Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Rich Harden

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. 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:

  1. Carlos Zambrano
  2. Rich Harden
  3. Ryan Dempster
  4. Ted Lilly
  5. 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.

Dave Cameron of USS Mariner fame:

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.

Reactions to the Harden deal from around the web

Let’s get some Harden reactions from around the web.

ESPN’s Buster Olney:

For the Cubs, the trade is a calculated gamble because Harden is nothing less than Mark Prior Redux: He can be dominating, and he can be maddening. He could be the difference between success and heartbreak if he's healthy, and if he's injured, he could be the difference between success and heartbreak.

Keep in mind, however: Harden has pitched a total of 277 1/3 innings over the past four seasons, and has spent almost as many months on the DL as he's had victories. He comes to the Cubs with many red flags.

Harden returned from the disabled list on May 11 and, in his first nine starts, pitched as he usually does, dominating hitters, striking out 42 batters in 32 1/3 innings in June, compiling a 1.67 ERA for the month. Some scouts who saw his July 1 start reported that his velocity was down, and he lasted five innings. On July 6, Harden had five erratic innings, walking four and requiring 95 pitches to get through five innings.

The Athletics mostly have been held hostage by Harden's talent in recent years: He hasn't been on the field enough to count on, but he's been too good, when he does pitch, to simply give away. And the swiftness with which the Athletics and Cubs completed this deal is being read by some rival executives as Beane's moving Harden while he has the chance. "He didn't look as good in his last two starts," one official said, "and the Cubs' offer was a good offer. There were probably months when Billy didn't know if he was going to get anything out of Harden at all, and now he's in a situation when he can get Sean Gallagher for him -- and he jumped at it."

Wonder if he regrets his morning column:

With CC Sabathia in Milwaukee, all eyes turn to Cubs GM Jim Hendry, writes Jay Mariotti.

Jay's right in that there will be general expectation in Chicago for the Cubs to answer. But they might as well table those expectations right now, for a couple of reasons.

The Cubs probably don't have the talent to meet the asking price Oakland would attach to Rich Harden, and even then, Harden hasn't yet pitched enough this year to bury questions about whether he can hold up.

Lemme give you a hint, Buster – read less Jay Mariotti and more Bruce Miles:

The Cubs have been looking to bolster their rotation, even before the Sabathia trade was done. The bet here is they'll make a big push for Oakland's Rich Harden (as I wrote in Sunday's paper), when and if A's GM Billy Beane decides his team is out of the race. Beane and Cubs GM Jim Hendry get along fine personally and professionally, so a deal is well within the realm of possibility.

Bruce’s reaction to the deal:

When Jim Hendry called me over to talk last Friday in St. Louis, he had that look about him. It was a look that said he was ready to deal. Hendry had been talking with the Indians about CC Sabathia, but he knew then the Cubs didn't have the right match for Cleveland. I asked Friday and Saturday about Rich Harden of the A's, and I could tell then that was his top target. I wrote that for Sunday's paper, and Hendry finalized things with Oakland GM Billy Beane today, getting Harden and reliever Chad Gaudin for Sean Gallagher, Matt Murton, Eric Patterson and Josh Donaldson.

The Harden deal says the Cubs are in this thing to win it all. When healthy, Harden is a No. 1 starter, an ace. Put him in a rotation with Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster and Sean Marshall, and it can take a team to the World Series. Of course, all these guys, especially Harden, have to stay healthy. Harden has had shoulder problems, as has Zambrano. (Marshall would be my preference over Jason Marquis, whom the Cubs can send to the bullpen.)

I firmly agree about Jason Marquis. Marshall may be headed back to AAA, however.

ESPN’s Rob Neyer is less bullish about the trade, at least from a Cubs point of view:

The key to this trade, from the A's perspective, is right-handed starter Sean Gallagher. Still only 22, Gallagher has already breezed through Triple-A and has a real shot at a long and happy career. I'll spare you the scouting report (which is glowing). But in 70 Triple-A innings, Gallagher has struck out 67 batters, walked 14 and given up three homers. He hasn't been overworked as a pro.

You know what this reminds me of? When the A's traded Mark Mulder to the Cardinals and got Dan Haren plus two other prospects. Since then, Haren's won 51 games and Mulder's won 22.

I don't know that Gallagher's going to win more games than Harden over the next few years. I wouldn't bet the house against it, though. And he might even win more games than Harden this summer.

In fact -- and I'm surprised that I'm writing this -- the A's might be better right now than they were yesterday. Beane's giving up on 2008? Nah. He's just retooling for the stretch run.

Beane does have a history with these kinds of trades that I’m wary of.

Chone Smith, creator of the CHONE projection system, has projections for us:

Harden, Cubs: 2.98 ERA, 11.3 K/9. If his strikeout rate wasn't high enough, now he gets to face weaker lineups (if you still don't believe the NL is inferior check out the latest round of interleague whoop-ass) and he gets to strike out pitchers. The easiest call I'm going to make since I proclaimed Tampa Bay as 2008 contenders is that Harden will remind Cubs fans of Mark Prior.

This could be a good thing or a bad thing. He could be every bit as dominant as Mark was from 2002-2005, or his arm could fall off, which has been known to happen.

Luckily the Cubs grabbed some insurance as well in Gaudin. He projects to a respectable 4.08 ERA for Chicago. If he's not needed he can join the bullpen, but he's a better pitcher than Jason Marquis so maybe he should just go straight to the rotation anyway.

A's get a lot of surplus value, cheap decent players under team control for awhile. The Cubs get the most outstanding player in the deal, assuming he doesn't get hurt, and had the depth to deal from. Trade looks reasonable from both sides.

Meanwhile, Dan Szymborski and his ZiPS projection system are equally bullish about our new pitchers:

Yes, Harden has a bad injury history, but he's been healthy for the longest period in years and the Cubs aren't really giving up much else. If you consider Gaudin and Gallagher even and I'm not sure that's even the case, the Cubs are giving up for a brilliant but risky pitcher Murton, Patterson and Donaldson. I like Matt Murton, but the Cubs have never really been interested in him and don't value him at all, Patterson's like 11th on their 2B depth chart, and Donaldson's an organizational player if he's lucky. From the point of view of the Cubs, they essentially picked up Rich Harden for free.

The A's had no business throwing in Gaudin in a trade I think they lose without including him. Murton's a nice player, but the A's need a serious bat - with Thomas hurting lately and Cust having one of his patented cold streaks, Tanner Boyle could beat the crap out of the hitters. Murton's better than Emil Brown, but Billy Beane has no excuse for not being able to find lots and lots of players who are better than Emil Brown.

He projects a 2.12 ERA from Harden and a 3.74 ERA out of Gaudin the rest of the season.

Seriously, can we please get rid of Jason Marquis? Please?

Ken Rosenthal has video reax for Fox Sport. He says the deal has been in the works for about a month. He says that talks were “at a standstill” as the A’s demanded Gallagher; the A’s willingness to part with Gaudin was what finally got the deal done. The key to the trade, he says, is Harden’s health – if he goes down, the A’s look like the clear victors.

And there are health concerns - Harden had a "dead arm" in his last start, with 4-7 MPH missing off his fastball. I want to go ahead and remind everyone that the Cubs had full access to Harden's health records and likely have had a physical done on Harden recently.

Wow, that was fast

Sometimes the world seems to work in overdrive to make me look like I know what I'm talking about.

For example, in recent days I - and a bunch of Cub fans and sites, to be fair - have been speculating that the Cubs might make a move to grab Rich Harden or A.J. Burnett.  In particular, I wrote:

Jim Hendry is looking to retaliate to the Milwaukee trade of C.C. Sabathia, and when discussing the possibility of Harden coming to Chicago, I speculated that it would cost the Cubs some prospects -probably Sean Gallagher and Matt Murton for starters, and there'd likely be a handful of others included as well.  I concluded my thoughts by saying that within a week of the All Star Game, the Cubs will have made an impact trade.  Additionally, as recently as Saturday, I had speculated that Hendry might be looking for a top-of-the-line set-up man to supplement Marmol/Howry.

This trade pretty well fulfilled a lot of my various opinions as of late.  But before I look into the new Cubs, let's look at The Departed:

Sean Gallagher - While I have expressed considerable man-love for our Irish youngster, Gallagher has proven that he may need a little more seasoning before he's ready to contribute to a team's championship drive.  He could and should develop into a very talented player for the A's, and I think they'll be happy to have him, but for a guy who's a front-line starter now, he's well worth the price of admission.

Matt Murton - Murton was once highly toted, especially by this blog, and by other Cubs websites like Thunder Matt's Saloon.  Unfortunately, due in part to a lack of the long ball and defensive shoddiness, Murton never really got to start regularly for Lou Piniella.  That said, he still managed a .281 AVG and .352 OBP for last year's Cubs in 235 at bats, and had he played a full season he would've been on pace to hit roughly 20 homers and 30 doubles.  He may never be a superstar, but he could and should be an offensive contributor to the A's.

Eric Patterson - Lil' Strut has had a few bright moments at the Major League Level, but he's also displayed a knack of getting on Lou's foul side by showing up late and hitting very mediocrely (is that a word) at the Major League Level.   That said, he shares his brother's epic potential, maybe he'll realize it while with a team that may be more fundamentally sound than the Cubs.

John Donaldson - Best known for finishing second in a national hot dog eating contest, John Donaldson spends his off-seasons running around in a jump suit calling himself The Nazi Smasher as he fights crime in his home city.  Actually, contrary to ESPN's report, his name is Josh Donaldson and he appears to be a catcher who, through 47 games at Peoria, is batting .205 this year.

The Cubs, meanwhile, have acquired two pitchers whose average age is roughly 25.   

Chad Gaudin is a starter-turned-reliever who has an ERA of 3.59 in 62.2 innings of work this year.  This body of work includes 6 starts, in which he threw 36 innings in 6 starts, went 3-2, and had an ERA of 3.75.  He is 25-years-old, went 11-13 last season with a 4.43 ERA, and is probably considered arm insurance should Harden get hurt.

Rich Harden is 26 years old, and is 5-1 with a 2.34 ERA this season.  He's a dominating pitcher.  In 77 innings of work, he's struck out 92 batters to 31 walks.  Now, for the downside.  Harden is an injury waiting to happen.  He's already missed time this season with a shoulder strain, and if the Cubs fail to use him properly, then he'll be a moot acquisition in October.

All told, the reaction across the Cubs blogsphere is mixed.  I'm going to tackle that next, with commentary. 

Rich Harden to Cubs

My boss just emailed me and said that Bruce Levine is on ESPN 1000 reporting the following:

RH Pitcher Rich Harden of A's going to Cubs per ESPN.

ERA is 2.34. Record is 5-1 I think.

Cubs giving up 4-5 players/prospects. Not sure who.

You can thank my boss for the scoop.

Update 5:33 pm: Matt Murton and Eric Patterson are involved.

Update 5:34 pm: Sean Ghallager, too.

Geez, this is going to be an expensive trade.

Update: 5:48 pm: The Hendry Press conference just ended. Here's the trade: Cubs get Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin (a RHP currently in the A's pen.) The Cubs give up: Sean Gallagher, Eric Patterson, Matt Murton, and a minor league guy whose name was not familiar to me (Josh Donaldson).

Hendry basically said they've been discussing the deal for two weeks, trading names back and forth. The player that Billy Beane absolutely wanted and that Hendry did not want to give up was Sean Gallagher. Hendry spoke highly of both Murton and Gallagher's character but didn't take the opportunity to extend those remarks to Eric Patterson.

Lou's on, update to follow.

Update 6:08 pm Lou just finished up. He had some great quotes as usual but didn't add too much. Apparently Gaudin played for him in Tampa, but Lou didn't actively lobby for him as Lou didn't find out about the deal until today at 3:00.

When quizzed by one of the beat reporters (Hendry has been working on this for two weeks.) Lou laughed it off, "without me. Ha ha ha." Lou then went on to say that Hendry and he had talked on Friday and that Hendry knew they weren't going to be able to get Sabathia, but Hendry said there might be someone else.

The Quotable Lou Piniella

"Yesterday, Milwaukee made a deal for a real good left handed starter and today Jim went out and got himself a real good righty. It just shows how competitive he is." – Lou Piniella

"We gave up some kids for the present. As a manager you love to see an organization go out and help you." – Lou Piniella

"The Cubs are going to do everything in their power to help us win." – Lou Piniella

"This makes us better and we're very very pleased." – Lou Piniella

Matt Murton
Matt Murton shows off his arm in a game against the Giants.
Image courtesy of The Cubdom Photo Gallery

It's a sad day to see Carrot-top leave Chicago, but boy is that red hair going to clash with Oakland green and gold.

Harden a Cub - now official

670 The Score and ESPN 1000 are both reporting that Rich Harden may now be a Cub - Sean Gallagher and Matt Murton are the names I'm hearing right now. Updates as they happen.

UPDATE: Hendry presser live. Trade official. Murton, Gallagher, and Eric Patterson are definately involved. A "minor leaguer" is also involved.

UPDATE 2: Gallagher, Donaldson, Patterson and Murton go to As; Cubs get Harden and Chad Gaudin. I don't even know who Gaudin is yet. Josh Donaldson is a catcher in our minor league system and one of our best prospects.

UPDATE 3: Here's the Trib link. And here's Harden's stats; Gaudin's stats.

Harden's contract:

signed 4-year deal worth 9M thru 2008 season that superceded deal for 2005 season on 4/2/05- + he receives a 1M signing bonus and salaries of 500K in 2005, 1M in 2006, 2M in 2007, and 4.5M in 2008- + the deal includes a Team Option for 2009 worth 7M with no buyout- + the deal includes escalators based on IP that could increase the total value of the deal to 18M- + the option could vest by 2006 or 2007 if certain targets based on combinations of back-to-back 200 IP seasons and top 5 Cy Young Award finishes are reached

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