Even more about the Rich Harden trade, if you can believe it
First, here's what I think the keys are to understanding the Harden trade:
- Jim Hendry has a way of getting what he wants at the trade deadline, and he deserves to be congratulated for what he's accomplished here. I know Harden is an injury risk, but Hendry got arguably a better pitcher than the Brewers, with a sweet club option for next season. He got a throw-in in Chad Gaudin that's really a pretty good prize. And he did it while probably not trading away a player as good as the Player To Be Named Later in the Sabathia deal.
- And Hendry is not out of trading chips. He still has Donnie Veal, Jeff Samardzija, Ronny Cedeno, Felix Pie, Tony Thomas and others. We still have our best catching prospect left, as well. (I mean Wellington Castillo, under the assumption that once you're elected to the All-Star Game you're no longer a prospect.) And we're still a ways away from the trading deadline.
- That said, the Cubs did give away real talent in the Harden deal, and he did give away a lot of guys I really liked - Murton, Gallagher, even Patterson. And Beane has a gift for finding diamonds in the rough. So don't be surprised to be hearing good things about these guys in the years to come. (Or even months - I think the A's may still be in the race in the AL West, and the players they got could very well contribute.)
- The big win was doing this trade weeks before the deadline, thus maximizing the value.
Now, I'd love to sit here and tell you that I think Harden is worth X number of wins to the Cubs this season, like I did with the Sabathia trade. But there's a lot more moving parts and pieces to this trade, and the chaining is going to take a lot more work to figure out. Lou Piniella himself admitted tonight in the postgame presser that he didn't know what moves the Cubs would make tomorrow to accommodate this trade. So let's just consider the roster implications for now, and we'll figure out the cost/benefit analysis later.
Losing Murton and Patterson shortens up the Cubs bench options, which may only be an issue until Soriano gets off the disabled list, but unless the Cubs decide to carry 13 pitchers until he returns (and I consider that unlikely), some roster moves are going to have to be made.
I'm going to have to grit my teeth for this, but the most likely arrangement of our rotation (in some order) for the time being is:
- Carlos Zambrano
- Rich Harden
- Ryan Dempster
- Ted Lilly
- Jason Marquis
There's too much Jason Marquis in that rotation, but I don't see the Cubs moving him to the pen, at least not yet.
The remaining pitchers on the 25-man roster:
- Neal Cotts *
- Bob Howry
- Jon Lieber
- Carlos Marmol *
- Sean Marshall *
- Kerry Wood
- Michael Wuertz
- Chad Gaudin
An asterisk represents players who can be optioned to the minors. Obviously Marmol will stay with the big-league team; that leaves Neal Cotts and Sean Marshall playing Odd Man Out; Marshall looked very good in his last start and Cotts had to be taken out for Marmol in tonight's game, so Cotts might be the one returning to Des Moines.
Not counting Mark DeRosa, the Cubs only have three outfielders on the 25-man roster currently, something I think they'll want to address at least until Soriano's return. Being generous to certain people's defense, the guys who are on the 40-man who fit that description:
- Micah Hoffpauir
- Felix Pie
- Sam Fuld
- Jake Fox
Jake Fox is an outfielder only in the sense that he's a failed catcher, and probably isn't an option. Sam Fuld is currently hitting .241/.335/.329 for our AA team, which doesn't normally auger a callup. So the most likely options are Pie and Hoffpauir.
Hoffpauir continues to decimate AAA pitching, going .347/.362/.694 down in the minors, but he seems to fill the same niche as Daryle Ward on the team. (And I just want to note that he's being outhit by Jason Dubois on the I-Cubs, for those of you who are tempted to say we just have to find room for his bat somewhere on the team.) Pie's posting a less-than-stellar .241/.293/.400 line for the I-Cubs, but his bat is starting to heat up; he's gone .300/.363/.425 in his last ten PCL games. The answer could have as much to do with what the Cubs think is best for Pie's continued development as what they think the needs of the big-league team are.
I do want to say something here - the effects of this trade on the team are likely to be far less than the emotional high that we're all feeling from this trade right now. Even if Harden goes out and lives up to his potential as an ace starter, he's likely not going to have an impact of more than three or four marginal wins. (And that could be the irrational fan in me talking - it could well be less than that.)
But as much as that, the trade is also a signal to fans that the team is serious about competing for a World Series, and fans tend to respond to such signals very strongly, regardless of the particulars underneath.
Cardinals fans are going to be looking for such a signal in the coming days, and I think they'll be disappointed. They're the real loser of the NL Central arms race; Harden won't make the Brewers go away, and I have a feeling we're going to have to get through them to make it into the Series at some point. Should make for some good baseball.
And, if you're not already tired of hearing about Harden - and I have a feeling you're not - here's some more reactions from around the web.
ESPN's Jason Stark is more favorable to the Cubs than his colleagues at the Worldwide Leader:
In fact, one baseball man called Oakland's decision to trade Harden now -- while he's pitching great and the A's are still in a race -- a "serious red flag." Meanwhile, in a potentially related development, a scout we surveyed reported that Harden's velocity hasn't been quite the same in his most recent couple of starts, since his eight-inning, 11-strikeout two-hitter against the Phillies on June 26.
But the Cubs have watched every pitch he has thrown for weeks. They saw him hit 96 mph on the gun Sunday with their own eyes. So clearly, they'll take their chances on the odds of getting him out there 14 or 15 times between now and Sept. 28.
True, Harden comes with no get-your-four-trade-chips-back health guarantees. But unlike Sabathia, he's also not a rental. The Cubs get to keep him for a year and a half. Plus, they add very useful Chad Gaudin to their bullpen -- and, potentially, to their rotation in case of (a) emergency, (b) a Harden health mishap and/or (c) a patience meltdown by Lou Piniella with, say, Jason Marquis.
"The Cubs," one scout said Tuesday night, "have the best rotation in the league right now" -- CC in Cheesehead Town or no CC in Cheesehead Town.
Asked Tuesday whether the A's got enough for one of the most overpowering pitchers in baseball, one scout chuckled: "For a guy who might break down tomorrow? Yeah."
But the Cubs understood that, too. Understood exactly what they were dealing for in Harden. He might miss a turn or two. Or 10. But at this point in the life of their quasi-tragic franchise, they weren't interested in playing it safe. Not anymore.
Gallagher is a decent 22-year-old who isn’t that far away from being a useful #4 starter. He commands three pitches and throws an occasional change-up, and while he’s got slightly better stuff, he’s probably going to have a Joe Blanton career. Useful, but not much star potential, and he’s the main guy in this deal.
Murton, we’ve talked about as a potential M’s target - solid role player, good defensive corner OF who can hit lefties. Could be a league average player if given the chance, but not enough power to be more that that.
Eric Patterson is Corey’s younger brother, but not the same type of player - gap hitter, decent idea of what to do at the plate, but can’t really field second base well and was moved to the OF to try to find a spot he could fit in with Chicago. The A’s probably move him back to second base and groom him as Mark Ellis’ replacement next year. That’s some kind of defensive drop off to go from Ellis to Patterson, but the bats are similar.
Donaldson was a second round pick last year who hasn’t hit in his first year in the pros, but he’s got some long term potential. A nice gamble, but not a guy you want to count in your plans anytime soon.
So, the A’s get a mid-rotation starter who isn’t going to be going anywhere anytime soon, a part time outfielder, a guy who might be able to keep second base warm for a few years while not killing them, and a catcher who is years away from the show.
David Pinto, former chief researcher for ESPN's Baseball Tonight and Baseball Musings writer:
Obviously, Harden answers the Sabathia trade very well. He doesn't go as deep in games as CC, but the Cubs now send out three aces with Zambrano, Dempster and Harden. It's like having Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz from the mid 1990s. It looks like a great move for both clubs.
He's more optimistic about Dempster than I am, I'll say that.
Billy Beane learns what we knew back during the Ted Lilly signing - Trader Jim answers his phone no matter what:
On Sunday evening -- the same night when word broke that the Brewers had worked out a deal for CC Sabathia -- Hendry indicated to Beane for the first time that he would make Gallagher available in a Harden deal, but it would create a problem: If Gallagher was traded, the Cubs wouldn't have the kind of depth they needed to deal with an injury.
"Let me call you back," Beane said.
Beane had an idea. He could fill Hendry's need for depth by adding veteran swingman Chad Gaudin in the trade. He phoned Hendry back on Monday night with the suggestion. "That could work," Hendry said, and the two general managers began piecing together other parts of the trade. Beane called Hendry with a detail of the trade very late on Monday night, California time, figuring the call would switch over to voice mail on Hendry's cell phone because it was so late.
But Hendry answered the phone, wide awake. "Jim, what are [you] doing awake?" Beane asked.
"I'm just laying here on my couch," Hendry said.
Oh, and about that dead arm thing. Checking with Fangraphs, Harden's fastball this season has averaged 92.6 MPH. In the past seven days? 91.9 MPH. I wouldn't worry too much about that yet.
Murton is excited about his new opportunities, which means he hasn't been told yet that the A's are assigning him to their AAA affiliate in Sacramento.