The "Other Guy" in the Cubs' Rich Harden Trade

Erik SchultzCorrespondent IAugust 13, 2008

Wait...the Cubs got somebody else in the Rich Harden deal?  OK...who the hell is he?  How did a person manage to fit himself inside Harden's luggage when he flew into Chicago? 

The last question may be a bit of a stretch.

During the week of Jul. 7-13, the week leading up to the All-Star break, all the talk revolved around pitchers Rich Harden and CC Sabathia.  You know the story:  The Milwaukee Brewers pulled the first move, snatching Sabathia on Jul. 7 from the Cleveland Indians; the Cubs then immediately countered by picking up Harden from the Oakland Athletics on Jul. 8. 

That's right, the very next day.  Twenty-three days before the Jul. 31 trade deadline.  Every time you heard Harden's name mentioned, it was inevitably followed by the letters "CC."  Harden was talked of as the answer, the man who could offset Sabathia and the potential damage he and the Brewers would inflict upon the Cubs in the NL Central race.

The Cubs gave up four players - pitcher Sean Gallagher, outfielder Matt Murton, OF/2B Eric Patterson, and minor league catcher Josh Donaldson—in exchange for Harden and Chad Gaudin (pronounced "go-dan"). 

You've already seen what Harden is capable of, if he stays healthy, in just six starts in a Cubs uniform:  35 IP, seven ER, 52 K.  Considering he has thrown only 72 innings combined over the previous two seasons, this is a BIG if.  Leave it to Cubs GM Jim Hendry to demand a quality insurance plan (Gaudin) on such a valuable, yet fragile, commodity. 

In addition to simply being a potential replacement to Harden should the injury bug come back, Gaudin will provide the Cubs with a strong, versatile presence in the bullpen. 

A guy that can pitch in either long, middle, or late relief, Gaudin has already been asked to come in to many different situations in his first month on his new ballclub.   Whether it's been close leads, tie games, extra innings, blowouts, Gaudin has proven effective in whatever situation he has been asked to handle.

Gaudin, at age 25, has already pitched 438 career innings in the majors, compared with Harden, at age 26, who has 576.  Gaudin has made 50 career starts, but has been used primarily as a reliever in 2008—first with Oakland, and now with the Cubs. 

Gaudin has already seen plenty of action—he has appeared in 15 of the 30 games the Cubs have played since both he and Harden arrived in Wrigleyville.  He has picked up the win in 3 of those 15. 

In 17 2/3 innings with the Cubs he has allowed six ER (a 3.06 ERA), while fanning 20 and issuing only five walks, a crucial stat for effective mid-to-late inning relief (take note, Carlos Marmol).  Also, he has pitched two innings in five of his appearances, providing manager Lou Piniella with a guy he can use in long-relief situations if needed.

The addition of Gaudin has provided some necessary reinforcement to a Cubs bullpen that was extraordinary and in no real need of any major help, until about the middle of June.  Since then, closer Kerry Wood was sidelined for over three weeks with a blister, but has since returned to the bullpen.  

Set-up man and closer-in-waiting Carlos Marmol has gone through some very erratic spells where he couldn't get anybody out, or simply couldn't throw the ball over the plate.  The other late-inning man, Bob Howry, has been a liability since the All-Star break (nine ER, six HR allowed in 10 2/3 IP).  

While Marmol has seemingly gotten back on track (11 straight scoreless outings since the All-Star Break),  and Wood should return to his closer's role, having Gaudin allows Piniella to have more flexibility in those close late innings games, without having Wood and Marmol bear the entire burden.   

Another source of real value for Gaudin is that he can also be used as a starter if the need presents itself.  It is foolish to think the current Cubs rotation, as strong and deep as it is currently, is in any way invincible.  Harden, of course, has had his extensive history on the DL in just 5 major league seasons. 

Jason Marquis has been pretty solid as a No. 5 man this season (8-7 4.67 ERA) but has toed dangerous line of allowing lots of men to reach (1.45 WHIP) in most of his 22 starts.  Then there is the potential issue of durability with Ryan Dempster, who became a starter this year after closing for the Cubs the previous three seasons.   

He was a starter early in his career (from '99-'03) but has not pitched 200 innings in a season since '01.  He is on pace now for 215.  This is not guaranteed to be a problem, but it will be interesting to see whether Dempster will keep it going for the final quarter of the season. 

For Gaudin, this may not mean actually replacing Dempster in the rotation, but perhaps providing Dempster an extra day of rest by filling in for a start on Dempster's normal turn to pitch.  Having a fresh, strong Dempster as the No. 3 starter going into a playoff series will be important to the Cubs' postseason success.

Ultimately, Chad Gaudin will not likely be the reason the Cubs do or don't win the division, win the NLCS, or...I won't even say it.  However, he will be involved in some important games down the stretch, pitching some important innings and more than likely being around to pick up at least a couple wins in those games. 

He can also become a player the Cubs look to keep around for a few years after the 2008 campaign.  At only 25, he already has some quality major league experience on his resume, while still having the potential to become a very quality starter or late-inning reliever for many years to come.