Thursday, October 08, 2009

Letting Go of Rich Harden

With the focus on 2010 and the sale of the team likely three weeks away from closing, there’s a lot of discussion on what’s going to happen to Rich Harden and will the Cubs offer him arbitration. The Cub Reporter goes so far as to suggest that this decision could affect Jim Hendry’s hold on the Cubs general manager job (see: Arbitration is Going to be the End of Jim Hendry).

First off, Jim Hendry’s job security is far more closely tied to the contracts of Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley, and the performance (or lack there of) of the minor leagues that Jim Hendry has run since 1995 compared to whether or not he gets a draft pick back in compensation for Rich Harden.

But back on point: There’s almost no way that the Cubs can offer arbitration to Harden. He is not a risk the Cubs can afford in 2010.

The Cubs have three of their five rotation spots filled in with Ted Lilly, Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster. Slot number 4 is reserved for Randy Wells until he proves he doesn’t deserve it.

That leaves one spot for Harden. But the Cubs also have Tom Gorzelanny, Sean Marshall, and Jeff Samardzija as candidates for the job. These names don’t even include long shots like Casey Coleman into the mix. All these guys are a lot cheaper than what Harden will cost.

Then, you add in that Harden was only good for 141 innings this year. That low total comprised the third best total in his career. He’s only been over 148 innings once and that was the five seasons ago. Harden on your team requires you to essentially have an extra arm in the bullpen and a 6th starter ready at all times.

And, as others have noted, the reasons for shutting Harden down for the last three weeks weren’t exactly shouted from the rooftops and Harden himself didn’t complain about it. How healthy is he? Is he worth the financial commitment if he’s not healthy?

Now, you risk that he’ll get $10 million or more in arbitration. That’s on a team that will have a payroll of close to $135 million for 20 players. On a franchise that will be levered to the hilt.

If this was 2011 and the Cubs were starting to see payroll runoff, they could spend $10 million on a pitcher who would pitch 75% of the time. In 2010, with payroll commitments peaking, money to be paid to Milton Bradley for not being here and improvements to the lineup needed, it’s nearly impossible to see how Rich Harden gets an offer of arbitration.

If the handling of the Harden situation is a "bad" on Hendry, it’s going to be for not letting Harden go via waivers and saving over $1 million in payroll in 2009. Non-tendering him would be a decent baseball move and a required one for the 2010 Cubs financially.

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