Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rich Harden The Mystery Continues

After yet another problematic start for Rich Harden last night his impending free agent contract took another hit. This time his three inning 78 pitch effort probably cost him a three year deal, and possibly even a two year one. I maintain that the Cubs should shut Harden down for the rest of the season, the guy isn’t capable of pitching effectively large amount of innings. That is the evil you accept when you take Harden on your team, and an evil that looks more and more like the Cubs problem everyday.

At this point it would be irresponsible for Harden to turn down arbitration from the Cubs. It would give Harden another one-year contract at about $10 million. Harden and his agent may want to go out and get more money, but considering the way Harden has pitched this season staying with the Cubs might be the best move. The question is do the Cubs also want to continue with Harden?

I consider pitchers like Harden to be poison to a team. When he is throwing strikes there isn’t a better pitcher in the game, his changeup is unhittable and his fastball blows hitters away. He racks up strikeouts and pitches, but his stuff is so effective that nobody really cares. The problem is when Harden doesn’t have control. The fastball looks more hittable, the changeup sneaks up in the zone, and that solo homer he gives up in the third inning turns into a three run homer because of walks. Starts like last night kill a bullpen, and put unnecessary pressure on the other starting pitchers to go longer into games.

Is there a magic formula to prevent Harden from having too many of those three inning outings? I have an idea or two, starting with the fact that Harden needs to be on the DL a lot. Notice how his issues come after he goes through the rotation five or six times in a row. His arm gets tired and his control goes away. Perhaps putting Rich on the DL after he makes more than 10 consecutive starts gives his arm the rest it needs. Maybe those DL stints need to happen more often and for more than just 15 days.

Of course that previous paragraph is the reason why a lot of teams want to stay away from guys like Harden. Pitching is the most important thing in baseball, starting pitching is impossibly hard to come by and asking a team to assemble a five man rotation is hard enough let alone having to have a backup starter because one of your rotation guys isn’t capable of handling the grind of pitching every fifth day.

I really do think Rich Harden has value to any team in baseball, he is capable of wonderful things on the mound, and his love of cold weather (no joke) is especially beneficial if you think you are going to play late into October. I just don't know how many other teams in baseball are prepared to pony up big cash for a player who they can't rely on. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe there is a team out there stupid enough to give Harden a big time contract even after watching his arm crumble in September. In the end, I think Rich will be back here again next season playing on another one year contract, and giving me nightmares half the season while making me want to see him more the other half.

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