Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Harden Than Ever to be an A's Fan
I've known m'boy Smitty – a fellow A's fan – since 9th grade and this was his take on the trade that sent A's RHPs Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin to the Cubs for RHP Sean Gallagher, OF/2B Eric Patterson, OF Matt Murton, and minor league C Josh Donaldson:
"This is one of those deals you would expect some Cubs fan to come up with on Chicago sports talk radio."
Since this deal involves some lesser-known Cubs, a minor leaguer and a team in California, some introductions are probably in order:
Rich Harden - Fragile, but electric starting pitcher who is as dominating as any arm in the league when he's "on". Career winning percentage of .655, but can't stay healthy.
Chad Gaudin - Bounced from Tampa to Toronto before landing with the A's in 2006. Forced into the starting rotation in '07, he wasn't great, but was among the leaders in ERA for most of the first half. Only six starts in '08 (3-2, 3.75 ERA) before a numbers game put him back in the pen.
Sean Gallagher - 22-year-old righty who's been on the Chicago-Iowa escalator for the past two seasons. Inconsistent command and a ceiling that scouts have placed at "#4 starter".
Eric Patterson - Corey's little brother, Eric is a 25-year-old second baseman with questions about his defense, an inability to hit left-handed pitching and, after adjusting his minor league numbers, a skill set that gives off "utility player" fumes.
Matt Murton - Some Cub fans insist all that's standing between Murton and a decent career is an opportunity to play. A lot of us said the same thing about Bobby Kielty. In 870 big league at-bats Murton's hit .294/.362/.448.
Josh Donaldson - 21-year-old catcher out of Auburn University and the Cubs' #2 pick last year. He's been described as an "on-base machine", but he's hitting .217 in single-A and considering the polished college program he came from…
After all these years, I know how the A's operate, but I just don't understand the timing of this deal. Harden is in the middle of his healthiest season in three years. No, that's not saying much as his 13 starts equal his combined 2006-07 total, but why did GM Billy Beane pull the trigger now?
It would've been a HUGE roll of the dice – especially considering reports from Harden's last two starts that indicate a troubling loss of velocity – but, why not see what Harden does in the three weeks between now and the July 31 trade deadline?
If Harden were to dominate in his next three or four starts, you've got the single biggest bargaining chip in baseball. If he continued to be the solid, but unspectacular version from the past few weeks, a Cub-like package from Chicago or another contender could still be had. Worst case scenario: Harden's arm falls off and the A's have a decision to make about his 2009 option (when the above process would most likely repeat itself).
As it is, the A's probably did cash out with Harden's value at its peak, but if they were so intent on punting 2008, what would've been the harm in putting Harden on display for a little longer? I'm not naïve enough to believe that the A's were going to win the West this year, but they were hanging in there and had the somnambulant Mariners and division-leading Angels in Oakland this week.
What's especially galling is that Gallagher is just a slightly less obese Joe Blanton and Fat Joe's value was NEVER going to be higher than it was this past offseason. Either rebuild or don't, Mr. Beane, but don't try to tell me that Joe Blanton is a pitcher you build around.
And, don't get me started on the fact that Chad Gaudin was a throw-in, either. While he'd never put together a full season as a starter, he was just starting to catch fire before he was sent to the bullpen to make room for erstwhile Diamondbacks LHPs Greg Smith and Dana Eveland.
What sucks the most for me, personally, is that I saw Harden's first big league win live vs. the Angels in Anaheim with Smitty and then, four years later, I was in the stands with That Nicka Guy when Harden and Gaudin combined to one-hit the Yankees in the Bronx.
As an A's fan, you get used to rooting for the front of the uniforms instead of the names and numbers on the back.
I can't wait to pass this cynicism onto my son.