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Rich Harden: Free Agent at the End of the Season

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 Rich Harden: Free Agent at the End of the Season
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Cubs+v+New+York+Yankees+kM1nx496LlRl.jpg">Over the course of his career, Rich Harden has been a maddeningly frustrating pitcher. At times, Harden looks like the best pitcher on the planet because he has the stuff to be one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball.

But every year it seems as though Harden's progression is set back by injuries. Since 2005, Harden has spent ample time every year on the DL and and a result, has yet to establish himself as one of the top pitchers in baseball.

If anything, Harden is still somewhat of an unknown. Everyone knows that he can be dominant, but can he actually stay on the field long enough to strut his stuff?

How will the market line up for Rich Harden? Let's take a look:

The Case for Rich Harden

-Upside

The best thing that Harden has going for him this offseason is that he has more upside than any other pitcher on the free agent market. Harden has the ability to dominate as evidenced by his 10-2 record last season with an incredible 2.07 ERA and an impressive 1.061 WHIP in 25 starts. That potential doesn't just hint of an ace, those numbers signify that Harden has the ability to a dominant ace.

-Strikeouts

Harden led the league in K/9 this season with a staggering 10.9. That number directly reflects how good Harden can be when he's on. And oh yeah, Harden actually struck out more hitters/nine innings last season: 11.

-Age

At 27 years old, there is ample reason to believe that Harden's best years are ahead of him. Harden is just entering his prime years now and is the youngest free agent pitcher on the free agent market.

The Case against Rich Harden

-Health

Rich Harden's numbers on the field are pretty damn good. However, Rich Harden's numbers off the field are downright concerning. Andy by off the field, I'm of course referring to injuries. The reality is this: Rich Harden is injury prone; very injury prone. Take a look at these stats:

-Rich Harden has only started 30+ games once (2004)
-Rich Harden has only thrown 150+ innings in a season once (2004)
-Rich Harden started less than 10 games in both 2006 and 2007
-Rich Harden has spent time on the DL in every season from 2005-2009
-Rich Harden has been on the DL seven times since 2005

Yikes. That's quite the laundry list of injuries.

Teams NEED to proceed with caution when dealing with Rich Harden until he proves he's healthy.

Competition

I'm reluctant to put Harden in the same category as Justin Duchscherer and Erik Bedard, two guys who missed significant time this season because of injury. But I have a tough time placing Harden in the same category as Joel Pineiro, Randy Wolf, or even Jason Marquis because of his injury history and age.

So I think Harden goes in a separate category all by himself: "young, effective, and potentially dominating starting pitcher, who has a tough time staying healthy and throwing lots of innings."

Elias Ranking: Type A

It looks like the Cubs have no plans to keep Harden around, but it might actually make some sense to at least offer Harden arbitration. Harden made $7 million from the Cubs this season and would probably be in line for a raise in arbitration of $2-$3 million. That would put his 2010 price tag at $9-$10 million, which is not that outlandish. In addition, if Harden bolts, then the Cubs recoup two draft picks.

But given Lou Piniella's recent comments about Harden, I doubt the Cubs will offer him arbitration and risk bringing him back.

Prediction
(2 years/$18 million)

Here are some comparable contracts:

-Oliver Perez (3 years/$36 million)
-Brad Penny (1 year/$5 million)
-Kelvim Escobar (3 years/$28.5 million)

Harden's health makes him a huge risk. It's hard to imagine any team committing to him long term at this point given his history. With that said, I still expect Harden to be paid handsomely this winter.

According to fangraphs, Harden was worth $8.4 million this season and a whopping $20.1 million last season, which again proves that when Harden is healthy, he is a very effective starting pitcher.

Two years seems to be a logical risk for both the team and Harden. For the team, this is a short term commitment that would do minimal damage to the franchise should Harden go down with an injury.

For Harden, this deal would give him the opportunity to show teams that he can stay healthy, throw a considerable amount of innings, and become a free agent after the 2011 season when he will turn just 30 years old.

Thoughts on Rich Harden?

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