Monthly Archives: July 2008

The Harden Trade Analysis

Haven’t blogged in a while, which is a shame because I have some big (or at least numerous) plans in the works, but things have gotten a bit hectic lately. But I saw this and I had to immediately put aside everything to write about it.

The Cubs traded for Rich Harden.

Wow.

I did not see this one coming. I was hoping we could get our hands on CC Sabathia (no more periods), as he was having a bit of a down year (a relative term, to be sure), the Indians are having a very down year, and he was in the last year of his contract, which is pretty much the Pillsbury recipe for trade-bait. After they fell out of the front-running, I probably stopped hearing the Cubs mentioned about a week or so before he was traded to the Brewers, I just figured that was that and moved on. Though I figured the Cubs would probably do something towards the end of the trade “deadline,” I thought it would be something like, say, getting a Jason Kendell or Steve Trachsel. I had no idea they would get someone this good this soon.

Harden has been besieged by injuries; injured six times in his six major league seasons, he’s already sat out a month this year. But when he’s on, he is on. So far he’s 5-1 with a 2.34 ERA in the hitter-friendly American League.

The move surprises me mostly because the Oakland A’s are not exactly floundering. They are seven games above .500, only six back in the AL West, and a scant 3.5 games behind the AL Wild Card leading Boston Red Sox. Throw in the fact that the Cubs have not been one in my lifetime to trade for high-class pitchers ever, let alone in the middle of the season, and this completely blindsided me.

The Cubs did not make out like bandits. They traded four players for Harden (oh, and Chad Gaudin was thrown in, as well), at least three of whom have the potential to be very good players in the Major League level: Matt Murton, Eric Patterson, Sean Gallagher, who have all played in the Majors this year, and low A-ball Peoria Chiefs’ catcher Josh Donaldson. Eric Patterson was shaping up to be better than his brother, Corey, who showed me two years ago that Felix Pie was going to be a bust (looks like I was spot on there). I’ve always liked Sean Gallagher, and I love Matt Murton. Though I’m very sad to see him go, he’s been getting a raw deal in Chicago, and I am happy to see him traded to a team which may appreciate his talents a little more.

This trade was really made possible, at least from the Cub fan’s point of view, for four reasons.

First, the Cubs are obviously thinking short-term. Though this trade is a positive boon for the rest of the season, it could end up being a negative long-term even if he stays with the Cubs for a while. Seeing as he is probably a “loaner” and will sign with the highest bidder at the end of the season, and with Gallagher, Murton, and Patterson all solid prospects, this is obviously not going to be of any help for the 2010 Cubbies. Much has been made of the fact that mid-season trades seldom work out the way the team thinking “this year” hope they do, but this is completely different. The Cubs are not making this trade to try and find the missing link to get into the playoffs. They are already in a solid position to do so, nobody will be able to argue that Hardin is not an upgrade over Gallagher, Murton and Patterson would not be instrumental in getting there, and once the postseason starts it’s pitching, pitching, pitching. With the pending sale, the Cubs have been blatant in their attempts to win a World Series under the Tribune’s watch, future-be-damned, and this will be of tremendous help in getting them through three series victoriously, while sacrificing practically nothing to get there.

Second, the acquisition of Jim Edmonds and Reed Johnson, both of whom came with huge question marks, made the Cubs’ outfield very crowded. Previously mentioned bust Pie has been sent down and probably will not return until the rosters expand, if he returns at all in 2008. But Soriano is due back shortly following the All-Star break, Fukudome has been all the Cubs (or at least I) had hoped, and the Cubs have two outfielders with major league experience in the minors: Sam Fuld and Jason Dubois. So though I would have loved to see a long Chicago career in store for Mr. Murton, he was not a needed part of the Cubs short-term plans.

Third, the unexpected play of Eric Patterson must have made him very appealing to a team needing a second baseman, and the Oakland A’s have a bunch of no-names lining up behind the pitcher. Mark Ellis is currently starting at 2B, and he owns a less-then-impressive .269 career batting average with an anemic .340 OPS, and is hitting under .250 so far this year. Eric Patterson’s numbers haven’t been fantastic, and his experiment in the outfield has been pretty much a failure, but he’s only played thirteen games with the Cubbies thus far. His minor league stats have been solid, a .300 hitter in 2007 and 2008 in AAA Iowa, and he has shown some great promise when he’s had the chance to play on the big league roster. The Cubs didn’t really have a place for him in the infield; Ryan Theriot looks like he’s going to be their shortstop for a long time, Mark DeRosa pretty much only gets a day off at second when he plays somewhere else, and there’s not a team in the league who wouldn’t like to have Mike Fontenot and Ronny Cedeno on their bench. Nobody’s going to supplant Ramirez or Lee in the next few years. So when Patterson looked lost in left field, he was an expendable but attractive part of the Cubs organization.

Finally, the Cubs starting rotation has been a mixed bag. The disappointing season of Rich Hill, who went all the way from the majors to struggling in A-ball, left an opening in the rotation they were not expecting and could ill-afford. Meanwhile, John Lieber has been solid out of the pen but was unpitchable in his only start, delegating him permanently to the bullpen this year. And Jason Marquis is Jason Marquis. However, there have been some pleasant surprises, as well. Ryan Dempster has been pitching better than anybody could have expected, and he’s headed to New York for the All-Star Game. Ted Lilly bounced back from a terrible start and, though he’s not really a surprise, has pitched well as of late. Sean Gallagher has pitched well this year, and has gotten better as the year went on. And probably most importantly, Sean Marshall has pitched very well since he’s come back from the minors to transition from reliever to starter, which ultimately allowed them to be able to send off a starting pitcher and absorb the loss.

A quick list of Cub players who did not suit up for the 2006 North Side season: Alfonso Soriano, Geovano Soto, Kosuke Fukudome, Ted Lilly, Mike Fontenot, Daryl Ward, Reed Johnson, and Jim Edmonds.

Can the Cubs be for sale every year?

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