WASHINGTON – At one point, Dan Haren imagined himself wearing a Cubs uniform, pitching at Wrigley Field and spending this summer by Lake Michigan – at least until the trade deadline.
Now Haren’s hoping to win a World Series ring with the Washington Nationals.
Haren signed up for Twitter at the beginning of last offseason. He didn’t do it for marketing purposes. He wanted to follow all the fragments of information as the Los Angeles Angels decided what to do with his $15.5 million option, as well as get a sense for where he might land as a free agent.
Haren had no idea he would be at the center of an Internet storm once Cubs closer Carlos Marmol told reporters in the Dominican Republic he was traded to the Angels. Standing in the middle of the home clubhouse at Nationals Park on Friday, Haren said he’s still not quite sure how the deal fell apart.
“I guess everything happens for a reason,” Haren said, “and it worked out for me coming here, but I was sold on going to Chicago.”
Haren, who has a home in Southern California, met with Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto in Anaheim a few days before the Nov. 2 deadline where the team had to pick up the option or buy it out for $3.5 million.
Haren came away from that meeting feeling “100 percent” certain that he was going to be traded. He believed the Cubs were one of three or four teams showing interest and the Nationals were not part of that group.
“From what (Marmol) had said, I thought I was traded,” Haren recalled. “It was all over the Internet. But when it was all going down, I texted Dipoto and I asked him if I had been traded. He said we’re still in the process, nothing’s official, things still have to work out…He never said for sure it was a done deal.”
Leading up to the 9 p.m. West Coast deadline, Marmol had waived his limited no-trade rights and approved the deal. The Cubs were said to be willing to kick in more than $3 million, or less than half of Marmol’s $9.8 million salary on an expiring contract.
The front office viewed Haren – a three-time All-Star who’s accounted for almost 2,000 innings in the big leagues – as a far more attractive trade chip if the 2013 season went south.
As Haren explained: “I was kind of under the assumption that I would probably pitch there for four months and get traded again unless the team really turned it around. They’re more in the rebuilding process and they’re in a really good division.”
Haren, 32, didn’t take a physical for the Cubs and never got an explanation for why the deal collapsed. The Cubs were said to have reservations about Haren’s back and hip, a condition he’s dealt with for roughly 10 years. With the hip, he said it’s more a matter of flexibility than actual pain.
Last summer Haren went on the disabled list for the first time in his career with lower back stiffness, which triggered an MRI exam he didn’t get the three times he’s actually been traded in his career (from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Oakland A’s to the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Angels).
“Well, if it was because of my hip, it was the same issue that has been there since my Oakland days,” Haren said. “I don’t know if they had a chance, but if you look at my medical records for Arizona and Oakland, there’s always been something in there about trying to gain mobility in my hip.
“But then again, there was never an MRI on it. Maybe that freaked them out that I got an MRI last year. I had a lot of knocks on me for health issues when I’ve only missed three or four starts in my whole career.”
The Nationals wanted a strong veteran presence at the back end of a rotation loaded with young talent – Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler – and signed Haren to a one-year, $13 million deal at the winter meetings.
“Totally understandable,” Haren said of the potential health concerns expressed by the Cubs. “I have never gotten a definitive answer.”
Haren (4-3, 5.17 ERA) started slowly but has pitched much better across the last three weeks, and ex-closer Marmol is too unreliable to have any real trade value.
Not getting traded to the 101-loss Cubs and signing with the defending National League East champs might have been the best-case scenario Haren couldn’t have envisioned sitting home in California.
“That night was crazy,” he said.