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Tuesday is the deadline for Major League teams to offer arbitration to their free agents. If the player accepts, he will get a one-year contract at a rate determined by an arbitrator (if necessary), and that rate almost always represents a raise over the prior year’s salary. If the player declines and then signs elsewhere, the player’s original team will get draft pick compensation if the player was one of the top players in the league at his position. “Top players,” is of course subject to some debate, but a formula at the Elias Sports Bureau makes the evaluation – you can question the utility of a formula and procedure that designates Matt Holiday and Kevin Gregg as equivalent free agents, but whatever.

On to the news:

The Cubs were not expected to offer arbitration to Kevin Gregg, Rich Harden, Reed Johnson and Chad Fox by Tuesday’s deadline. Muskat Ramblings.

With respect to Gregg, Johnson, and Fox, this is no surprise. Rich Harden is also not a surprise, but a mind-bogglingly frustrating non-surprise.

Harden, a Type B free agent (signing team would not have to give up a pick in order to sign Harden, but the Cubs would get a sandwich pick between the first and second round of the draft), made $7 million in 2009, and would thus likely receive around $8 or 9 million in 2010 through arbitration. Still, the Cubs are apparently unwilling to take the chance that he accepts such a one-year deal – you know, when there are plenty of teams likely willing to offer him a multi-year deal.

That said, not offering Harden arbitration, alone, is not an indictable offense. He’s got a rickety shoulder, and does not manage to go deep into games. Arbitration would be, at least, a small risk.

But if the Chicago Cubs knew they were not going to re-sign Rich Harden when the season ended (and they did), and if they knew they were not going to offer him arbitration (they should have known), then why in the WORLD did they not trade him at the trade deadline or the non-waiver trade deadline this year for whatever they could get? Harden was claimed on waivers by the Minnesota Twins, and they wanted him as late as the non-waiver trade deadline at the end of August – when everyone could see that the Cubs were out of the race. And even if the Cubs believed they weren’t, Harden made just three more starts for the Cubs after that date.

As I see it, there are only two remote, but reasonable explanations – which must be offered simultaneously for me to accept them – for not trading Harden AND not offering him arbitration:

1.) Jim Hendry believed Rich Harden was healthy, and would dominate in September, leading the Cubs back into the race; thus, he refused to trade him; AND

2.) Between August 31 and today, something critical has changed: either Rich Harden’s shoulder profoundly deteriorated or was discovered deteriorated (which would mean the Cubs repeatedly lied as the season wound down), or the Cubs’ finances changed so dramatically that the risk of Harden accepting arbitration would crush the team’s plans.

Together, it all seems like a stretch. What is more likely is a mealy-mouthed, half-assed combination of the explanations – gee willackers, well I thought the Cubs might come back in September, and the offer for Harden wasn’t very good, and gee willackers, I didn’t really think ahead about the likelihood of re-signing Harden versus offering him arbitration, and what the market for a pitcher like him would be like this off-season.

Gee willackers, indeed.

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