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December 2009

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The Cubs Made a Mistake with Harden

Written by , Posted in General

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?

  • I think the main reason Harden didn’t get an arbitration offer is the raise potential. The budget’s still tight with MB weighing things down and those awful back-loaded deals starting to pick up the bucks. Plus, the Cubs can re-sign him still without a floor on what they could offer him. I’m not sure Harden with his history is getting more than a one-year, seven mil deal. Arbitration, if he takes it, locks you in at almost double that. Economically, not wise at all.

  • BuckeyeCub

    So you’re telling me that when the Twinkies claimed him and we had a chance to get something in return, get some money off the books, and do the White Sox a dis-service, the Cubs said no because they wanted those draft picks in the winter, but now we won’t get anything at all if we lose him? BRILLIANT! Just like how we could have had Miguel Tejada for Mark Prior or Brian Roberts for Felix Pie, Rich Hill, and Ronny Cedeno, but instead we got garbage for them. Idiotic. Give Harden arbitration, and if he accepts, let him be back on the team. Something people don’t realize is that Hendry has never gone to a hearing with any player, ever. So given that track record, I think a deal would have been hammered out. Gregg, not giving arbitration was a good idea, he would probably accept it

  • Seymour Butts

    I too would like R Harden back on the team. In years past, we have gone to and come out of spring training with an abundance of pitching, yet wound up a few months later lacking. YOU CAN NEVER HAVE ENOUGH PITCHING (please excuse the child like over use of all caps).
    Being a GM is being a gambler, If Harden can be had cheaper than the almost certain raise he would have gotten thru arbitration, I’m sure Jim will be bidding. If he gets a raise from some one else, the Cubs were not going to pay more anyway, and Jim loses the draft picks.

  • Doc Raker

    I am sure the Cubs know what Harden is asking for and would be asking for in arbitration. I do not like 5 inning starters, it over taxes the bullpen and leaves the bullpen 4 innings to blow the game. I especially do not like a 5 inning starter that wants to be paid like he is Fergie Jenkins in complete games, see Maddux, G and Johnson, R of recent.

    Harden could be a dominate closer and could make a lot of money being a stellar closer, alas, but he can make more being a starter so he and his agent will find some sucker to overpay him as a starter. Once he is overpaid, then he may consider closing, but only if he gets a starters contract first.

    That is why the Cubs did the right thing in not offering him arbitration. They would have to overpay him.

  • dat_cubfan_daver

    You make some strong points – and, for the record, I’d love to see Rich Harden stay a Cub, too. But, unfortunately, it really appears that the bottom line in this situation is Hendry didn’t want to risk Harden accepting arbitration – which Rich likely would have given his relative success here and comfort with the Cubs training staff.

    If he was awarded $12 million, we could all pretty much forget about the team making any further additions for the rest of the off-season. In other words, we’d probably be looking at Sam Fuld as our starting centerfielder.

    Should Hendry have traded Harden to the Twins at the deadline? Maybe. But if the Twins were offering only warm bodies that weren’t likely to see major league action or weren’t better than guys we already have in the minors, I don’t really think it makes much difference.

  • Yes, $12M is way to much for a 5 inning starter, he was over paid last year at $9M.

  • If you go by Fangraphs’ assessment, Harden was overpaid this past season, but only slightly – he gave the team $8.2 MM in production for $ 9 MM. I hate to sound like I’m making excuses for the guy, but I think he had some pretty bum luck on at least a few fly balls.

    Still, again going by Fangraphs, Rich gave the A’s and Cubs combined $20 MM in production in ’08 for a mere $4.8 MM in salary. So these things have a way of evening out.

    The five-innings thing doesn’t bother me that much either. I’ve always advocated simply partnering Rich up with a long-man going into each start so there’s no “surprise” wear and tear on your bullpen. You simply tell Sean Marshall or whoever to prepare for that game like a start and plan on going two to three innings. That puts you just as deep into the game as if Harden himself had gone six to seven innings.

    Anyway, these are all moot points as it’s looking almost certain that Rich Harden won’t be in a Cubs uniform next season.