pirates to make the jump to the top of the NL Central, but it would be a good start along that path, and send a signal to both their players and other free agents that they are ready to do what it takes to compete.

The other aspect of the deal would be Haren’s salary. Haren is slated to make $15.5 million next season, which would make him the second-highest paid player on the Pirates’ roster, as they’re also getting dealing with with A.J. Burnett‘s salary from the New York Yankees. It would, however, give them an impressively formidable 1-2-3 punch of Burnett, Haren, and Wandy Rodriguez atop their rotation.

But that salary.

The Pirates payroll has been rising steadily over the past few years, trend that should continue this winter. The question will be by how much: the Pirates have some money coming off the books from last season, for one season, and Haren’s paycheck still represents significantly less risk than any other pitcher of his caliber.

More importantly, a move to acquire Haren would signify change. It would announce to the players already there, the fans, and more importantly to the rest of the league, that the Pirates are ready to compete.

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