The Day After: Continued reaction on the Cubs trade for Rich Harden & Chad Gaudin

Wow. That is one sexy picture up there. Rich Harden in Cubbie blue. I haven't had this big of a trade boner since Nomah came to town. Lovin' it.

As for the rest of the world, there's some mixed results. Let's do some Milli-Vanilli style sampling here to give you a peak on what some of the baseball world that I respect is saying about the Cubs huge trade:
  • Baseball Prospectus had several really excellent articles up today on this deal. Somewhat surprisingly based on the mixed sentiment in most everything else I've read on this deal, BP was overwhelmingly positive. Let's start with a bit of Joe Sheehan's tellingly titled article "Free Lottery Tickets?" ($):

The thing is, I stand by everything I said yesterday…and this trade still makes sense for the Cubs. They didn’t need to make it, they do have the best team and a difficult roster to improve upon, and the last thing any team needs is to make a move because someone else made a move. Yet with all that, well, this is basically a free Rich Harden. If you’re the Cubs, the risk involved in making this trade is so low as to make it a no-brainer. The package of players they gave up will not be missed. Sure, Sean Gallagher might have become a mid-rotation starter in the Jason Marquis mold, and Josh Donaldson could find his way out of the woods and eventually have a career. It doesn’t really matter; the Cubs didn’t trade anything with enough value to make them regret this deal. There’s no Matt LaPorta in here, no Carlos Gomez, no top-50 prospect or high-upside player who could rack up 2000 hits or 200 wins and torment them for 15 years.

That invites the question: What were the A’s thinking? If they didn’t get back anything of significant value for Harden, why did they trade him? Why did they move him with three weeks to go until the trade deadline, just as the Indians dealt Sabathia? Why didn’t they target one very good player instead of getting four guys, none of whom are great prospects? The only reasonable answer is that this is selling high.
*****
This is not to say that Harden is damaged goods, that he’s going to get hurt, that the Cubs got Sirotka’d. This is to say that no one in this deal, and no one breaking it down on the internet, has a firm grip on what Rich Harden is. He could be one of the 10 best pitchers in the National League. He could also be to the 2008 Cubs what Mark Prior was to the last two editions—a potentially great pitcher who never takes the mound. Anyone who says with certainty what Harden will be over the next 12 weeks is just kidding themselves, because he’s already doing things he hasn’t done in three years, things he has very little experience doing for a full season.
*****
Even if Harden is healthy, which is a big "if," he’ll have less impact on the Cubs than Sabathia has on the Brewers. The primary differences are that Harden is replacing better pitchers than Sabathia is—Gallagher for the Cubs versus Seth McClung or Jeff Suppan with the Brewers—and Sabathia throws an inning more per start than Harden does. There's also the question of which pitcher is better, but for the purposes of this discussion, let’s call them even, giving them both expected RA of 3.00.
*****
The trade ends up looking like one that made sense for both teams, given the expectations on each and each organization’s relative focus. The A’s are trying to build for 2010, while the Cubs are trying to not go 101 years without a championship. The A’s didn’t have much reason to bet on Harden’s upside, given the money owed to him and their chances of winning this year, while the Cubs not only have reason to, they were offered the pitcher for a price they could happily pay. Neither team is likely to lose this trade, and it seems clear that both could win it. That’s the definition of a good deal.

  • Next up, BP's transaction guru Christina Kahrl goes off. Kahrl goes through the trade piece by piece and makes the point that the A's really didn't receive a whole lot in return for 2 pitchers as talented as Harden and Chad Gaudin by analyzing which player the Cubs gave up is actually the "best." Kahrl admits it's probably Gallagher, but wonders why since Gallagher, by all indications, seems to be fairly good in most areas and great in none. She says Murton's not great and, at 26, is as good as he's going to get. Eric Patterson isn't it as he's not a good defensive 2B by any measure, and therefore probably doesn't have a future at the position with the A's focus on defense, and isn't a good enough hitter to qualify as a prospect at any other position. And Josh Donaldson, a 21 year old struggling in A ball, definitely isn't it. Here's Kahrl:
I'm as big a Billy Beane fan as any person who prefers to stop short of going all fanboy or fangirl over the man—that's for real genius, not canny baseball executives—but it's really, really hard to see what it is that the A's got that would compel them to accept this offer, as opposed to treat it as a conversational cul-de-sac to head back out of and see whether a real deal might be struck. Why make a deal with the Cubs, who just don't have all that much to offer? As Kevin Goldsteinthree of their eight best pre-season prospects, that's relative. Put it this way—who is the best player that the A's received in the deal? We'll try and answer that in a second, but there's a second question that has to be asked in conjunction with the first: How likely is the best player received in the deal to have a significant role with the club in 2010 (when Harden would have been a free agent signed by somebody else) or 2011 (when Gaudin would have expended his salary arbitration seasons and potentially also left for a team and contract of his choosing)?
*****
On some level, I segregate this deal into two segments, because I'm merely human and I create patterns where none might exist. First, I put Gaudin for Gallagher to one side as something of a push, where the benefits are pretty straightforward: Gaudin's getting expensive through arbitration, where Gallagher's five years removed from free agency and three years younger. Consider it an exchange of an established fourth starter for a potential fourth starter, with the attendant cost savings. The problem is that this leaves you with Patterson, Murton, and Donaldson for Harden. Somebody would bite on that? Billy Beane would bite on that? Where's Felix Pie? Where's Rich Hill? Where's... well, something or somebody with real upside? This is it?
*****
Now, consider the cost to the organization—you get a potential ace starter, albeit one who, like John Tudor in the '80s, you can't be too sure how long you have him for. Happily, Harden comes with a club option for 2009, so if he's healthy enough to want to keep for $7 million next year, that's the opportunity to retain a fragile ace at a level of compensation significantly below market pricing. Gaudin is Cubs property for at least two seasons, although he'll be arbitration-eligible the next two winters, but that's still a matter of adding a quality pitcher for two and a half years, one who would cost more than that on the open market, and one of a caliber that there were no guarantees that Gallagher was going to be able match. As for the talent surrendered, on a practical level it boils down to Gallagher—who you just replaced with two better starters—two position players you didn't like and probably couldn't use, and a Low-A catcher who wasn't doing anything to convince people he's the next Jeff Goldbach, let alone that he might become a prospect. noted in January, theirs isn't a great farm system, and even if you're landing

There's one constant meme within the discussion of the Harden-to-Cubs deal. That is that the A's, understanding Harden's medical situation better than anyone, knew his true value—what Joe Sheehan called "a free Rich Harden"—and saw it as the return they got. I'll leave the trade analysis to Joe and Christina, but I'd like to look at this concept: do the A's really have a better handle? I agree with the way they've dealt with him and with the conclusions they've come to, but even with the changes made coming into the season, they don't have a great track record on injuries. Bobby Crosby has been the most vocal about his injury situation, but he's not the only player that's been unhappy. It's a new staff, and relative to expectations in 2008, the A's have had a reasonable return. With guys like Harden, Eric Chavez, Crosby, and others on this roster, they were never going to have a low DL day total.

For Harden, the focus has to be on the fact that for a couple of years now, the A's haven't been able to keep him healthy. On his own program this offseason, and making some mechanical changes, it appears that his results have been better than what the A's could provide. Is it a fluke? Who knows at this stage, but that's data. The Cubs, clearly in a win-now mode, got an upgrade with some downside. The Cubs were willing to take on that risk after a sign-off from their own doctors and the word of Lewis Yocum, though there's one outside factor that I'm still following up on. While Harden is always going to be an injury waiting to happen, I think that the risk, and the team's relative assessments of that risk, are going to be the deciding factor in the perception of who "won" this deal. Given his last start, Cubs fans ought to be watching Harden's velocity closely.


  • Phil Rogers made an appearance on "The Beat" with Charlie Steiner on XM Radio today. I was workin' hard takin' note during the interview and, therefore, hardly workin'. Here's some highlights: Steiner introduced Rogers by playing a song with the chorous of "ya ain't lost nutin' that you can't do better without." Not sure of the song title, but a not so subtle message from Steiner. Rogers hopped right in, saying "I actually think Oakland got a lot of talent. It's the kind of deal that Billy does very well where he takes 1 guy and turns him into 3 and 4 which is why he's able to compete with his $50M payroll year after year." "Oakland got quite a bit of talent-maybe more than the Brewers got for CC." And, "I think the Cubs got a ticket in the Rich Harden lottery." Rogers went on to say that this deal was more about the advancing in the playoffs than about trying to make them. Rogers said the Cubs got exposed for lacking a true #2 starter in last year's playoff loss to Arizona. Rogers then added, "The fact that they got CG in this trade is a nice little blessing," and stated that any pitching depth lost in Gallahger was made up for by getting Gaudin. A final interesting point from the article was a discussion of Billy Beane's motivation for moving Harden, stating that this was the "first time in a long time that he's had a window to trade Harden." Rogers stated that the A's wanted Harden to come back and pitch at end of last year after a near complete return from injury in order to showcase him for a potential trade over the winter. But Harden shut himself down and wouldn't pitch, saying the A's were playing "insignificant" games and he didn't want to risk further injury. Rogers believes that this made Beane want to trade Harden even more as it was viewed as Harden putting himself ahead of the team.
  • Next up is an article that appeared in the Sun-Times citing AccuScore and concluding that the Cubs came out the real winners in these Sabathia/Harden deals. One other note on this one-scroll to the bottom of the article and check out the "Related Blog Posts" bit. Towel Drills: Bigger. Than. Jebus.
  • Harden made an appearance on "The Waddle and Silvy Show" today. The Sun-Times has a transcript of the interview here.
In fact, one baseball man called Oakland's decision to trade Harden now -- while he's pitching great and the A's are still in a race -- a "serious red flag." Meanwhile, in a potentially related development, a scout we surveyed reported that Harden's velocity hasn't been quite the same in his most recent couple of starts, since his eight-inning, 11-strikeout two-hitter against the Phillies on June 26. But the Cubs have watched every pitch he has thrown for weeks. They saw him hit 96 mph on the gun Sunday with their own eyes. So clearly, they'll take their chances on the odds of getting him out there 14 or 15 times between now and Sept. 28. True, Harden comes with no get-your-four-trade-chips-back health guarantees. But unlike Sabathia, he's also not a rental. The Cubs get to keep him for a year and a half. Plus, they add very useful Chad Gaudin to their bullpen -- and, potentially, to their rotation in case of (a) emergency, (b) a Harden health mishap and/or (c) a patience meltdown by Lou Piniella with, say, Jason Marquis. "The Cubs," one scout said Tuesday night, "have the best rotation in the league right now" -- CC in Cheesehead Town or no CC in Cheesehead Town.
*****
Gallagher might not be a pitcher with Harden's star power. But he's exactly what Billy Beane was looking for, said an official of one team -- "a major-league-ready starter who can go straight into their rotation right now but who they get as a 'zero-plus' player. He can pitch for them for 2 1/2 years before he can even go to arbitration." The rest of the package Oakland got seems devoid of centerpiece players. But it's packed with inventory pieces who should all play in the big leagues.
*****
Asked Tuesday whether the A's got enough for one of the most overpowering pitchers in baseball, one scout chuckled: "For a guy who might break down tomorrow? Yeah." But the Cubs understood that, too. Understood exactly what they were dealing for in Harden. He might miss a turn or two. Or 10. But at this point in the life of their quasi-tragic franchise, they weren't interested in playing it safe. Not anymore. They were interested in dealing for an arm with a chance to change games and rewrite their history. Well, they got one. We'll now authorize the entire population of the North Side to begin holding its breath on that. The good news is, you can all resume inhaling again in a mere 3 1/2 months.
  • Goat Riders of the Apocolypse again has some great coverage of the reaction to the deal around the dubya dubya dubyas here. Lots of great info at that link, like this: "Oh, and about that dead arm thing. Checking with Fangraphs, Harden's fastball this season has averaged 92.6 MPH. In the past seven days? 91.9 MPH. I wouldn't worry too much about that yet." And here's a really great story they pulled from this ESPN article:

On Sunday evening -- the same night when word broke that the Brewers had worked out a deal for CC Sabathia -- Hendry indicated to Beane for the first time that he would make Gallagher available in a Harden deal, but it would create a problem: If Gallagher was traded, the Cubs wouldn't have the kind of depth they needed to deal with an injury.

"Let me call you back," Beane said.

Beane had an idea. He could fill Hendry's need for depth by adding veteran swingman Chad Gaudin in the trade. He phoned Hendry back on Monday night with the suggestion. "That could work," Hendry said, and the two general managers began piecing together other parts of the trade. Beane called Hendry with a detail of the trade very late on Monday night, California time, figuring the call would switch over to voice mail on Hendry's cell phone because it was so late.

But Hendry answered the phone, wide awake. "Jim, what are [you] doing awake?" Beane asked.

"I'm just laying here on my couch," Hendry said.

  • Finally, Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin made it to Chicago and were introduced today. Some reaction from Harden, Gaudin, and their new teammate, Mark DeRosa:

''It's my first trade. I've been in Oakland my entire career. So it definitely was a shock," Harden said Wednesday, a day after the Cubs obtained him in a six-player trade with the Athletics.

''But it's exciting to come to the Cubs, especially with the talent they have, the reputation they have -- the fans, how passionate everyone is for baseball here. I couldn't be happier."

*****

"I look at myself as whatever they need," Gaudin said. "If they need a starter, I can start for them. If they need a reliever, I can relieve. I like to start. I enjoy starting. Right now it's about staying in first place and winning a World Series. That's what we've got to do. I'll do whatever it takes."

*****

"A lot of guys in this clubhouse don't realize how good this guy is," Mark DeRosa said. "I had the misfortune of facing him a couple times playing in the American League and got a few phone calls from some guys I played with over there in Texas. Everyone says the same thing. When this guy is on the mound, it's one of those rides to the ballpark where you're like, 'I hope I can mix a single in there somehow.' When he's on, he's one of the best right-handed pitchers in the game. Stuff-wise, his stuff is off the charts."

    Comment (1)

    Lionel

    July 10, 2008 at 7:55 AM

    Jumbo, this seems like a feeble attempt to post an article longer than my trade prospect article.