- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 4, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Closing in on a deal that will help solidify their top-tier starting rotation, the Washington Nationals began Day 2 at the Winter Meetings by winnowing their already brief to-do list.

The Nationals agreed to terms on a one-year, $13 million deal with right-hander Dan Haren on Tuesday, a person with knowledge of the agreement confirmed. The deal is contingent upon Haren passing a physical, which is expected to be wrapped up by Thursday evening.

Once he passes, Haren will solidify the Nationals‘ rotation as again one of the best in the league. The right-hander was 12-13 with a 4.33 ERA in 30 starts for the Los Angeles Angels in 2012. A workhorse who has averaged 220 innings since becoming a regular in 2005, Haren gives the Nationals a veteran starter to slot into a rotation already dripping with talent.

An ace for a significant portion of his career, Haren will pitch behind Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler.

“I think it’s a great move if we can get [it finalized],” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “Great athlete. Outstanding stuff. Gamer. He fits right in.

“This is one of the best ballclubs I’ve ever had, ever had to manage,” Johnson added. “A veteran like Dan Haren is just going to make things even better.”

If Haren performs close to his norms, he provides the Nationals with another quality player on a deal that carries little risk. The Nationals had been interested in free agent Zack Greinke as well as Rays right-hander James Shields, but the cost proved to be prohibitive, in money with regard to Greinke and in players in a possible trade for Shields.

“I think this would put our rotation intact, and we’d be real happy where we’re at,” said general manager Mike Rizzo, who was disinclined to discuss the deal until it was official.

There are, however, injury concerns. Haren, 32, dealt with a back issue most recently and there are worries about his hip as well. One scout who has seen Haren often through the years, though, said the hip issue is one that he has pitched through for much of his career without it affecting his performance.

According to Fangraphs.com, the velocity on Haren’s fastball has declined 3.3 mph since 2007 when he was with the Athletics, and the 88.5 mph his fastball averaged in 2012 was the lowest of his career. But Nationals scouts who watched Haren pitch this season said it is his split-finger fastball that is his money pitch and that has maintained fairly well throughout.

“If he’s healthy — and the hip issue, unlike the back pain that affected his 2012 season, seems to be something Haren has had before but never had it affect his performance — he’d give the Nationals a devastating rotation,” wrote ESPN.com analyst Keith Law. “Potentially giving them a 200-inning starter who adds value by avoiding walks and missing bats thanks to good command and an above-average splitter.”

The Angels, who declined a $15.5 million option on Haren earlier this offseason after a trade to the Cubs fell through, offered the right-hander one year for $7.5 million with incentives that could make it $9 million, according to a report by CBSsports.com. With the $3.5 million buyout the Angels already gave him, Haren will make $16.5 million for 2013.

The Nationals will keep an open mind for depth signings, but they’re also expecting to stretch right-hander Christian Garcia out in spring training, as well as left-hander Zach Duke, to give them their primary insurance. Ryan Perry and Yunesky Maya would add another layer of insurance at Triple-A.

And as the winter meetings reached their half-way point Tuesday, the rest of the Nationals‘ offseason to-do list became even more concise. They would like to resolve matters with first baseman Adam LaRoche, and they’re looking at left-handed relievers. One name that could come up in that search is former Rays reliever J.P. Howell, a free agent.

As for LaRoche, who wants a three-year deal while the Nationals are holding firm on two, Johnson continued what has been a heavy recruiting push.

“Adam LaRoche is going to come back,” Johnson said. “If I have to go to Kansas and take him and all his cattle to Florida, I will.”

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