Tuesday was the deadline for teams to offer arbitration to their potential free agents. In order to qualify for free agent compensation for elite guys, a team must offer the player the chance for arbitration. Doing so is risky for the team offering because of the fact that the offered player may elect to take the team up on the offer. In that case, that player would be locked into returning on either a one year deal decided by an arbiter or a deal agreed upon (1 year or multi-year) by both parties sometime before the hearing. The Cubs have three free agents this year, Rich Harden (Type B), Kevin Gregg (Type-A, though I have no idea how), and Reed Johnson. The Cubs, if offering arbitration to Gregg, would be entitled to the signing team’s 1st round pick and a sandwich pick at the end of the 1st round. For Harden, just the sandwich pick. Unfortunately, the Cubs declined to offer to any of the three, including Harden. I believe that’s a mistake and I’ll tell you why based on possible factors that the Cubs may have considered when deciding on their plan of action.

Factor 1Health Issues

We’ve known about Harden’s “brittleness” since we made the move for him in 2008. Since then, he’s made 38 starts for us in a year and a half, with the following numbers:

Year           W  L  ERA    IP   H  R HR BB  SO ERA+  WHIP SO/BB
CHC (2 yrs)   14 10 3.31 212.0 161 91 29 97 260  137 1.217  2.68

It’s hard for me to look at those numbers and see a guy that isn’t worth taking a try on even if it means a health risk. I think it’s important to note that not only did he make the most starts in a season since 2004, but he was shut down based on the team’s performance, not his health. They left the decision up to him and he made the following statements: “”It’d be a lot different if we were in it and they needed me to pitch,” he said. “I’d be out there in a second and I’d be fine. I’m still healthy, feeling good and took that as a positive for this season.” I think you can afford to bring a guy back in the event that he accepted arbitration, but regardless, someone is going to take a chance on him so it would probably never come to that.

Factor 2Contract Value

By offering arbitration, in the event that Harden accepted, the Cubs would have to submit an amount to the arbiter based on what they feel his one year deal should be worth. Harden and his agent would then submit a figure of their own, obviously higher, and the arbiter would hear the cases of both sides before ruling in favor of one or the other. My guess is that there is an underlying fear that the arbiter would rule in Harden’s side, who will no doubt argue that not only is Harden healthy, but that he’s one of the top arms available on the market. I’m not sure that I think he would or that the figures submitted would be all that off. He made $9 million in 2009 and was on the shelf for roughly 5-7 starts. How much could he possibly ask for? $12 million? Keep in mind that you can’t ask for too much or the arbiter will just rule in favor of the other side. The numbers have to be arguable. That said, I think $12 mil would be an alright amount in the event that he accepted arbitration and we lost the case. I’d take that risk because I really think someone would sign him.

Factor 3 – Lack of Need

I swear to you, if this is the main factor behind this decision I’ll kick Hendry in the onions. Looking at the potential rotation for next year we have a headcase in Carlos Zambrano that is due to have his arm fall off any year now. We have Ryan Dempster, who’s a great guy and all, but who saw a regression in 2009 from his outstanding 2008. We have an emerging youngster in Randy Wells that was at times the best pitcher on the staff, yet has just one year under his belt (see Rich Hill). We have Ted Lilly who won’t be ready for opening day due to the shoulder surgery, and then there are a hodgepodge of candidates that don’t really strike fear into the opposition for the 5th starting spot with Sean Marshall, Tom Gorzellany, Jeff Samardzija, Mitch Atkins, etc.

A quick look at the potential free agents yields the following names that at least peak my curiosity:
Erik Bedard (31) – Type B
Jon Garland (30) – Type B, not offered arb
Rich Hill (30)
Jason Marquis (31) – Type B, offered arb
Brett Myers (29)
Brad Penny (32)
Ben Sheets (31)

All of those guys have arguments against them and none are quite as dominant when healthy as Rich Harden. Why not take a chance on Harden and if our hodgepodge pans out, protect his arm by using him in the pen?

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Joe Aiello is the founder of View From the Bleachers and one of the lead writers. Growing up in Chicago, he fondly remembers attending games in the bleachers before that was the popular thing to do. Currently Joe resides in North Carolina with his wife and three kids and helps people protect their assets as an independent insurance agent. Connect with Joe via Twitter / Facebook / E-mail