Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Cubs Roll The Dice With Rich Harden

In what can be seen as both a rapid-fire retaliation to the Brewers getting C.C. Sabathia,
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the Cubs acquired RHPs Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin from the Athletics for RHP Sean Gallagher; OF Matt Murton; INF Eric Patterson and C Josh Donaldson. In addition to it being a retaliatory strike to a divisional competitor upgrading themselves substantially, the acquisition of a pitcher the with the talent and fragility of Harden is a testament to the Cubs intention to use the fact that the team is for sale to go for it right now without any regard to the future.
Rich Harden is the ultimate high risk/high reward pitcher. He's quite possibly got the best stuff in baseball when he's healthy----a fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s and a wicked slider----but he's never been able to stay healthy. The perfect scenario for A's baseball czar
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Billy Beane was if Harden stayed healthy this entire season; the next best scenario was for Harden to show enough to convince another team that he was worth the price that Beane was going to demand to get him and, after spending a chunk of the first half of the season on the disabled list, Harden managed to do that.
The Cubs are pushing everything they have into the pot to try and win right now for manager Lou Piniella and it's either going to be a stroke of
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genius or be seen as a desperation maneuver that exploded in their faces (or the faces of whoever the next owner is because they'll be the ones who have to clean up the mess). Harden's the ultimate risk because he's going to be counted on to be a major part of a historic season for the Cubs and he hasn't been able to stay healthy since 2004; and even then he only pitched 189 innings. This is a pitcher who has been predominately injured in both 2006 and 2007 and has provided 13 starts this season only being one tweak, strain or pull from being on the disabled list for the rest of the season. I have no prediction of what's going to happen with Harden because his career history indicates that he's due to get hurt again soon, but the adrenaline of the pennant race and possibility of a long-term contract may keep him out on the mound and performing. If I had to guess, I'd say he's going to get hurt, but the Cubs decided he was worth the risk to counter the move the Brewers made and as far as ability, Harden was probably the best available pitcher.
Chad Gaudin was also acquired by the Cubs. Gaudin was a solid starter last season,
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began this year in the Athletics starting rotation and moved to the bullpen. He'll augment an already solid Cubs bullpen and could move back into the rotation if necessary. I get the impression that Gaudin was added to the deal to account for Harden's frailty.
The Athletics and Billy Beane played their hands as well as they could with a pitcher like Harden and they had him healthy at the exact right time. If he were to have had the injuries he had early in the season now, it's unlikely that they would have gotten as much as they did for him. There was much speculation in the media that Beane had to consider keeping Harden if the Athletics stayed in contention, but I knew better. Beane never had any intention of keeping Rich Harden and if he received what he felt was fair value for the pitcher, he was going to move him sooner rather than later, and he did.
As for the players the Athletics got from the Cubs, Sean Gallagher, 22, has been a serviceable pitcher for the Cubs this year in ten starts and his minor league numbers indicate
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that he's a strikeout pitcher who has good control and doesn't allow many homers; he has a similar motion and look to Josh
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Beckett. Outfielder Matt Murton was caught in a numbers game with the Cubs even though he proved in 2006 and 2007 that he belonged in the big leagues and the Cubs did him a favor by dealing him to a venue in which he's going to play. Eric Patterson is a 25-year-old infielder who has put up big numbers at Triple A with a high average and some speed. Josh Donaldson is a catcher who was a first round pick of the Cubs in 2007; he's struggled with the bat in high A in 2008 after tearing up low A in 2007. He's a few years from the majors.
It's safe to say that Beane knows what he wanted and got it by trading Harden three weeks before it was absolutely necessary; it also couldn't have escaped Beane's eye that there's no way to know whether Harden's next pitch is going to be his last until 2009 or beyond. The Athletics got what they wanted in the young, talented players and the Cubs may have just gotten themselves a trip to the World Series or a long-term disaster. Considering the circumstances for both sides, this was a deal that made sense for everyone.

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