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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Reds sign Harang

In a spectacular move, the Reds signed Aaron Harang, who will be 28 years old when the season starts, to a 4-year contract, with a 5th year as a club option. With a total value, not including the option year, is $36.5 million, which works out to ~$9.1 million a year.

Now, consider these recent signings of starting pitchers:

Barry Zito - 7 years @ $18 million/yr
Daisuke Matsuzaka - 6 years @ $17 million/yr (if you count the negotiation fee toward the salary)
Jason Schmidt - 3 years @ $15.7 million/yr
Roy Oswalt - 5 years @ $14.6 million/yr
Vincente Padilla - 3 years @ $11.25 million/yr
Gil Meche - 5 years @ $11 million/yr
Jeff Suppan - 4 years @ $10.5 million/yr
Ted Lilly - 4 years @ $10 million/yr
Jeremy Bonderman - 4 years @ $9.5 million/yr

What's amazing to me about this list is that you could argue that Harang is a better pitcher than any of these guys. I'd probably take Bonderman given his age, and Oswalt does have a longer track record of success. .. And, of course, who knows what Matsuzaka will do, if anything? But Harang at least matches up well to all of them, and is significantly better than many of them.

To me, this deal is nothing short of a gift by Aaron Harang to the Reds and the city of Cincinnati. I honestly can't believe he signed for this little. I'm sure he could have at least made $12 million/year if he had gone to the free agent market next year, and probably could have topped $15 million.

Ok, to justify those claims I just made, let's quickly look at Harang's recent stats:
2004/CIN 161.0 7.0 3.0 1.5 0.301 4.86 4.83 4.65 9.1 45%
2005/CIN 211.7 6.9 2.2 0.9 0.303 3.83 3.85 3.83 38.9 40%
2006/CIN 234.3 8.3 2.2 1.1 0.312 3.76 3.73 3.54 50.2 42%

Even though Harang is a fly ball pitcher, he has managed to keep his home run allowed rate at about league average thanks to his excellent control (2.2 bb/9 last two years) and excellent stuff (8.3 k/9 last year). Last year, he led the league in strikeouts, wins, innings pitched, and complete games. Harang has been a late bloomer, but he's had two excellent seasons in a row, is still only 28, and will still "only" be 32 when the Reds have to make a decision on their option year. As long as he can keep his strikeout rate up in the 7-8 range, which is where it's been the past three years, Harang should be a highly effective pitcher. And even if a few years from now he loses something on his fastball and his strikeouts drop into the ~6 range, he should still be a quality pitcher thanks to his control. It is a fantastic deal for the Reds.

My one concern is his workload. Harang has proven to be very durable, but the Reds need to be careful about having him pitch in excess of 220 innings now that they have a made a long-term commitment to him. Last year Harang was third in baseball (Arroyo was 6th) in pitcher abuse points, which do correlate to probability of major injury. Most notably, Harang had 18 starts (out of 35) in which he threw over 110 pitches, with one ridiculous start in which he tossed 135 pitches. An injury is the one thing that could make this deal go sour, so I'd like to see the Reds be a bit more careful with him moving forward.


  1. I love this move. It reminds me a lot of Dunn's contract last season, but better. I will give Krivsky credit that he's smart about the longer contracts (even Gonzalez's contract is decent). Of course, the one- and two-year deals that he doles out are less impressive, but at least they are short.

    I agree that workload is the main concern with Harang. I know there aren't a lot of big body pitchers like Harang, but I don't remember many of them having arm troubles. All I can think of right now is Wells, but his problems have been with his back - and he's fat, whereas Harang is big boned. The good thing for Harang is that his delivery is smooth. I'd be more concerned about Arroyo getting hurt since his motion is a little more herky-jerky.

  2. Your valuation of contract is wrong. Harang only got four years of service time and is two years away from free agency. The only comparable on the list is Bonderman, and surely everyone would prefer the Bonderman contract than Harang's.

    The number Reds is paying for Harang's true free agent years is about 12m, not 9m.

  3. Joel, I completely agree. :) And even with Wells' fatness and stated distain for exercise, he has still managed to pitch effectively even in his early 40's. I'd be tickled pink if Harang could last a similarly long time. Another big-boned pitcher who comes to mind is Roger Clemens...though that's obviously a special case.

    Anonymous, good point on the four years service time, I had that wrong. Nevertheless, I still think 12 million/year is an extremely fair rate in the present market, and will be a genuine bargain two years down the road. And, best of all, it ends before Harang is on the severe negative slope of the aging curve. This will allow the Reds to make an informed decision then about extending him or not rather than guaranteeing him a boatload of money from now to kingdom come.

    I really like 3-4 year contracts for starting pitchers, since their performance can drop off so quickly--and at 28, Harang is the perfect age for that sort of contract. -j

  4. This is a good deal but I stop short of calling it a gift. For one, his track record before 05 didn't suggest anything like the career he's had since. This isn't to say that the past two years (and especially 06) have been a fluke, but it does make a team more cautious than if it were dealing with some like an Oswalt who was expected to do well in the majors. PECOTA, which projects a 192/47/156/26/4.14, doesn't do Harang justice, but it does highlight the concern about Harang's stardom coming seemingly from nowhere.

    The other factor is the most relevant comp for Harang, Brett Myers. He is in the same arb year and also pitches in an NL hitter's park. He has pitched nearly as well as Harang the past two years but is three years younger. Myers will get slightly more in his next two arb years (he's coming off a higher base in '06) and then makes 12 in his first FA year. Harang will make 11 and 12.5 in his FA years. Myers will be only 28 in his FA year, so you can argue that he is giving up more. But all in all I think both deals are fair.

  5. Ken,

    Those are all very good points, and I think you're right, "gift" was too strong. Nevertheless, it's an excellent deal for the Reds, and is a nice security blanket for Harang -- even though I still think he could have made more in free agency after '08. In that way it's a lot like the recent Bill Hall deal. Jeff Sackmann had a good overview of that deal at THT. -j

  6. I definitely agree that Harang probably could've made more in the FA market, even if the market doesn't appreciate much in the next two years. His deal (like Sackman points out about the Hall deal) strikes a nice balance between getting immediate financial security and sacrificing some value in his first two or three FA years. This doesn't apply to someone like ARod, who's already made plenty of money and can affod to take some risks, like opting out of his deal after this year.