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ON BASEBALL

In trading for pitcher Dan Haren, Angels skirt the real issue -- hitting

A shaky offense is the biggest reason the Angels trail Texas by seven games in the AL West. Acquiring the Arizona ace strengthens an already solid rotation, but the cost (Joe Saunders plus a couple of key prospects) is high. And anyway, what they really needed was a big bat.

July 26, 2010|By Mike DiGiovanna

Reporting from Arlington, Texas — The Angels needed to upgrade their offense, and in Dan Haren, acquired from Arizona on Sunday for left-hander Joe Saunders, two minor league pitchers and a player to be named, they got a guy who is batting .364 with a .527 slugging percentage.

One little problem: Haren, 29, is a pitcher who probably won't bat for the remainder of 2010 in the American League.

"We got a good pitcher, but it's not Kendry Morales," Angels center fielder and aspiring general manager Torii Hunter said, referring to the slugging first baseman the Angels lost to a season-ending leg injury in late May.

"We lost Kendry. I don't see too many players like him out there, and obviously they see the same thing. You've got to get some pieces, put them together and try to do what you can."

The Angels, whose 6-4 loss to Texas on Sunday night dropped them seven games behind the Rangers in the American League West, inquired about sluggers such as Adam Dunn and Prince Fielder but were apparently unwilling to part with the players Washington and Milwaukee wanted for the first basemen.

Unable to add an impact bat, they acquired a front-of-the-rotation starter in Haren, a three-time All-Star who has averaged 15 wins over the last five seasons and is signed through 2012.

The cost seemed steep. Saunders is one of the game's better young lefties, a 29-year-old who was 54-32 with a 4.29 earned-run average in five seasons in Anaheim.

One of the two minor leaguers in the deal, triple-A right-hander Rafael Rodriguez, is a fringe prospect. But the other, left-hander Patrick Corbin, is a 2009 second-round pick who was a combined 13-3 with a 3.87 ERA in 20 starts for Class-A Cedar Rapids and Rancho Cucamonga.

And the Arizona Republic reported Sunday that the player to be named is Tyler Skaggs, a highly regarded 19-year-old left-hander who is 8-4 with a 3.61 ERA at Cedar Rapids.

Including Thursday's deal with Kansas City, the Angels gave up a rotation mainstay and five minor league pitchers from a thin farm system for Haren and third baseman Alberto Callaspo.

So, the Angels mortgaged a sizable chunk of their future to improve an area of strength — the rotation — for a run at the Rangers, who added ace Cliff Lee and veteran catcher Bengie Molina.

"We felt very good about our starting five, but this is a huge opportunity for us to upgrade now and for the next couple of years," Manager Mike Scioscia said.

"Haren has pitched in big games, he has terrific stuff, and he's a young veteran. He gives us a deeper front end of the rotation, and that's what every championship-caliber club wants."

Could Haren, the NL starter in the 2007 All-Star game, have the same kind of impact on the Angels that Lee has on the Rangers?

"He has that potential," General Manager Tony Reagins said. "Cliff Lee is a dominant pitcher. We're not expecting Haren to be the guy. We expect him to do what he does, which is give you a quality start every time out."

Haren, who will make his Angels debut Monday night against the Boston Red Sox in Anaheim, is 7-8 with a 4.60 ERA in 21 starts. He is tied for the National League lead with 141 strikeouts and has only 29 walks in 141 innings.

The 6-foot-5, 215-pounder, who features a 92-mph fastball, split-fingered fastball, cut fastball and curve, won 30 games over the previous two seasons, trailing only two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum.

The Monterey Park native has had success in the AL, going 43-34 with a 3.64 ERA in three seasons (2005-2007) at Oakland, and he will team with Jered Weaver and Ervin Santana to give the Angels a dynamic trio at the top of their rotation.

Haren is in the second year of a four-year, $44.75-million contract that pays him $8.25 million this season, $12.75 million in 2011 and 2012, and includes a $15.5-million club option for 2013 with a $3.5-million buyout.

The addition of Haren and loss of Saunders, who makes $3.7 million, will add $1.8 million to the Angels' $121-million payroll.

"We didn't see a fit from an offensive standpoint we thought would make us better," Reagins said. "We're just looking for opportunities to improve the club. We didn't say it had to be an impact bat."

Saunders, who gave up one run in seven innings of a 1-0 loss to Texas on Friday, was shocked when Scioscia pulled him off the field during pregame stretching to inform him of the trade.

"I had no idea," Saunders said, fighting back tears. "Scioscia came and got me, and I thought he was going to tell me I was starting on three days' rest. Then I saw Tony in the office. . . .

"It's part of the game, it's a business, but it's tough leaving the guys, because they're my family. I spent eight years with these guys. It's hard."

Haren's ERA is a little bloated, he has given up an NL-high 161 hits, and he hasn't won since June 12. But the Diamondbacks (37-62) are in last place in the NL West and has struggled on defense and in the bullpen.

"It's tough to get motivated," Hunter said, "when you know you're going to lose."

Haren told reporters in Arizona that losing has worn on him.

"The last game I won, I couldn't even tell you," he said. "It's been about a month. Coming to the field hasn't been as exciting."

In Anaheim, Haren will join a team that has won five division titles in the last six years but is facing a stiff challenge in the Rangers.

"Playing these games are going to be real meaningful," Haren said. "We've got the Red Sox and the Texas series this weekend. The crowd there is always really good. Playing my three years in Oakland, it was a tough place to win."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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