On Friday, the Athletics announced that they traded Haren, along with right-handed reliever Connor Robertson, to the Diamondbacks in exchange for left-hander Dana Eveland and five minor leaguers: Outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Aaron Cunningham, left-handers Brett Anderson and Greg Smith and infielder Chris Carter. Four of those five, incidentally, recently were ranked among the Diamondbacks' top 10 prospects, according to Baseball America: Gonzalez (1st), Anderson (3rd), Cunningham (7th) and Carter (8th).
Haren immediately takes over as the Diamondbacks' No. 2 starter behind 2006 NL Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb, giving the team a formidable one-two punch. With Doug Davis back as the three, a developing Micah Owings as the four and Randy Johnson perhaps healthy enough to round out the rotation, the Diamondbacks should rank among the game's better pitching staffs. Haren should help alleviate pressure on Webb, and vice-versa, greatly decreasing the chances of a decline in performance from either.
It might hurt Haren a little to shift from a pitcher-friendly park in Oakland to Arizona's hitter-friendly Chase Field, though the league change benefits him enough that those factors could simply offset. Besides, the National League West features two of the game's weakest offenses, the Giants and Padres, and three of the game's better pitchers' parks, in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. Keep in mind Haren had a 7-2 record, 2.93 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 12 interleague starts while with Oakland, so it can be said he has a pretty good handle on NL lineups. If he can't repeat his 3.07 ERA and 1.21 WHIP of 2007, or perhaps improve each, I'd be a bit surprised.
Looking at the 2007 Player Rater, Haren finished 10th among pitchers, Webb five spots ahead of him. Both are top-10 starters heading into 2008, and a case can be made both should be ranked next to each other and within the top 50 players overall. We're talking two fantasy aces, so don't wait too long to snatch either up.
As for the Athletics, that's not a bad haul of prospects, though there's a good chance none of them tops out at the kind of value Haren offered in 2007 and could this season, and a better chance none makes a noticeable impact in 2008.
Gonzalez actually isn't a Billy Beane kind of player; he's a toolsy outfielder who doesn't draw a lot of walks, averaging one per 14.32 plate appearances for his professional career. He's the key to the deal, a potential All-Star slugger, though it'll be interesting to see how he handles a full season of Triple-A ball and the adjustment to the big leagues. We might see Gonzalez in late 2008, perhaps sooner with a hot spring or strong early start in Triple-A, though more likely he's a strong contender for 2009 Rookie of the Year honors. I've heard Bobby Abreu comparisons, except that Gonzalez lacks Abreu's speed or keen sense of the strike zone. I look at Gonzalez's numbers and scouting reports and can't help but think Garret Anderson, with a little lower batting average and a few more strikeouts.
Anderson is at least two years away, but he has impeccable command and scouts rave about his mechanics. He should be a reliable No. 3 starter by 2011, if not a little sooner than that. Cunningham is a solid prospect with above-average skills, though scouts say he lacks any one overwhelming tool. It sounds a bit like he could be a future Aaron Rowand; though such types could easily underwhelm and develop into Brian Anderson (another former White Sox center-field prospect, interestingly). Carter, acquired from those White Sox in the Carlos Quentin deal, probably profiles better as a designated hitter on an Athletics team that already has Daric Barton at first base. He's two years away himself, so don't be shocked if he's on the move again before becoming big-league ready.
As for Robertson and Eveland, who each have served as big-league relievers already in their careers, Robertson provides more depth to one of the league's more underappreciated bullpens. At best, he'll be an NL-only ERA/WHIP helper, and there are better choices in that bullpen. Eveland, meanwhile, has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, but could be a candidate for the Oakland rotation. He's a better prospect than given credit for, and might be a useful spot-start candidate in AL-only leagues.
Astros acquire Valverde
Chad Qualls' stay as Astros closer sure didn't last long, did it?
The Astros dealt Qualls, the favorite to close following Brad Lidge's trade to Philadelphia, along with Chris Burke to the Diamondbacks on Friday in exchange for Jose Valverde, according to the Diamondbacks' official website. Valverde, the major league leader in saves in 2007 (47), immediately takes over the same role for his new team.
Unfortunately, while the shift in ballparks shouldn't impact Valverde's numbers, the change in team style can't help but alter his chances at repeating that save total. Arizona's team was a lower-scoring type built around quality pitching, from the rotation deep into the bullpen, while this Houston squad is more offensively minded, with more questions in the rotation and middle relief. It's no surprise Valverde notched that many saves for the Diamondbacks, pitching in so many close games. Expect a drop back to 35-40 on his new team, though that's still plenty to keep him in the top 10 fantasy closers, if not top five.
Tony Pena, he of the 3.27 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 2007, becomes the favorite to close for the Diamondbacks, though there could easily be an open competition. Qualls, Brandon Lyon and perhaps even Juan Cruz could each make a case during spring training, and with each decent bets at least in ERA/WHIP, it's a race that will be well worth watching. NL-only owners will want to take a flier on all four relievers, but for now, consider Pena a back-end second-tier closer with the upside for perhaps 30-plus saves.
Burke will probably assume a utility role as the D-backs are set at second base with Orlando Hudson and at shortstop -- where Burke has all of 15 appearences in two season -- with Stephen Drew. The outfield of Eric Byrnes, Justin Upton and Chris Young would be equally tough to crack. Burke does provide a little versatility and insurance. He also provides an additional trade commodity, as he is already rumored to be on the block, according to our own Steve Phillips.
If Burke does manage to end up somewhere with a starting job, he might be helped enough by the change of scenery and a new opportunity that he could bat around .270, steal 20 bases and approach double-digit homers. He'd be an interesting monoleague middle infielder with upside, so keep an eye on his destination. As it is, on the Diamondbacks, he's roster-filler who might pinch-hit and pinch-run his way to a dollar's worth of value.
Blue Jays sign Eckstein
David Eckstein, over the years, has developed a label most frustrating and maddening to fantasy owners: "Gritty player." It's the kind of thing scouts rave about, but we number-crunchers don't find a lot of value in, mainly because its primary appeal is in earning a guy significant playing time he might not otherwise deserve. Apparently Eckstein has another team fooled; the Blue Jays signed him to a one-year, $4.5-million contract on Friday, presumably to take over as the team's everyday shortstop and leadoff hitter.
Not that Eckstein is a terrible player, mind you. He's an adequate regular, a career .286 hitter who can steal a handful of bases and generally plays better defense than he showed us in 2007. Still, for fantasy, there's not a lot to like here. Eckstein's primary appeal is that he might bat .290, which is above average but hardly extraordinary, and if he bats leadoff, he might get on base enough to score 80-90 runs. Such types are fairly replaceable, though, and one must wonder how often he'll get an early hook in games, knowing the Blue Jays have an exceptional defender on the depth chart in John McDonald.
Mixed-league owners can surely do better than Eckstein, but AL-only owners will have to look at him so long as "everyday shortstop and leadoff hitter" indeed remains his role upon the conclusion of spring training. You should try to do better, though.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.