SEATTLE -- Dan Haren sat slumped in his fold-up chair in the visiting clubhouse at Safeco Field late Tuesday night, hours after a 6-1 loss he probably didn't deserve, when a pack of reporters slowly approached him. The veteran Angels starter, who had just wrapped up his first unimpressive season in a long time, exhaled loudly and quickly got up.
"One last time?" he said.
That's the question.
Haren's contract calls for a $15.5 million club option for 2013, with a $3.5 million buyout, at a really bad time. The 32-year-old right-hander is coming off a season when he battled back problems, lost a tick or two off his fastball and put up the kind of numbers -- 12-13, 4.33 ERA, 28 homers allowed -- that make you wonder if all those innings have finally taken their toll.
The Angels want to re-sign Zack Greinke this offseason and will have to make a decision on Haren and Ervin Santana ($13 million club option) shortly after the World Series, which may lead them towards declining Haren's option and sending him off into free agency.
"It's going to be interesting," Haren said of the uncertain offseason. "I've never obviously been in a situation like this. Whether I'm a free agent or not, I don't know. If I am, it's going to be tough. I'm sick of changing teams. I've been on four teams. Coming to L.A. was a dream come true, really. It's going to be hard if I leave."
Haren returned to his Southern California roots on the heels of a deal Jerry Dipoto manufactured while serving as the interim general manager of the D-backs, swapping Haren for Patrick Corbin, Tyler Skaggs and Joe Saunders in July 2010.
In his first full season with the Angels, Haren went 16-10 with a 3.17 ERA, capping a seven-year run in which he led all pitchers in starts and compiled a 3.49 ERA. This spring, when he posted a 2.05 ERA, struck out 25 batters and walked only two, it looked like he was on his way to another great season.
Then Haren's back started stiffening up, eventually forcing him to land on the disabled list for the first time in his career, and he was never really the same.
The question -- one the Angels' front office will surely pore over for the next few weeks -- is if he ever will be again.
"I tell you, I wouldn't given up on Dan," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, whose club enters Wednesday's regular-season finale a victory from reaching 90 wins for the first time since 2009. "A lot of people might feel that he took a step back this year, but this guy competes so well that I think he's a guy who will rebound and will be strong next year."
The question is: For whom?
Haren said he's heard "absolutely zero" from Dipoto, now the GM of his current team, about the future and hasn't bothered to ask anybody about it.
"Obviously the thoughts were in my head," Haren said. "I'm not going to lie to you guys and say I wasn't thinking about whether my option was going to be picked up. Of course. I'm only human. But when I'm out there on the mound, I'm only thinking of one thing and that's making my pitch. I'm not thinking of, 'If I give up a homer, they might not pick up my option.'"
Haren has been better lately. He caught himself trying to add velocity earlier in the year and it cost him with elevated fastballs that got hit around. Now, he's accepted who he is, focusing more on location and smarts, and using it to finish the season with a 2.81 ERA in his last eight starts.
"I was trying to be my old self," Haren said, "whereas the last couple months I went with the less-is-more-attitude and focused more on location and got way better results."
After being charged with five runs (three earned) in six innings, in a game when the Angels went 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position and committed three errors behind him, Haren was almost begging to stay.
If the Angels decline his option and offer to restructure his deal, Haren would consider it.
"I'm not looking to sign a Zack Greinke deal," he said, drawing a laugh. "I'm looking to sign whatever's fair.
"Part of me feels a little bit guilty, just because of the way this year went. If I would've just had my average year, we'd probably be where we want to be. I felt a lot better the last month or two, but from a personal standpoint, it was just too little, too late for the team."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.