NASHVILLE, TENN. — — Dan Haren, one of baseball's best right-handed starting pitchers for a half-decade, needed to choose this winter where to continue his career. He used a rationale that, while sound, for generations would have constituted pure fantasy. Haren came to pitch in the nation's capital, home to so many woebegone seasons, to join a first-place powerhouse, to spray champagne and to hoist a trophy. He picked the Washington Nationals, two seasons removed from 298 losses in three years, because he saw in them the makings of a champion.
"The deciding factor in coming to Washington was winning," Haren said in an email. "I don't think there's a team better positioned to win now. It really was an easy decision for me, actually. It didn't take me long to decide that playing for the Nationals made sense."
The Nationals and Haren agreed Tuesday on a one-year, $13 million deal, according to a person with knowledge of the agreement.
Once the contract is finalized, Haren will join four 20-somethings with lightning in their arms, completing the rotation that helps make the Nationals a World Series favorite.
With Haren in the fold and Denard Span in center field, the Nationals have nearly completed their offseason. They still want to re-sign first baseman Adam LaRoche, and they still need to add a left-hander in the bullpen. But building on a 98-win season, the Nationals have put a roster in place that should allow them to contend for Washington's first title since 1924.
"World Series or bust," said manager Davey Johnson, a former Orioles manager and player. "That's probably the slogan this year. But I'm comfortable with that."
It is why Haren chose the Nationals. Haren, 32, still needs to pass a physical, which will take place Thursday in Washington, for the deal to become official. Haren pitched through a back injury and a lingering hip issue that alarmed some teams. But Haren said he has already taken a physical for another interested team, and he checked out fine.
"The team was much less concerned about me physically after looking at me," Haren said.
Haren expressed complete confidence in his health and clarified the issues he faced. Haren tweaked his back in spring training last year, which, after he pitched through it for the first half of the season, led to the first stint of his career on the disabled list. His back feels better now, and Haren said he has managed the hip issue since his early seasons.
"As for my health, I feel great," Haren said. "I actually felt great towards the end of last year, and I was battling my mechanics a lot but was still getting good results. I guess teams were concerned of a hip issue that I've dealt with since my time in Oakland. It never has and never will cause me to miss time."
Haren, a three-time All-Star, would give the Nationals a veteran workhorse in a rotation that includes Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler. His style, cutters and splitters and precise control, differs from his hard-throwing company, and his experience will give the starting five a new dimension.
Haren went 12-13 with a 4.33 ERA for the Los Angeles Angels last year as he pitched through the back problems. The injury concerns persuaded the Angels to not exercise a one-year, $15.5 million team option for 2012, instead giving him a $3.5million buyout.