Snakebitten

(Schilling photo by The AP; Johnson photo by Harry How/Allsport; IPK photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty; Haren photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty)

In the aftermath of the Arizona Diamondbacks non-tendering Joe Saunders — the mediocre left-handed pitcher who was the only Major Leaguer in the package sent by the Angels to the Snakes for Dan Haren in July 2010 — last month, it occurred to me that despite the fact that the franchise has only been in existence for 14 seasons, there’s a strong possibility that the Diamondbacks have been the greatest off-the-field thorn in the Yankees’ side of any team in Major League Baseball in recent history*.

* Though it’s not as if they’ve been pleasant to deal with between the lines either, given that they were responsible for perhaps the most heartbreaking loss an entire generation of Yankee fans have ever experienced in the form of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.

Anecdotally, we’ve heard stories detailing a mutual dislike on the part of former Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo and George Steinbrenner, both known for their hard-nosed ownership styles, and as best I can tell the problem initially stemmed from a now-famous meal shared by Steinbrenner and David Wells in January 2002, in which the Boss re-signed Wells four days after the burly lefty reached a handshake agreement with the D-Backs.

This incident no doubt left Colangelo steaming, and it would come back to bite the Yankees in the 2003-2004 offseason, as the team desperately needed to upgrade a rotation that was losing three-fifths of its members. The Yankees were very interested in Curt Schilling, but the talks didn’t go anywhere as Arizona’s asking price — which appeared to include both Nick Johnson (coming off a 2.1 fWAR season) and Alfonso Soriano (5.0 fWAR), at the very least — was rightly deemed excessive. It’s unclear who Cash may have been willing to part with, and whether talks ever progressed between the two teams, but before they even had a chance to Theo Epstein and Boston swooped in, joined the Schillings at their Thanksgiving table, and somehow convinced the Diamondbacks to trade Schilling, coming off thee seasons in which he racked up 7.6, 9.7 and 5.9 fWAR, respectively, for a package headlined by Casey Fossum and rounded out by Brandon Lyon and minor leaguers Jorge De La Rosa and Michael Goss.

In a vacuum I suppose that’s a fair amount of talent for Boston to have surrendered, but in hindsight it turned out to be an absolute steal for the Red Sox, as Fossum was basically never an effective pitcher again following the deal; Lyon’s carved out a career as a pretty good middle reliever, the most fungible asset in all of baseball; De La Rosa’s been a #3-ish starter at best in the National League and Goss never made it to the Majors; while Schilling accumulated 17.8 fWAR in four seasons with the Sox while helping lead the franchise to its first World Championship in 86 years and another three seasons later.

While you could drive yourself crazy playing the what-if game, it’s probably fairly safe to say things would’ve unfolded quite a bit differently had the Yankees acquired Schilling that offseason instead of the Red Sox.

Of course, the Yankees finally did get a Diamondback ace of their own the following offseason, in Steinbrenner’s long-coveted Randy Johnson. The Big Unit had a strong debut season in pinstripes in 2005, but was pretty mediocre in 2006, and famously flubbed both of his postseason appearances. Fortunately the Yankees likely didn’t regret the cost to acquire Johnson — Javier Vazquez, coming off an execrable first season in pinstripes, along with Brad Halsey and Dioner Navarro — especially considering that prior to the deal being executed Robinson Cano had been a long-rumored chip in a potential Johnson trade, but in hindsight I think this can still be considered another low point in the Yankees’ and Diamondbacks’ mutual history.

Following his disappointing 2006, the Yanks decided they’d had enough of Johnson — who, as it so happens, expressed a desire to return to Phoenix — and shipped him back to the Diamondbacks for nothing special in Alberto Gonzalez, Steven Jackson, Ross Ohlendorf and Luis Vizcaino. I suppose receiving four warm bodies for a pitcher who appeared to be well past his glory days is somewhat commendable, though Johnson still went on to put up two more decent (if injury-plagued) years out in the desert, while the 2007 and 2008 Yankee pitching staffs weren’t exactly anything to write home about.

The Yankees and Diamondbacks hooked up again in December of 2009, in the three-way trade that brought Curtis Granderson to New York and shipped Ian Kennedy to Arizona, a deal that also saw Detroit send Edwin Jackson to the D-Backs but also gain Austin Jackson and Phil Coke from the Yankees and heist Max Scherzer from the Snakes. Two years later this would appear to be the rare three-way trade in which all involved parties appeared to benefit. I’d do this deal all day every day, although it somehow figures that Arizona would wind up turning Ian Kennedy — who I maintain would never have become a 5.0 fWAR player in the Bronx — into a frontline starter.

This brings us back to the Saunders-Haren trade of July 2010. Granted, the Angels also sent Tyler Skaggs — currently ranked by Baseball Americas as Arizona’s 3rd-best prospect — Patrick Corbin (10th in the system) and Rafael Rodriguez to the desert in the deal, so it’s not quite as cut-and-dry as just “Saunders-for-Haren,” but given that Saunders wasn’t even retained by the D-Backs a mere year-and-a-half after being acquired, while Dan Haren has been a top 10 pitcher in baseball the last two seasons, it’s difficult not to wonder how things might have played out had the Yankees and Diamondbacks managed to consummate a deal.

It’s difficult to say given that all we really know is that Joba Chamberlain‘s name was the primary one bandied about during the trade talks of July 2010. If we were to try to build a comparable package to the one Arizona received, the Yankees’ #3 prospect at the time (per our own Mike Axisa) was Manny Banuelos, while #10 was Jose Ramirez. At the time, would you have been willing to trade a package of Joba Chamberlain, Manny Banuelos, Jose Ramirez and some low-level filler for a 29-year-old Dan Haren? Pretty sure I’d have been willing to pull the trigger on that one.

Again, we have no idea whether something like that was ever offered and/or whether it would have been an acceptable haul for Arizona, but on paper it seems like a pretty fair swap, especially when you consider that Saunders has been worth 2.7 fWAR in two full seasons of starting while Joba has been worth 1.8 fWAR in a season-and-a-half of relieving during that same time period. You have to figure Arizona almost certainly would’ve given Joba the chance to start that the Yankees never will, and the Yankees would’ve had a right-handed ace to complement CC Sabathia.

Of course, at the end of the day the majority of this is hearsay and conjecture, and there’s no way of really knowing whether Arizona has had it in for the Yankees over the years. However, as I’ve illustrated above, the two teams’ transaction history — and it certain cases, lack thereof — would make me considerably wary of doing business with Arizona in the future.

Angels acquire Dan Haren

Well, so much for that idea. The Angels have acquired Dan Haren from Arizona for Joe Saunders, prospects Patrick Corbin (ranked 12th in the Halos’ system by Baseball America), Rafael Rodriguez (22nd), and a player to be named later. The PTBNL is not Mike Trout, arguably the best prospect in the game, but instead a list of players the D-Backs can choose from. I have to say, I find it very hard to believe that Joe freakin’ Saunders headlined a package for Haren, but so be it.

GM Brian Cashman can now focus on his stated goals of improving the bullpen and bench, though another starting pitcher never hurts.

Dan Haren and the three bears

Dan Haren. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

By now you’ve been inundated with rumor after rumor and discussion after discussion on how much value the Yankees would give up to receive D-Backs pitcher Dan Haren. The Yankees have said that they’re not willing to give up Joba Chamberlain, Ivan Nova, Z-Mac, Banuelos and eating salary. No, I have no new news to report. With other teams balking and Arizona hemorrhaging cash, it makes sense for the Yankees to wait it out and see the asking price drop. So what would you give up to get Haren? Remember, we’re talking the most you’d put toward the center of the table.

There are very good reasons to pursue Haren –he’s a borderline ace/great #2 with a very attractive below-market contract, which would give the team a great second starter, keep Hughes’ inning limit in check, and really hedge their other rotation concerns. No need to rush Andy, and it also limits some lingering concerns about AJ Burnett.

On the other side, Haren really isn’t a need, that’s still around $30 million they’d be adding to payroll, at present it would be a heavy prospect loss, and the addition may adversely impact the pursuit of Cliff Lee.

Before I get to my own personal high offer, let’s first knock down a few points.

Selling Low?

People continue to say the Yankees would be “selling low” on Joba to trade him off when he’s pitching so poorly. Yet, I don’t see it that way. Clearly, his value is high for the Diamondbacks. Their bullpen is remarkably inept. Maybe they overvalue the impact of closers. Whatever the case, if his value now is high enough to be the main piece that gets a top 20 pitcher in baseball (while giving up what appear to be 2 back-end rotation guys, a promising mature lefty in Banuelos), isn’t that enough for Yankee fans? What could Joba get you if you ‘sold high’ on him? He’s going to hit arbitration soon, and for this team he’s been a very mixed bag. Dan Haren is probably the ceiling on what Joba could get you if his value is much higher. And Dan Haren on a team-friendly deal is not a bad thing at all.

Beyond that, as Artisteve at TYU points out, it doesn’t appear the Yankees have much faith in Joba as a starter going forward. From their perspective that’s not unreasonable (though I think they’ve botched the handling along the way, though Joba certainly should be as responsible for his performances; hard to gauge). If you think Dan Haren would be overall more valuable for the team over the next three years than Nova, Joba, Z-Mac, and Banuelos would be, you certainly pull the trigger.

However, there is more to that. I saw a great comment yesterday, one that Moshe Mandel of TYU pointed out. steve (different one) notes that contrary to the belief of some, it’s not that one player holds up the deal, but rather, adding that one additional piece that tips the scales in the wrong direction. Maybe losing Joba isn’t a big deal. Maybe even adding the salary of Haren and giving up Nova is something they’d be willing to do. But an additional piece, an asset they clearly value, like Banuelos or Z-Mac is just too much for them. That asset would be there to offset some kind of other loss, and thus, would be too steep a price for what the team may consider just a luxury. At the same token, you can’t just offer up Nova, Z-Mac and Ramiro Pena and expect them to jump. That porridge is too cold.

The Dollar, Dollar Bills, Y’all

On the financial side, it preliminarily looks like it could work. Financially, the team should have close to $80 million coming off payroll next year. Of course, with Jeter and Mariano, you’re probably looking at $30 million next season in contracts. So we’re down to $50. And even with Haren, you’d still be looking at another pitcher at over $11 million, so we’re down to $24-25 million. (Drop even further if that pitcher next year is Cliff Lee.)

Heard this: It could be Andy's last year. Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

With the bullpen needing some improvement and the DH situation looking cloudy, in addition to arbitration to Hughes, salary jumps to Teix, Granderson, and Swisher, we’re probably down to around $18 million. Of course, this is all highly dependent on a myriad of factors, but let’s be clear — there is a very good chance that Haren and Lee for around $32 million is a realistic possibility next year. It’s basically Andy, Javy and Kei Igawa being replaced by those two.

But I want it now!

On a personal level, I’d be a bit disappointed if the Yankees didn’t get Haren, even if it’s Joba, Nova, Z-Mac and (gulp) Banuelos. That’s right, push comes to shove, it’s five minutes before the trade deadline, I include Banuelos, Nova, Z-Mac and Joba, while taking on Chris Snyder (I’ll explain in a bit) and the salary of Haren (which is a completely reasonable salary considering his performance). Of course, there’s no reason to bet against oneself, so I suspect the price tag will drop, but I could live with that offer.

Banuelos, to me, is the hardest part of that. While there’s certainly value in back-end starters like Nova and Z-Mac, I don’t have a terrible amount of faith in them, and they have far more value as trade pieces to the Yankees than they do as actual players. Joba, if not given the opportunity and right amount of leash to be a top-flight starter, holds below-average value to the Yankees. I like Joba as a talent, but he may not suit the needs and philosophy of the organization, at least not this year, probably not next year either. Banuelos is a tantilizing talent. A lefty with great poise and very good stuff, he could be a star some day. But he might not be. He’s under 20-years-old and in A-ball. It would be a damn shame to lose him, but there are still a few levels for him to jump and he’s still a “prospect”. Tough to swallow, but if that’s what helps get an established #1.5 starter, I’m willing.

Chris Snyder is an overpaid pseudo-backup catcher, but a fairly good player. He has 15 HR pop, good on-base skills, and is defensively a pretty good catcher. The team could legitimately pair him with Jorge Posada for the rest of the season, who’s missed quite a bit of time to a host of nagging injuries over the past few years. Boom, there’s your DH, even if Jorge does whine about it. If nothing else, limiting the playing time of Francisco Cervelli is a big benefit to the lineup. (Sorry, Blue Eyes.)

D-backs catcher Chris Snyder. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

With Snyder being under contract only through 2011 (albeit with a moderate-sized buyout in 2012), Montero could work as a rotating DH with Jorge. Montero, under this scenario, would be splitting time at catcher with Snyder. Snyder’s gone in 2012, where it seems a good bet Romine would be ready, at least in some capacity. Either way, Snyder (for $5.5 million) may be a little expensive, but a short contract that fills a need and allows a good deal of lineup versatility. Considering the other catchers are either some-glove, no-bat or all-bat, no-glove, I think that’s reasonable, though if they could pay half of that cost, it would be gravy. Hell, trade them Cervelli if they eat some of Snyder’s salary.

Dan Haren would of course slot behind CC and Hughes would return to the bullpen for the remainder of the season. I’ve been extremely pleased with Phil’s performance on a whole this year, but he’s near his innings limit and has had some trouble finishing off batters over the course of the season. With Joba gone, the latter part of the bullpen would appear in much better shape.

Moving to next year, it’s not unreasonable to think a 1-5 of CC, Lee, Haren, Hughes, AJ is possible. Haren may or may not knock Lee’s price down this off-season, and if nothing else, provides some sort of contingency plan if CC decides to opt-out and takes the Yankees on an expensive joyride. Don’t underestimate the closing of the Yankees’ window. Jeter, Mariano, Posada, A-Rod may not have many more very good seasons left. Adding two of the top pitchers for the next few years could do a tremendous amount to strike while they still can.

So having rambled for 1200 words, I ask what, if anything, your max offer for Dan Haren would be? Remember, it needs to be a bit painful. (Unless it’s Betemit and Jeff Marquez for Swisher, of course.)

For more of my incessant chatter, check out Mystique and Aura (though I’ve been busy at work lately and you won’t find much current information to check out. But whatevs, if you’re there, look at Steve’s stuff. He’s a less-neglectful parent).

Dan Haren Rumors: Asking price vs. selling price

As Saturday evening arrives, Dan Haren remains a member of the Diamondbacks, but Arizona’s asking price and the Yanks’ thinking are coming into view. As Frankie Piliere reported earlier today, the D-backs want Joba and “perhaps a guy like [Manny] Banueloes” while the Yankees would prefer to deal Hector Noesi, Ivan Nova or Zach McAllister. Piliere says he can “see this going down to the wire.” The wire is, of course, 4 p.m. next Saturday.

While Sergio Mitre‘s start underscored the Yanks’ need for some pitching depth, the Yanks are under no pressure to make this trade earlier in the week than necessary. The two sides are clearly negotiated, and each knows what the other wants. Now, it’s up to the general managers to make the best trade possible without giving up too much. The rest of us will just have to play the waiting game.

Olney: ‘No conversations’ on Haren today

Update (3:15 p.m.): The Dan Haren saga is getting increasingly more intriguing as Buster Olney chimes in with a few of his patented “Heard This” tweets. The Yankees and Diamondbacks, he says, have had “no conversations” today concerning Haren. Furthermore, the Yankees “scoffed at reports that they were in the lead of the Haren negotiations because they have never been close to completing a deal to this point.” Olney speculated this morning that the D-backs are interested in Joba because they are looking for a closer. Arizona has reportedly asked Detroit for Jacob Turner and Andrew Oliver, two of the Tigers’ top pitching prospects. For what it’s worth, Fox News’ Jon Morosi reported yesterday that the Tigers are one of the teams on Haren’s no-trade list.

Earlier today, Jon Heyman added his own two cents as well. The Yanks, he said, won’t give up Joba Chamberlain and pay all of Haren’s salary. He also said that, in the right deal, the club would pay the salary but wouldn’t take Chad Qualls or Chris Snyder too. Right now, the two clubs are playing a game of poker, and the negotiations will continue.

Stark: Yanks ‘never close’ on Haren

The Dan Haren Saga’s long night’s journey into day continues as Jayson Stark files a missive on ESPN. He says the Yanks and the D-backs were, according to his sources, “never close” to a trade tonight despite rumors to the contrary. The sticking point, it seems, is Joba Chamberlain.

The two teams did swap names Friday, the source said. But the Yankees rejected a Diamondbacks proposal that would have sent Joba Chamberlain, highly regarded pitching prospect Ivan Nova and two other prospects to Arizona for Haren.

The Yankees, instead, have proposed an entirely prospect-based deal, which Arizona rejected. Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall told reporters in Phoenix that other teams had made offers of “at least equal value” to what the Yankees proposed.

Another sticking point between the two teams, the source said, is how much of the $33 million remaining on Haren’s contract the Diamondbacks are willing to pay. Arizona’s initial proposal would have required the Yankees to assume Haren’s entire contract. The Yankees, and other clubs the Diamondbacks have spoken with, want the quality of the players in the deal to be dependent on how much of Haren’s money Arizona is willing to pay.

Earlier in the evening, Arizona team president and CEO Derrick Hall went on the record and echoed Stark’s sources. The Yanks, he said, are not leading the pack. “We are not close on a deal with the Yankees, and there are some other teams involved that have deals of at least equal value out there. I would not categorize the Yankees as a front-runner,” he said.

In terms of Stark’s information, we could debate whether or not Ivan nova is truly “highly regarded” until the cows come home, but if the Yanks didn’t want to trade Joba and Nova plus lesser prospects for Haren, I have to question the wisdom of rejecting such a deal. The Yanks have pigeonholed Joba into the bullpen where he has great peripherals but so-so results. He’s three years into a Major League career and will be arbitration-eligible after this season.

Haren, on the other hand, would immediately become the team’s second best pitcher, and he’s signed to a below-market contract through 2012 with a reasonable team option for 2013. My bet is that, with the Yanks way they seem intent on using Joba, Dan Haren will outperform Joba over the next three seasons. With both players set for free agency after 2013, that calculation should be a large part of the equation.

Our recap of the Yanks’ 7-1 victory over the hapless Kansas City Royals will be published shortly.

Rosenthal: Yanks in the lead for Haren

Update (8:51pm): Piliere hears that talks are “moving forward,” and the teams are discussing secondary pieces. Jesus Montero is not in the deal according to Piliere’s sources, but Joba Chamberlain might be.

7:31pm): Ed Price says that no deal is imminent, but Arizona is determined to trade Haren before his next start on Tuesday. Rosenthal’s updated story says Ivan Nova “fits the profile” of the kind of pitcher the D-Backs want, and Frankie Piliere confirms that he’d be a key piece in a trade. It’s also worth noting that Zach McAllister‘s father works in Arizona’s scouting department, for what it’s worth.

6:29pm: Via Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees have become the front-runners for Dan Haren, with the Diamondbacks informing other interested teams that they are in “advanced negotiations” with one club. Bob Klapisch says GM Brian Cashman is deciding whether or not to pull the trigger. There’s no word on the package that would be going back to Arizona, but Jayson Stark reported earlier today that the Yanks would only get serious about a deal if they could get him for prospects. Arizona is reportedly looking for pitching, pitching, and more pitching in return.

Ben explored the possibility of a Haren trade earlier this afternoon. Stay tuned, people. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.