Rich Harden To the Chicago Cubs Is a Bigger Bargain Than You Think

Tony BishopCorrespondent IJuly 15, 2008

Rich Harden hasn't thrown a full season in the big leagues.

The Cubs gave up too much for a health risk.

These are just a couple of the complaints brought up after the semi-blockbuster trade between the Cubs and the Athletics earlier this month that sent Harden and Chad Gaudin to Chicago for Sean Gallagher, Matt Murton, Eric Patterson, and Josh Donaldson.

We'll get to the health issues first.

Gaudin was brought in as a potential starter in the bullpen. The trade had a built-in component for insurance reasons, in case Harden gets sent to the disabled list again. And lets be honest, even without Sean Gallagher, lefty Sean Marshall seemed to be more major-league ready right now; and the Cubs are thinking about "this year" not "next year". 

I have complete faith in Marshall and Gaudin to get us through the season without too much trouble.

On the other hand, if Harden stays healthy, the Cubs have arguably the best rotation in all of baseball. 

Jason Marquis would be a third starter on half of the teams in baseball, but on the Cubs, he's fifth. Ted Lilly, who's having a down year after last season's fantastic campaign is the fourth starter. Carlos Zambrano is still the ace, as he's the heart and soul of this team.

Ryan Dempster is probably having one of the most pleasantly surprising seasons in the entire league after a rough stint as the closer last year.

Going into the playoffs (and I think it's safe to assume as much nowadays), the Cubs will take Zambrano, Harden, and Dempster into the first round's short series. 

That's sick good. 

If an injury occurs to Harden, it would likely be Zambrano, Dempster, and Lilly.  In both of those situations, I think it's safe to say that Marshall will be in the bullpen, regardless.

So essentially, the Cubs gave up nothing on the pitching front in this trade, when we get to October. Gallagher wouldn't start anyway, so his loss won't be felt during baseball's second season.

But what about the other three guys? The really promising ones?

Ok, Matt Murton is definitely major-league ready. Eric Patterson isn't far behind.  So where do they play? 

Murton is a left fielder that "can" play right. Is he supposed to start ahead of All-Stars Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome? And by the way, utility man Mark DeRosa has proven he can play pretty much anywhere except center field, and that's only because the Cubs haven't had to ask yet.

So Murton is stuck behind two starting outfielders with several years locked into their contracts. No huge loss there.

Eric Patterson is probably only one year away from making the big leagues on most teams, but the Cubs still have faith in annual Rookie of the Year candidate Felix Pie, and with Reed Johnson and the uber-bargain Jim Edmonds rotating in  center field (Fukudome has also excelled out there).

I just don't see anywhere for Patterson to play.  He's developing into a solid second baseman, but the Cubs are set with DeRosa and the crafty Mike Fontenot, as well as shortstops Ryan Theriot and Ronny Cedeno. 

All of these guys are signed to multi-year deals, so no huge loss there, either.

Josh Donaldson is still very young and has potential, but still needs a couple years to work his way up. The A's were looking for a young catcher, and they got a good one by all accounts, but Donaldson was going to be stuck as a backup for the Cubs behind (probable) Rookie of the Year, and starting All-Star catcher Geovany Soto.

From the sound of it, the Cubs want Soto to be a mainstay in Cubbie Blue for a long time. 

So this time, there is virtually no loss for the Cubs.

Maybe it will all work out wrong, though, and the Cubs made the wrong decisions. We don't know, and we won't find out for several years.

But again, the Cubs don't care about 2012 yet. They care about this year. 

The Chicago Cubs front office is telling the world this one simple phrase: "Next year is here."


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