How ‘bout Haren?

As of midnight, free agency has officially begun.

After being able to talk solely with their previous team for the last five days, free agents are now allowed to chat with any team and begin negotiations on contracts for the 2013 season.

Adam LaRoche will mull over his one-year, $13.3 million qualifying offer from the Nationals, but it’s an offer he’s certain to decline. A multi-year deal is in his future, be it with the Nats or one of the other 29 teams around the league.

There were nine players who received qualifying offers prior to yesterday’s deadline: LaRoche, Josh Hamilton, David Ortiz, Rafael Soriano, Nick Swisher, Hiroki Kuroda, B.J. Upton, Kyle Lohse and Michael Bourn.

Those players are all free agents, but if an outside team signs them, that team will be required to surrender a 2013 draft pick.

One other guy who is also now a free agent is right-handed starter Dan Haren, whose $15.5 million club option was declined by the Angels yesterday. Haren, who reportedly was nearly dealt to the Cubs before the deal fell through, received a $3.5 million buyout from the Angels and now will get to hit the open market.

Haren won’t get nearly as much attention as a guy like Zack Greinke or even Lohse, but he could be a great fit for a number of teams out there in search of a proven starter who can eat innings.

Count the Nationals in the mix among that group of teams.

The Nats already have Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler locked into their 2013 rotation, but they need a No. 5 guy, a guy who ideally has experience and can be counted on to handle a heavy workload, much like Edwin Jackson did this season.

Haren will be somewhat costly, given that he’s one of the better free agent pitchers on the market, but he could be a nice fit at the back of the Nats’ rotation. He’s thrown at least 175 innings in each of the last eight years, is very respected for his work ethic and toughness and would bring a veteran presence to a Nats starting staff which is still pretty young.

The downside with Haren is that he’s coming off a 2012 season which saw him land on the disabled list for the first time in his career with a lower back injury (an injury which might concern teams potentially looking to sign him). His velocity has dropped significantly over the last few years - he now maxes out in the high-80s - and he posted a 4.33 ERA this season, the highest he’s put up since 2004.

Still, this is a guy who is just 32 years old, has a great reputation around the game and still has a pretty high ceiling.

Sounds like a pretty good fit for the Nationals. They’d have competition for Haren, of course, but he’s a name to watch as the Nats search for another starter to round out their rotation.

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