MILWAUKEE – News of the Chicago Cubs' counterpunch Wednesday to the Milwaukee Brewers' acquisition of CC Sabathia – a six-player trade brought them star Oakland Athletics starter Rich Harden and swingman Chad Gaudin – was starting to spread when Brewers manager Ned Yost ambled through his clubhouse.
Told of the deal, Yost stopped, paused, spent a nanosecond thinking it over and delivered his assessment.
"Good for them," Yost said.
The arms race in the National League Central is on, literally. Almost exactly 48 hours after the Brewers and Indians agreed to a deal that sent Sabathia, the reigning American League Cy Young winner, to surging Milwaukee, the Cubs answered back with a salvo: They dealt young starting pitcher Sean Gallagher, outfielder Matt Murton, utilityman Eric Patterson and minor league catcher Josh Donaldson for the 26-year-old Harden, who is 5-1 with a 2.34 earned-run average over 13 starts, and Gaudin, who is 5-3 with a 3.69 ERA in 26 appearances, six of them starts.
Forget the July 31 trade deadline. The two biggest names are already off the market, and both have gone to the Midwest.
"I'm sure they weren't too excited about us getting CC," Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun said. "I can assure you of that. I mean, look at it. In a three-game series, we've got (Ben) Sheets and CC going. That's tough."
The Cubs' answer isn't too shabby: Carlos Zambrano and, should he stay healthy, Harden. That's been the difficulty throughout his career – Harden has been on the disabled list six times in six seasons – and one of the reasons Oakland felt comfortable dealing him now rather than toward the end of the month. Harden is earning $4.75 million this season, will be arbitration-eligible again next year and will be a free agent after the 2009 season.
Chicago felt compelled to move with its NL Central lead shrinking and the Brewers' acquisition of Sabathia, who debuts tonight at 8 ET against Colorado. Cubs general manager Jim Hendry sounded as if the Harden deal might have been consummated even if the Brewers hadn't struck first, saying, "We've been working on Mr. Harden for a few weeks now."
Harden is expected to make his first Cubs start Friday or Saturday against the San Francisco Giants. The Brewers will stay focused on their own schedule and hand the ball again to Sabathia on Sunday – the day before the All-Star break.
"We're not overly concerned with what they do or who they acquire," Braun said. "There's two playoff spots, potentially, and obviously our goal is to win the division. Hopefully we can catch the Cubs. But if not, our goal is to make it to the postseason.
"If we play well, I honestly feel like we're not overly concerned what they do or the Cardinals or anybody else. The pieces are in place for us to go out there and do what we need to do to get to the postseason."
At first glance, the haul for the Athletics wasn't as strong as the prospects they received from the Arizona Diamondbacks for Dan Haren last off-season. Gallagher could develop into a solid No. 3 starter, Murton is a former top prospect who has struggled, Patterson is unproven and Donaldson is batting .217 in Class-A.