Oakland A's manager, Bob Geren, recently declared that Rich Harden would be his number two starter when the season begins. This is interesting for a few reasons.
First, Geren expects Harden to be healthy enough to start the season. Harden's career began with huge expectations, electric stuff and a full speed ahead attitude. However, he has never taken off the way A's management or their fan base hoped. They were expecting a pitcher who could fill the void left when Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder were traded. Instead, they got a player who is quickly becoming a Mark Prior type pitcher; lots of stuff but never healthy enough to stay on the mound for an extended time. Here are his innings pitched since 2004:
Harden bottomed out in 2007, that is clear. During this time period he's had a variety of injuries including an inflamed shoulder, strained muscle in his back, oblique strain, and strained lat. Yet, over this time he still boasts a record of 26-14, with 364 strikeouts in 390 innings pitched. It is these results that have become a tease not only to the A's organization, but to fantasy baseball owners everywhere. I found this article from the San Fransisco Chronicle that does a good job of explaining Harden's injuries while discussing the cause and how the organization might try to prevent further injury. (Note: the article is from early in the 2006 season, so apparently their ideas to prevent further injury didn't work.)
Another reason this announcement is interesting is because Harden as the #2 means Joe Blanton enters the season as the number one starter. Blanton is good at what he does, throw 200 innings, have an era in the mid to high 3s and win about 15 games. However, he is not the true ace of a pitching staff and could wind up having some hard luck outings against the aces of other teams.
This development also indicates that Oakland plans to hold onto Blanton, eliminating the possibility of an offseason trade. They could enter the season with Blanton and see what teams would be willing to give up the most for him at the trade deadline; when he might actually have more value. Teams like the Yankees, Mets, Phillies, Reds, Dodgers, Rangers and White Sox could all be looking to add a starter at the deadline to help remain in the wildcard/playoff mix.
Harden is a stud, in Mark Prior clothing. The bad thing about Harden is that every time out, you will worry if he'll get hurt and miss 2 months. The good thing is that he might become an afterthought in your draft and be a decent sleeper pick late. His injuries and lack of stats might make people forget about him, turning him into one of those guys taken in the last 5 rounds causing others to say things like "Oh, I totally forgot about him."
Blanton, is a workhorse but be weary of drafting him too early as an "ace." He is a good pitcher, and should make a good selection in the middle rounds with guys like Andy Pettitte and Gil Meche.
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