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Right-hander Dan Haren dealt with back and hip issues last season with the Angels.
Dan Haren had his choice of destinations this winter, with a number of franchises expressing interest in the veteran right-hander.
The Nationals had their choice of free agents, with a number of big-name starters on the open market who could round out their already deep and talented rotation.
In the end, it didn't take long for both the Nationals and Haren to realize they were the best match, resulting in a one-year, $13 million contract that became official today after the 32-year-old passed his physical.
"I did have quite a few other choices," Haren said. "But the Nationals just kind of fit for me."
"He was our primary target, and we ... went after him quite aggressively," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "And he chose us. So we kind of took everything else off the back burner."
Haren and the Nationals agreed to terms on the deal early Tuesday morning at the Winter Meetings in Nashville, but the club wouldn't officially sign off on the contract until he passed his physical. Haren spent Wednesday evening and all day Thursday in Washington being examined by team doctors -- he also got a tour of Nationals Park from Rizzo and met a few players working out at the stadium -- and after blood work came back clean on Friday, the contract was at long last finalized.
Much of that physical exam was spent testing Haren's lower back and hip, which bothered him at times last season and forced him to the disabled list for the first time in his career.
The Nationals' medical staff, though, came away convinced neither the back nor hip issues was significant and were "just risks that were within the guideline of acceptable," according to Rizzo.
For his part, Haren showed no signs of concern about either condition, explaining how he probably could have pitched through the lower back stiffness that landed him on the DL for less than three weeks and how he's actually dealt with the hip issue since he was in college and has never missed any time because of it.
"I'm not a doctor reading MRIs or seeing what exactly it looks like," Haren said. "But with my hip there were times it'd get a little bit sore and stuff like that, but it's just been a management thing. I have to just take care of it. It's never caused me to miss time, and I'm sure it won't cause me to miss any time this year."
Haren admitted some frustration that the medical issues perhaps scared off other potential suitors this winter, with the Red Sox reportedly electing not to offer a contract after seeing his charts.
"It's tough for someone to deal with so many injury questions on something that I've never missed a day for, not even getting pushed back from a start in 10 years for it," he said. "But I don't know what MRIs say. I don't know how I test out. It was definitely a little bit frustrating."
Not that it mattered much in the end. Haren became convinced early on Washington was his preferred destination, the opportunity to join a club that won 98 games last season and returns four elite young starters in Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler too enticing to pass up.
"Obviously the club they have, winning close to 100 games last year, with the majority of people coming back, I think I just fit well with the rotation, being able to eat innings and give the team a chance every time out," he said. "With the offense that we have, we have a tremendous defense as well, great bullpen, I think we can only improve on what the Nationals did last year."
A 10-year veteran and three-time All-Star, Haren has been among the most durable and dominant starters in baseball, totaling at least 216 innings and at least 163 strikeouts from 2005-11 with the Athletics, Diamondbacks and Angels.
"He's a workhorse," Rizzo said. "He's got quality stuff. His numbers, sabermetrically, are off the charts. And our scouts really love the command of his pitches, his repertoire and his competitiveness. He's one of the most competitive guys in the major leagues. He takes the ball at all times, and he's a guy that you really want in your foxhole when times get tough during your season, which they always do."