Offseason Happenings

I thought we’d kick the week off with a little recap of last week’s hot stove action, including the signings of Brian McCann, Jhonny Peralta and Dan Haren over the weekend. Things are starting to really pick up now, so we’ll try to stay in the know here at Cove Chatter.

Giants Updates:

The Giants knocked another item off the to-do list last week with a 3-year, $13M deal for Javier Lopez. Again, Brian Sabean took some pretty good heat from callers on KNBR for signing another 35+ year-old pitcher to a multiple year contract (Tim Hudson being the first). Again, though, I think people are failing to understand the significance of this move… and I’ll be the first to admit I was skeptical a couple months ago about giving any kind of money to a lefty specialist in his upper 30’s. But look closely at the numbers; 2013 was Javy’s best season as a big leaguer. A 1.83 ERA… a .156 batting average against vs lefties. You have to have a guy like this in your bullpen, and Lopez is the best there is right now. He’s a stud, and yet another reason why the Pirates are probably done making trades with Sabean (Jason Schmidt, Freddy Sanchez anyone?). As long as Bochy keeps pulling the right strings and the Giants can keep Lopez’ arm fresh for potential postseason runs, I love the deal. Javy’s the man, and I actually thought it would take more money to bring him back.

Pitching:

Breaking news: Veteran pitchers love the California sunshine and spacious NL West outfields… and can you blame them? If there’s one commodity that’s not in short supply this winter, it’s veteran pitching, and the Golden State NL trio is on the case. The Giants pulled the first card with their two-year deal for Hudson, and the Padres and Dodgers responded with one-year reclamation deals last week. Sand Diego inked Josh Johnson for a year at $8M, and LA signed Dan Haren to a 1-year, $10M contract yesterday afternoon. Both Johnson and Haren wanted to be in California, and both were in at least some form of discussion with the Giants as well. All of these short-term deals could turn out to be major bargains, especially when guys like Jason Vargas are getting four years in the AL. To me, Haren would have been the better fit of the two for Sabean, as Johnson is just too much of an injury risk for a team looking for reliable arms. I think Haren could have a very nice season in LA, and I was hoping he’d join Hudson in a Giants uniform. My guess is Sabes isn’t interested in shelling out $10M for another starter at this point.

With the Haren signing, the Dodgers essentially have a full rotation. Are they still planning on going after David Price? What about Masahiro Tanaka, if he’s posted? I’ve got a slight hunch they’ll still be in on the bidding for Tanaka, but I certainly can’t see them pursuing both of these guys anymore. Of course, it’s not a guarantee that Tanaka will even be available this winter anymore, so Haren could turn out to be an underrated move for LA come April.

So, with some of the middle-tier pitching talent starting to drop, where does that leave the Giants? I guess it depends on what Sabean is looking to spend, but I get the feeling he doesn’t want any “5th starters” in his Opening Day rotation. I like that idea, although I’d say Tim Lincecum is about as close as you can get to a 5th starter these days. It doesn’t sound like Bronson Arroyo is going to be a good fit, as he’s looking for at least three years. Jason Hammel’s name has been tossed around a bit, and he might be a good fit on a short-term deal. Personally, I’d like to see Sabes make a push for a guy like Scott Kazmir, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Giants connected to guys like Bartolo Colon or Paul Maholm on a one-year offer when it all boils down.

Quick Take:

Mets sign Chris Young for 1-year, $7.25M – another possible Giants LF platoon option is off the books, and I don’t understand the Mets’ reasoning in paying out that much money, even on a one year deal. Kind of a head scratcher for a team trying to get out of the cellar.

Indians sign David Murphy for 2-years, $12M – Definitely not on the Sabes winter shopping list, but this deal could impact Cleveland outfielder Drew Stubbs, who looks to be the odd man out. If Stubbs is non-tendered, maybe the Giants look to him on the cheap as a right-handed partner to Gregor Blanco in left. Stubbs strikes out in bunches, but he’s a solid defender with wheels who sports a career .796 OPS vs LHP. Just a thought…

Royals sign Jason Vargas for 4-year, $32M – the AAV isn’t bad at $8M, but I’ll take Hudson and Lincecum and hope for Kyle Crick and Edwin Escobar in 2 years rather than giving 4 years to a soft-tossing lefty with a career 4.30 ERA. Don’t get me wrong, Vargas is consistent when healthy, but my gut says Kansas City fans will be fed up with that contract in less than two years.

Yankees sign Brian McCann for 5-year, $85M – The Yankees had Chris Stewart behind the dish for a good chunk of 2013. They’ll also likely be getting a compensation draft pick when Curtis Granderson leaves, so losing their first round pick for McCann shouldn’t have much of an effect. Comparing the McCann deal to the 5-year, $90M whopper the Giants gave Hunter Pence, I’d take Pence over McCann (for the Giants) every time. McCann’s lefty bat should play well in Yankee Stadium. The back end of that contract might look rough, but back ends of contracts usually do.

Cardinals trade David Freese for to the Angels for Peter Bourjos, sign Jhonny Peralta for 4-years, $53M – Freese is a solid but not elite 3B who’s had one great offensive season in his career. Bourjos is a fairly young outfielder with plus defense and injury issues. Considering everything the Cardinals touch these days turns to gold, I’m sure Bourjos will be a star in St. Louis. I guess I’m a little unmoved by this trade, but the Cards did just replace Freese’s production with the Peralta signing. I don’t say this kind of thing very often, but I hope Peralta just tanks for the next four years, or gets suspended for using PED’s again. This is getting to be a little ridiculous, and I’m not exactly seeing the downside for players who use these days. If MLB is serious about getting rid of the problem, they need to step it up… and they need to start by getting rid of A-Rod… for good.

Tigers trade Prince Fielder to Texas for Ian Kinsler – Wow, I didn’t see this trade coming at all. The Tigers get a solid all-around player in Kinsler. The Rangers get a big slugger to make the women swoon in Arlington. Everything’s bigger in Texas. How long was Prince in Detroit? Two years! He played all 162 both seasons, and was a huge bust in the playoffs. Now his $214M contract is headed for Texas, who seems to be in desperation mode after falling short the past couple years. Don’t get me wrong: I’d take Fielder’s bat in the Giants lineup any day. But that much money for a one-dimensional player? Maybe Uncle Sabes isn’t as crazy as we thought for staying away from these major free agent contracts.

Final thoughts:

A trade for a LF or a minor league contract is looking more and more likely for the Giants at this point, as I’d imagine the rest of the offseason money will be going to a pitcher. This shouldn’t surprise a lot of people, but it will certainly upset them. Yes, it would be ideal to start the season with Blanco as the 4th outfielder, but the (realistic) options just aren’t out there right now.

**Update** Here’s your minor league signing, but it’s not an OF. The Giants signed IF Brandon Hicks this morning. Hicks is a 28 year-old journeyman whose most recent MLB action was in 2012 with Oakland. He’s a former 3rd round pick, has 90 big league at-bats to his name, and is a career .247 hitter in the minors. He did hit 3 HR in 22 games with Oakland, though.

Keep your eyes open in the next couple weeks as we get ready to unveil a major project dedicated to the Giants farm system. I’ve been working on it for a couple months now, and can’t wait to go live with it. Exciting times here at Cove Chatter, folks. As always, thanks for reading.

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GM Meetings: Hank has the Dirt

As the GM meetings take place in Orlando, you can cross one name off the list of outfielders available this winter. The Phillies signed Marlon Byrd to a 2-year, $16M deal this morning. The deal itself isn’t all that surprising, as MLB Trade Rumors had him signing at a projected 2-$15M, but I think the Phightin’ Phils are sending a pretty clear message to the rest of baseball here by not wasting any time. With such a slim market this year (especially for outfielders), teams really do need to get their negotiations going early… Does that mean they’ll have to overpay some? Probably, but it might beat the alternative of waiting, as this market could dry up pretty rapidly.

One team who’s not waiting around to throw their name out there: that’s right, your own Gigantes. While Baggs’ is tossing around unrealistic qualifying offer hitter fluff pieces over at his place, Hammerin’ Hank Schulman got down to business this morning, and just called into KNBR from Orlando to chat about his findings.

First off, a big surprise. The Braves apparently low-balled Tim Hudson. According to Hank, the offer was low enough that it all but sent the message “We don’t want you here anymore.” Those are his words, not mine. I would say most people (myself included) didn’t see that coming. Hudson spent 9 years with the Braves, and only posted an ERA north of 4 once. To lowball him is a pretty big slap in the face, in my opinion. Enter the Giants, pitching gurus! Word is Hudson’s willing to go west, and multiple sources are calling him a “chief target” for Brian Sabean.

The Giants need pitching, and they prefer shorter deals. According to Mr. Schulman, they’re not afraid to bump up the yearly salary on those deals to get their man, either (see Lincecum, Timothy). So…Hudson’s available, and could probably be had on a one or two-year offer… he made $9M last year, and he’s predicted to earn about the same this year. If the Giants upped it to $11M (they can afford it), he’d probably accept. But what do I know anyway?!

Personally, I’d take Hudson in a heartbeat. The guy is a total pro, and he’s quietly been one of the most consistent pitchers of this era. 426 career starts, 25 complete games, a 3.44 ERA, and a .649 win%. Age is really the only thing working against him, although the brutal ankle injury might scare a few teams away… like Hank says, though, “There’s nothing wrong with his arm.” I know there are certainly people who would ream Sabean for a two-year deal for a 38 year-old in the twilight of his career, but I wouldn’t be one of them. If that two-year deal prevents us from three years of Bronson Arroyo, that’s all the better in my opinion.

Speaking of Arroyo, Schulman mentioned him as a guy the Giants might stay away from, as the interest for him might indeed push his offers to three years… thank goodness.  Hank did bring up Scott Feldman and Dan Haren as two other starters that could be on Uncle Sabes’ shopping list, though. One thing I found interesting, he seemed to think that Ryan Vogelsong’s days in the orange and black are done. If Sabean wants a rotation that’ll compete with the Dodgers and Cardinals, he needs to come in with 5 solid options. Long story short, Vogey and Petit are Plan B, and the Giants know they need to focus on Plan A.

A couple other things before I wrap up the “Schulman Talks.” As for trading Pablo; there’s certainly interest out there, and the Giants should listen to any offers. But unloading the Panda would probably create more hills than it filled, and the front office probably isn’t willing to subtract his valuable “power potential” at the moment. Honestly, unless someone blows you away with an offer, I too think it makes more sense to hang onto him this winter.

Finally: playing the qualifying offer games. Hank says he’s talked to a few folks from the Giants in Orlando who report there is a scenario where the club could give up its first round pick. If someone gets the Kyle Lohse treatment, and remains available this spring, there’s a chance the Giants could swoop in and make a discounted offer. Overall, though, I expect (and hope) they’ll hold onto that pick.

So we have our first pretty significant Giants rumor, and the market for outfielders is already shrinking. I’d expect Sabean to start tossing some offers out there in the coming weeks, so there should be plenty to talk about in the hot stove department going forward.

The Hitting Market: Buyer Beware

We’ll turn our attention now to the offensive market this offseason. The caveat here: it’s pretty bare – even more so than the pitching market in my opinion. But Sabean promised us more depth, despite his lack of confidence in free agency and potential trades. So, what should we expect this winter? Well, here are 10 players that might be of interest for Uncle Sabes during his shopping trip this offseason. Ok, it’s actually 12 players if you count all 3 of the Dodgers’ infielders, but let’s not get hung up on technicalities here. Some of these guys are a little more likely than others, of course, but each might be a reasonable name to file away in your offseason guide as we start to wade deeper into free agency.

If Sabean were to take up an ad in the classifieds this offseason, I’d expect it to look something like this:

WANTED

A Left fielder – right-handed hitting; defensive-oriented; home run power preferred (this is starting to sound a little like an oxymoron, isn’t it?) Draft pick compensation players need not apply.

A Utility Infielder – part-time starting position available. Must be willing to take a back seat to gritty NLCS MVP, but also available to step in on late notice when said gritty NLCS MVP wakes up with a stiff back… cagy veterans welcome, positional flexibility preferred.

That looks about right, you think? Now, we watch the applications roll in… but seriously, the Giants need some kind of an offensive upgrade in left field. Aside from filling the back end of the rotation, this is one of the greatest needs on the team going forward. Here’s what Baggs had to say about the situation in his weekly chat last week… “I think you’ll see the Giants either try to trade for a left fielder, or find a better right-handed bat (with some power) to platoon with Gregor Blanco…Defense remains a big part of the equation.” And “…that would mean Blanco would get most of the at-bats in that scenario. I think the Giants know they need to do a little better than that.”

Wow, I’m painting a picture in my head right now, and it looks something like a kindergarten splatter-paint masterpiece. A right-handed, defensive-minded, power bat… in this market, that won’t be easy to find, folks. That’s just the way it goes. Even Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, the top outfielders available this winter, don’t fit that description. They are both left-handed… they both received the qualifying offer as well, so the masses out there wishing for a Choo or Ellsbury signing almost assuredly aren’t going to get their wish. Sabean already spent his big money in the outfield, and it’s sitting in the bank account of the Rev. Hunter Pence. There’s not much dough left for the opposite corner at the moment. It’s going to take some creativity to get better production out of left field next year, that’s for sure.

The utility infielder spot actually shouldn’t be all that difficult to fill. And it shouldn’t take a whole lot of money. The Giants have quite a few in-house options to consider as well. If they still see Marco Scutaro as the primary starter, they’re really only looking for a player to come in and make roughly 50 starts… essentially a Ryan Theriot role.

Those are your needs… now, who’s going to fill them? I’ve listed a handful of players who might fit, whether through free agency or trade. I even added a couple of wildcard candidates to consider as well.

*One thing to note here: I included the 2013 and career OPS+ for each player to give just a quick snapshot of his recent production in comparison to what he’s done for the long haul. Remember, a 100 is average.

Free Agents:

Chris Young, CF, 30 yo | 2013: OPS+ 85 (94 career), 12 HR, 10 SB – career .837 OPS vs LHP. The A’s declined their option on Young last week, and if Sabean decides his best bet is a platoon partner for Blanco, he’s probably one of the better fits. He offers center field-caliber defense, some potential for power, and a little speed to boot. He should come cheap, but you have to remember he only hit .209 against lefties last season.

Mike Morse, 1B/LF, 31 yo | 2013: OPS+ 84 (119), 13 HR – career .819 OPS vs LHP. If the Giants want defense, Morse may not be a good fit. He had a pretty messy 2013 campaign, and his wrist injury is a concern. If he’s healthy, he could be a great offensive bounce back candidate.

Marlon Byrd, RF, 36 yo | 2013: OPS+ 138 (102), 24 HR – career .804 OPS vs LHP. Byrd resurrected his career last season, and could definitely be the right-handed power bat the Giants are looking for. But do you trust him to post those numbers again next year? Maybe on a one-year offer…

Omar Infante, 2B, 31 yo | 2013: OPS+ 113 (93), 10 HR. Two weeks ago, Infante was my under-the-radar dynamite pickup… his bat and positional flexibility would fit perfect in the Giants’ infield, and he’d probably push Scutaro to a reserve role. Problem is, this is a very overpriced market, and a guy like Infante now stands to get close to $10 million a year… so much for that.

Dodgers MIF: Ellis, 36 yo, OPS+ 92 (94) /Punto, 36 yo, OPS+ 87 (76)/Schumaker, 33, OPS+ 90 (94). Dodgers, and plenty of them. All of these guys fit the reserve infielder, scrapper profile. Ellis was my first choice, but the more I think about Schumaker’s positional flexibility, the more I come around to the idea.

Trade:

Brandon Phillips: 2B, 32 | 2013: 92 (96), 18 HR. He’s as “good as gone,” in Cincy, according to one report. I’ve always like Phillips, and those damn Reds always seem to mash in AT&T… he stands to make $50M over the next four years, so the Reds would need to eat some money. Definitely a long shot, but he would certainly make the team better, both offensively and defensively.

Mark Trumbo: 1B/OF, 27 | 2013: 109 (114), 34 HR. Like Phillips, he’s available. You want a power bat from the right side? Here it is, with some contact issues as well. The Angels want starting pitching. I’ll give you a Kickham and a Surkamp, straight up… just kidding… but seriously, they’re on the table.

Justin Ruggiano: CF, 31 | 2013: 90 (102), 18 HR, 15 SB – .834 career OPS vs LHP. He’s a late bloomer who’s kind of bounced around organizations. But the last two seasons in Miami have been very intriguing. The batting average fell off quite a bit in 2013, but he’s got all the makings for a very realistic trade candidate. Power against lefties, speed, and CF defense. Also, the dude had a (short-lived) Marlins’ blog named after him… so there’s that. Credit to DrB of When the Giants Come to Town on the initial find of what could be a very under-valued trade candidate.

I truly believe a Ruggiano deal could happen, and don’t think it would cost Sabean all that much in return. Kickham, Ehire Adrianza, Nick Noonan, Francisco Peguero… Pick any two, and size the newest Giant for a hat.

Wildcards:

James Loney: 1B, 29 | 2013: OPS+ 118 (106), 13 HR. Not finding a match in the right-handed hitter department? What about a 2-year offer for another former Dodger? He’d require Brandon Belt to move to LF against righties, but Loney’s been a pretty safe bet to hit .280 for most of his career. He’s got gap power from the left side, which is exactly how lefty hitters should approach AT&T Park. He shouldn’t cost much, and could really give Sabean and Co. a nice 7th hitter who adds depth to the lineup.

Brian McCann: C, 29 | 2013: OPS+ 115 (117), 20 HR.  “If you asked me right now, McCann is the only player who received a qualifying offer that I could see the Giants punting the draft pick to sign.” ~ Baggs. So, the Giants really are interested in McCann… fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your priorities), he’s got a very large market this winter, and reports have him signing for $100M+. It won’t be with the Giants, who should have a very good chance to use their 1st round pick on another power pitcher. Don’t get me wrong –McCann is a pro who’s going to help some team out greatly. But he’s not a good fit for the Giants right now, and kicking the draft pick for him would be a serious mistake, in my opinion.

There you go… free agents, trades, and a couple wildcards. 10 (ok, 12) potential players to fill two needs. Young or Morse might be the most likely fits for a short-term deal, but keep your eye out for Ruggiano in a trade if the free agent market turns sour after the New Year.

Happy shopping, Sabes… and good luck.

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Pitching Market Part II: 10 Names (and a Vogelsong)

In Part I of the offseason pitching list last night, we looked at some of the more unlikely candidates for the Giants rotation, including (depending on your opinion) some of the top dogs on the market in Masahiro Tanaka and Matt Garza. As I said, Tanaka should be someone the Giants put a good amount of effort into. Unfortunately for all of us, MLB and the Japanese NBP still haven’t worked out the new posting system, and a report today says they still may be “several weeks away” from doing so. Until then, I guess we’ll just remain in a holding pattern… ugh.

Whether or not Brian Sabean will make a run at a front-line pitcher this winter remains to be seen. It’s just speculation at this point, and I wouldn’t say anyone other than Sabes and his staff really knows what the full extent of the offseason plan entails. We do know that the Giants have two spots to fill in their rotation. How much money they’ll spend in doing so is anyone’s guess.

Today, I wanted to look at another group of guys. I’ll call this the B-List, and say there is a very real chance that at least one of these fellows dons a Giants hat for the next year or two. If Sabean doesn’t pursue or fails to land a Tanaka/Garza type, I would guess that two of these guys will ink deals to join the party.

I’ve used John Heyman’s free agent list and projected contracts to form a list of 10 reasonable options, and added on Ryan Vogelsong as the wildcard 11th man. The rankings listed are Heyman’s, and I’ll admit I would have ranked them quite differently… It was easier just to work my way down his list. I also included ages and a snapshot of 2013 stats to go along with the player’s expected contract.

B-List:

#17. Bronson Arroyo, Age: 36
2013: 32 GS, 3.79 ERA, 32 HR
Expected Contract: 3-$35M

#18. Jason Vargas, 30
24 GS, 4.02 ERA, 17 HR
3-$30M

#23. Scott Feldman, 30
30 GS, 3.86 ERA, 19 HR
2-$20M

#28. Phil Hughes, 27
29 GS, 5.19 ERA, 24 HR
2-$18M

#34. Scott Kazmir, 29
29 GS, 4.04 ERA, 19 HR
2-$15M

#35. Bruce Chen, 36
15 GS, 3.27 ERA, 13 HR
2-$14M

#39. Bartolo Colon, 40
30 GS, 2.65 ERA, 14 HR (18 wins for the Moneyballin’ A’s… What the hell Bartolo?!)
1-$12M

#44. Paul Maholm, 31
26 GS, 4.41 ERA, 17 HR
2-$12M

#48. Tim Hudson, 38
2013: 21 GS, 3.97 ERA, 10 HR
1-$9M

#51. Dan Haren, 33
2013: 30 GS, 4.67 ERA, 28 HR
1-$8M

Wildcard:

NR. Ryan Vogelsong, 36
19 GS, 5.73 ERA, 15 HR

Thoughts: I’ll tell you the first thing that stands out to me after putting this list together: the Giants overpaid like hell for Tim Lincecum. But you already knew that.

Moving on, I’d have to say there’s some value to be had with this year’s pitching class, even a couple cats who are still under 30. Most of these guys are going to sign short-term deals, which bodes very well for Sabean’s needs. Unless they flirt with Tanaka, the Giants aren’t looking to lock up pitchers for 4-5 years at this point. I’d say it’s pretty realistic that at least a couple of the Crick/Blackburn/Escobar/Mejia/Stratton/Blach/Flores/Agosta group will be contributors in the rotation by 2016, so Sabean would be wise to leave a little wiggle room for when that time comes.

A lot of these guys will come pretty cheap as well, at least by today’s outrageous salary standards. $6 million for Paul Maholm…$8 million for Dan Haren…$9 mil for Hudson? Those aren’t bad at all, folks. Personally, I wouldn’t give anyone on this list 3 years, but I could handle 2 for the quite a few of them.

So… 10 names and a Vogelsong. What to make of this mess? Fortunately, I’ve come up with a few groups.

Give me one: If Sabean goes large and shocks the world by outbidding for Tanaka, or pays Matt Garza handsomely for 4 years, I’d take Maholm, Haren or Vogey on a one year deal to fill the back end of the rotation. Maholm’s not my favorite by any means, but he’d make a decent 5th starter. This is also probably the only scenario where I’d like to have Vogey back, as you’d already have three very reliable options at the top of the rotation. Anything extra from Lincecum and Vogelsong would be the icing on the cake. Here’s something to ponder: put Vogey’s 2012 numbers by his name up there, and he’s one of the better options on the list. You never know. Haren is another guy I like. He wants to play on the west coast, and getting him out of DC and into AT&T would probably cut those 28 HR down. He had a nice second half, but his velocity has definitely dipped.

Give me two: If the Giants decide not to pursue Tanaka or Garza or come up short, they’d likely need to grab two guys from this bargain bin to form a competitive rotation. In that case, I think a Kazmir/Hudson combination would fit pretty nicely. Hudson would be perfect on a one year deal, but he’s probably the least likely of this group to be lured to San Francisco at his age. Kazmir was a steal for the Indians as a resurrection story, and he rolled down the stretch. He’d give the Giants a second lefty in the rotation, and he boasts some of the top fastball velocity of this group. I like Kazmir, and I think he’s really turned things around.

Sabes’ Special: The Giants have been already been connected to Arroyo and Haren quite a bit, and I see them as the most likely Sabean signings. Baggs has tossed their names around a handful of times, Arroyo has been quoted saying he loves San Francisco, and Haren was the lone top 50 free agent assigned to the Giants in MLB Trade Rumors’ predictions. As of this afternoon, Buster Olney has people connecting the dots to Arroyo with comments about the Giants being “well-positioned” in his bidding… whatever the hell that means.

Ok…Can I get something off my chest here? I don’t like Bronson Arroyo. I think he’s smug, and those MLB commercials of him playing the guitar and singing drove me up the wall last year. I didn’t like him in Boston, and I certainly didn’t appreciate him throwing up and in on Vogelsong in 2012. Look, there are very few players in the game that I legitimately don’t like. That’s not my style. But for some reason, the dude just rubs me the wrong way.

There, I said it. I don’t like the man, and I hope we go a different direction. I understand he’s been very steady, and admit that he’d make a solid 4th or 5th starter. . If he helps us get back to the playoffs, I’m sure the grudges will fade away. But seriously, Sabes, two years max… for the love of all things good. But enough about that.

So, final verdict for Uncle Sabes and the starting pitcher market: Close your eyes, cross your fingers, and hope for Tanaka. If we fall short, close your eyes again and hope the Dodgers don’t land him. When the dust settles, a one year deal for Haren and a two year deal for Arroyo is probably a pretty reasonable bet.