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It was obvious to everyone that something was wrong with Rich Harden last year, beyond a little bit of shoulder tendinitis. So when it was officially revealed that Harden had a tear in his shoulder joint, it wasn’t met with the kind of reaction you’d expect when one hears pitcher, shoulder, and tear in the same sentence.

But sources also confirmed Saturday that Harden has a tear in the joint, just severe enough that some players might seek surgery but slight enough to be in a range often treated effectively with a strengthening program, therapy and a well- managed work schedule.

That’s more than the Cubs let on last fall, even after the revelation that Harden had a cortisone shot for ”rotator tendinitis.” CHICAGO SUN-TIMES.

Ok, you’re allowed the moment of PANIC.

Chicago Cubs. Young, superstar pitcher. Cubs are less than forthcoming about an injury.

It never ends well. And this time, it’s particularly scary. The reason why after the jump.

The reason this revelation is scary – even though not surprising – is because of Harden’s situation. His contract situation.

Harden is a free agent after this year, so he’s got all the incentive in the world to pitch and pitch well this year.

That means that even if he semi-sort-of-needed surgery on his shoulder, he would resist the idea in favor of working through the injury (which appears to be happening). Surgery, no matter how minor, would likely shelf him for half a season or more. It also just sounds worse to prospective future employers.

The Cubs have an incentive to let him pitch through it, too. After all, if he has surgery, there’s no guarantee he pitches, and pitches well, this year at all. And this year is all the Cubs have – I guess it’s that way every year.

So why is that scary? Well, you’ve got a player with a strong incentive not to get surgery even if he kind of needs it, and you’ve got a team with a strong incentive not to have that player get surgery even if he kind of needs it. That’s a dangerous combination that could blow up mid-season, and then Harden would definitely be unavailable when the Cubs need him most: October.

One thing is certain – there is zero chance Harden is a Chicago Cub after 2009. If he ends up getting surgery, some team will pay him more to rehab than the Cubs will be willing. If he otherwise gets hurt, the Cubs won’t have him back. Call it Prioritis – once bitten, twice shy.

If he pitches well and is healthy, dude is gonna get PAID in 2010, and the Cubs simply won’t have the payroll space for it. A few key players’ salaries dramatically increase after this year.

So when I say this year is all the Cubs have when it comes to Rich Harden, I mean it. So I guess it’s a good thing he’s not getting surgery. Let’s just hope his arm doesn’t fall off.

Until December.

  • DaveB

    Great work Ace! Ive been in Europe for the last 2 weeks and finally was able to get on a computer. The first site I came to: HERE, to get caught up on all the Cubbies news.

  • Ace

    Thanks, Dave. You rock, and you are dangerously close to also rolling. We’re glad to keep you updated on the latest Cubs news and rumors [/end salespitch]

    Hope Europe is treating you well.

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