Chicago Cubs Trade Rumors

Last time out I took a look at a couple potential Chicago Cubs starting pitcher trade targets, C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. As SP seems to be the focus of most of the rumor action, let's take a look at some more guys that Jim Hendry could be thinking of bringing to the Northside.

Rich Harden: Quick-what do you think of when you hear the name Rich Harden? Yep...injuries. If The Disabled List were a baseball team, Rich Harden and Mark Prior would be their top 2 starters. The guy is extremely talented-but dude can't stay healthy. Harden came off his most recent trip to the DL on May 11th. The culprit this go-around was a strained back muscle.

Current Team: Here's the problem with this one-the Oakland Athletics are currently 41-34. They're in 2nd place in the AL West, 5.5 back of the Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim, California, United States, North America, Western Hemisphere, Earth, Milky Way, Space. And they're just 3.5 back of the Tampa Bay Rays for the Wild Card. Even though it looked at the beginning of the year that the A's were firmly entrenched in rebuilding territory, this team is competing. Baseball Prospectus's Playoff Odds Report (see sidebar for link) has the A's at a 55.42% of making the playoffs. Actually, they have the A's at 48.55% of winning the division while giving the Angels only a 45.91% chance of taking it. I think the A's will eventually fall back, and will eventually head back to their rebuilding plan-but right now and until further notice, this team is going to try and win now. And Harden is a huge part of that.

Contract Situation: Harden is working on a 4 year, $9 M deal that expires after this season. There's a $7 M club option for '09. Dirt cheap for a guy of his talent. Too much for a guy that spends 90% of the season on the shelf.

The Numbers: Harden has only pitched 59 innings this year across 10 games started. But in those games, he has gone 4-0 (!) with a 2.44(!) ERA while striking out 72(!) to just 25 walks. Despite the limited IPs, he's got a 19.7 VORP. BP projected Harden for a 21.2 VORP over only 80 IPs and 13 GS. Think those IPs sound low? Here's Harden's IPs over the last 3 years: '05-128, '06-46.7, '07-25.7(!).

The Competition: If Harden is believed to be healthy despite his 6 trips to the DL in 6 seasons...every single contending team would be interested. Harden is just one of those guys in sports. The guy that has such a huge upside that teams are blind to the downside, but it injuries, off field BS, or whatever. Harden has taken the ball every 5th day for 8 starts in a row now since coming off the DL. 2 ways to look at this, I guess: 1) he's finally healthy; or 2) he's due to get hurt again. If the A's fall out of this, some team will be willing to pony up to A's GM Billy Beane's asking price. The chance that a healthy Harden could be with your club down the stretch is just too good to pass up.

The Cost: Mucho. Billy Beane is a legendary GM. A lot of his excellent reputation was formed from Beane's ability to flip pitchers at the end of their deals for a slew of prospects (ie, the deals for Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Dan Haren, etc.). The guy's not going to screw around with a talent like Harden. Beane will likely say, if you want him-come and get him. And you better bring your Baseball America Top 10 Prospects list with ya. 'Cause we're going to take a bunch of those guys from you. If not-screw you, we're in the race and we're going to keep him.

What would it take to acquire Harden? Looking at the deals Beane made to flip pitchers Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Dan Haren might be helpful. Tim Hudson was traded in 2004 to the Atlanta Braves for a 26 year old SP Juan Cruz, a 22 year old SP Dan Meyer, and a 25 yr old Charles Thomas. This one didn't really work out too well for Beane. Cruz never matured as a starter (as Cubs fan know) and both Meyer and Thomas spent limited time in the majors, never really establishing themselves. But at the time the deal was made, Meyer was considered one of the best lefties in the minors, Thomas had surprised many with his performance, and Cruz was believed to be pretty talented.

Mark Mulder was dealt in December of 2004 to the Cardinals for a 23 yr old Dan Haren, a 19 yr old Daric Barton, and a 29 yr old Kiko Calero. At the time of the deal, Barton was the best hitting prospect in the Cardinals system and we all know what a stud Dan Haren has become.

Dan Haren was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in December 2007 along with Connor Robertson for a huge haul-Brett Anderson, Dana Eveland, Greg Smith, Aaron Cunningham, Carlos Gonzalez and Chris Carter. At the time of this deal, Carlos Gonzalez was the D-Backs top prospect, Brett Anderson their 3rd, Cunningham their 7th, and Chris Carter their 8th. Dana Eveland is also an excellent pitching prospect who is in the A's starting rotation this year.

A deal for a healthy Harden would fall just short of the bounty required to obtain CC Sabathia. We're talking several of our top prospects. I'm thinking something along the lines of Cubs top hitting prospect Josh Vitters, Cubs top pitching prospect Donnie Veal, and probably another pitcher in the form of Sean Gallagher or Rich Hill. Mabye a "throw in" of Murton or Hoffpauir as well. I don't think Beane would be interested in Felix Pie (he strikes out too much for his style) or any of our other young prospects (not that highly rated other than Vitters and Veal).

Thoughts: Peter Gammons has called Rich Harden "the most dominant pitcher in the American League right now." Per Phil Rogers of the Trib on Monday, the Cubs have solid interest in Harden. Per Paul Sullivan of the Sun-Times, Micah Hoffpauir could be a part of a deal for Haren.

Put me on board with this one. Part of me is trying to figure out why I'm sitting here liking the idea of trading for an injury time bomb like Harden while resisting a deal for Sabathia, but I am. I just hate the idea of cleaning out the minor league cupboards for a 2 month rental of Sabathia, who almost certainly would not re-sign with Chicago. And I guess I feel like Harden, due to his injury history, could be had at a bit of a value. But I suppose I'm only on board with a deal that will cost a ton of young talent if we'd be getting Harden at a price closer to his actual performance-based value as opposed to his perceived in-a-perfect-world-he's-always-healthy value. A deal here would come with a steep price. But if Harden stays healthy (they don't make a font big enough to do justice to that "if"), then it's a deal that may be worth making.

Gil Meche: If you'll remember, the Cubs aggressively pursued Gil Meche when he was a free agent in 2006. Ultimately, Meche went to the Royals and Ted Lilly came to the Cubs, but the interest was certainly there. The Royals just so happened to make Meche a "statement" signing and broke the bank to acquire the righty.

Current Team: The Kansas City Royals continue to be the Kansas City Royals. Sitting at 34-43, the Royals are in their familiar spot in last place and are 8 games back of the White Sox. No real reason to think they'll turn it around this year, though they are getting better. BP's Playoff Odds report gives them a pretty bleak 1.93% chance of making the playoffs this year. Yeah-they're done.

Contract Situation: Meche signed his 5 year $55 mil deal in December 06. Meche earns $11MM this year, $11MM in '09, $12MM in '10, and $12MM in '11. Lotta meat left on that bone. Meche also has what appears to be a full no-trade clause.

The Numbers: Meche is 5-8 with a 4.91 ERA thru 16 GS and 95.1 IPs. Meche has 80 Ks to 34 BBs on the year and a 5.5 VORP. Nothing special here so far this year. Pre-season, BP projected Meche to a 10-11 record with a 4.47 ERA over 29 GS and 185 IPs, with 134 Ks to 70 BBs and a 23.7 VORP (47th among SPs)

The Competition: Not too much out there in terms of other teams being linked to Meche. Peter Gammons and John Heyman of have both brought up the possibility of the Royals shopping Meche, but only threw out the Cubs as potential suitors. Heyman describes Meche as an over-priced middle of the rotation starter and suggests that the Royals probably wouldn't be willing to eat much of his contract. Heyman suggests that the Cubs could include Jason Marquis in a deal to even out the salaries. Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star, however, says the club is denying that moving Meche would be a possibility. What club wouldn't deny a rumor like this, though?

The Cost: The cost here would come primarily in the checkbook department. Meche isn't the prize he was when he signed his big deal-but still has most of the change out there waiting to be paid on that bad boy. Any deal for Meche would likely be looked at by the Royals as a cost-cutting maneuver. The Royals are reported to be working towards making a run in 2010 and all moves are being geared towards then. If they move Meche, then, they'll need a SP that will be good to go in 2 years. Sean Marshall, Sean Gallahgher, and/or Rich Hill would most certainly be involved here. I don't see Marquis being included-moving one of our established starters at this point for another starter would be counterproductive. The Royals could probably also get a throw-in position player. A guy like Jon Lieber, who's making $3.5 mil this year, could be included to bust up some of the salary hit.

Thoughts: Eh. This one's not really doing it for me. A deal for Meche would require the Cubs to take on a long-term salary commitment and in return all they'd get is a guy going on 30 who seems to have lost a lot of his best stuff. He's right handed, so no help their either. This is more attractive than a lot of other possible deals in that the costs would most likely be mostly financial, but Meche doesn't do much to upgrade this team. Ask yourself: is Gil Meche the final piece to our World Series puzzle? Yeah? No.

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