When it was revealed earlier this week that, among others, Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Rich Harden had been claimed off waivers, folks immediately started buzzing about the possibility of a trade before Monday’s waiver trade deadline.

And what playoff-contending and/or playoff-bound team wouldn’t want Harden? Sure, he started slow, but he’s got a 1.80 ERA since the All-Star break, and damn if he doesn’t look like the Rich Harden of old. Remember that guy? The guy who is among the best five pitchers in baseball when healthy?

So, ok. If the Cubs are out of it – and, I’m sorry friends, they likely are – why not deal Harden? He’ll be a free agent at the end of the year, and is likely to command a healthy (pun) multi-year deal, at a rate that a team like the Cubs – a team with large, large contracts to deal with already next year, and a bevy of young, cheap pitchers to possibly take Harden’s spot – may not want to offer. Well, then, a deal makes perfect sense, right?

Wrong. Or so everyone says. Specifically, they point to the fact that because Rich Harden is likely to be a Type A free agent this year, if the Cubs simply offer him arbitration at the end of the year and he signs elsewhere, the team will get two high draft picks for their trouble. That means, to trade Harden, the Cubs would have to be enticed with at least two first-round type prospects. And what team in the world is going to offer such a haul for but one month (plus playoffs) of Rich Harden?

*shrug* *kicks rocks* No deal, I guess.

And then I thought about it some more this morning (as I watch “Property Ladder on TLC” – these stupid people). It is not as if the possibility of those high draft picks stays with the Cubs when Harden goes.

If Harden is traded to another team, that team can also offer him arbitration and get a couple high draft picks if he walks. Thus, another team has just as much incentive to have Harden aboard as do the Cubs.

In fact, if that team is making a playoff push, they have much more incentive. Therefore, presumably, that team would offer the Cubs slightly more value than the two draft picks would have – namely, they would offer the incremental value over the picks that a month and playoffs of Harden has, plus the value of the picks, themselves.

And that is a pretty tasty haul for Rich Harden.

Rumor has it that it the Minnesota Twins were the claiming team (surprising that Harden would not have been claimed by an NL team), which would be a blessing and a curse. On the upside, the Twins have a very deep and attractive farm system. On the downside, as a small market team, they probably value their prospects a bit more than most teams. Of course, using the above Harden’s-new-team-could-still-get-draft-picks algorithm, perhaps a trade for Harden would be a savvy calculation for a small market team.

The Twins, who could use another starting pitcher, are just 4.5 games out of first in the AL Central. Adding a pitcher like Harden could help their push for a playoff berth greatly.

Work the phones, Jim Hendry. Work them phones.


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