July 08, 2008
Rich Harden is headed to the Chicago Cubs. And, while that's certainly an interesting development on both a fantasy and reality level, it's never really been about where Harden pitches. It's always been about how often Harden pitches.
Coming into this season, Harden brought a well-deserved reputation for being fragile – years of DL stints for various injuries (shoulder, elbow, oblique, back). The Cubs are gambling four decent prospect types that Harden will be able to stay healthy and deliver ace-type numbers down the stretch. With division-rival Milwaukee landing CC Sabathia earlier this week, it's a gamble the Cubs had to take.
Harden's arguably one of the 5-10 most talented pitchers in the league. And, again, assuming health, there's no reason to believe he won't continue to deliver for the Cubs in the manner he has for Oakland this season – 5-1, 2.34 ERA, 92 K, 77 IP. Any concern about Harden leaving the friendly pitching confines of McAfee Coliseum for the much more offensively-tilted Wrigley Field should be alleviated by the fact that the Cubs should lend Harden a lot more support. The Cubs rank No. 1 in the league in team batting average (.283), 33 points better than the A's (.250). They also average more than a run per game than the A's. Four of the Cubs starters rank among the top 31 pitchers (min. 60 IP) in the league in run support. Harden clocks in at No. 97 on that list. So, really, there's not much to advise in regards to Harden. Those owners in the 99.83 percent of Yahoo! leagues in which he's rostered will want to keep holding their breath and saying their prayers each night that Harden remains a vital entity. You might also want to dangle Harden for an exorbitant price tag – it's worth seeing if the buzz factor has artificially inflated his value in your league.
The A's haul is modest – Sean Gallagher, Matt Murton, Eric Patterson (Corey's brother), and Single-A catcher Josh Donaldson. Of the four, Gallagher offers the most intrigue. The 22-year-old rated as the Cubs' No. 5 prospect, according to Baseball America, heading into the season. His low-to-mid 90s fastball, big curve and decent change have proven to be, roughly, a K-per-inning arsenal in his minor league career and short time with the Cubs. Control is currently his main issue – 12 walks in his past five starts have largely contributed to his 0-3 mark and 4.33 ERA in 27 innings covering that span. Oakland has a way of getting the most out of its pitchers – who would have guessed that Dana Eveland, Greg Smith and Chad Gaudin (also on his way to Chicago) would all be sitting on ERAs of 3.62 or less more than half-way through the season? Gallagher could very well deliver an ERA in the low 4s or high 3s with above average strikeout numbers. In 12 team leagues, he's a "What the heck …" flyer – give him a two-start contract and see how you feel afterwards.
Patterson, like his brother, can burn up the base paths, and there's 15 home run pop in his bat. But he's likely looking at no better than a utility role in Oakland for the rest of '08. Murton offers middling power and speed to go with the kind of pitch recognition that the A's always covet. But unless the team trades a regular outfielder, like Emil Brown, Murton's probably looking at something less than a full-time role this season, as well. I'm curious, though, if he'll use Bobby Kielty's former stylist now that he's in the East Bay – Murton definitely has Mr. Heat Miser potential …