Thursday, July 16, 2009

Could Harden's Days as a Cubs Starter Numbered?

According to Bruce Levine of ESPN 1000 in Chicago, the Chicago Cubs have signed former all-star closer BJ Ryan to a minor league deal. With his release from the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this month, the Cubs are only on the hook for a prorated portion of $400,000. The thought is that if Ryan can prove to get lefties out in AAA, it'll allow the Cubs to move Sean Marshall back into the rotation. But where?

Carlos Zambrano isn't going anywhere. Not with his $18 million or so that's owed him every year for the next 5 years or so. Ted Lily was the Cubs only All-star this season and has pitched very well for the 2 and a half years he's been a Cub. Randy Wells has pitched above expectations and without Lily, would be the most consistent member of the rotation. Ryan Dempster is on the DL right now, but when he gets better, he'll be plugged right back in. That leaves Rich Harden, the man who has a 14.11 ERA in his last 2 starts. But it hasn't just been his last 2 starts that are bad. His whole season has been a nightmare. All his rate stats are just downright awful this season. He's averaging almost 10 hits for every 9 inning pitched, almost 2 homers and nearly 4 and a half walks per game. He's given up 16 homers this season in 74 innings. His career high before this season was 16, but that was in 189 innings, 5 years ago. To me, that tells me he's having elbow issues, but the Cubs swear nothing is wrong.

Harden's contract is up after this season, so there is no future financial obligation after October. And with how awful he has been this season, there is very little chance of the Cubs offering him arbitration, for fear he might accept it and the Cubs being on the hook for $7 million or more. So, with no obligation, there's no fear of him losing confidence in his stuff. He won't be back unless it's cheap. But is that the right move?

Marshall has been effective throughout his career coming out of the pen, sporting a 2.58 ERA. As a matter of fact, the only rate stat that is worse out of the pen is his walk rate, averaging a walk more per 9 innings than as a starter. But he allows fewer base runners overall as a reliever and has been very effective, allowing only 4% of inherited runners to score this season. His rightful place is in the pen, hopefully GM Jim Hendry and manager Lou Pinella will see that.

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