On the surface, it’s hard not to salivate at this one. Harden is a nasty, nasty pitcher when healthy. Unfortunately, health has not been his forte. His career high in innings pitched came during his second major league season, at age 22 in 2004. He tossed 189.7 innings that year, to a 3.99 ERA. He was good, but not great that year, striking out 167 and walking 81.
The next year, however, was when he shined (shone?). His 2.53 ERA told part of the story, but his 121 strikeouts to 43 walks told another: That of an improving pitcher. However, he missed significant time during the season with an oblique injury, which sidelined him from May 14th through June 20th, and then another torso injury which had him pitching zero games between August 20th and September 24th. Even after that, he finished the season in the bullpen, and wound up with 128 innings pitched.
The next two seasons were far uglier, as he posted a combined 72.1 innings, including just 25.2 last year. His talent is still undeniable — that splitter is among the best, if not the best itself, among active players. However, the injury concerns are just too great for the Yanks to take on this season.
The San Francisco Chronicle article I linked earlier notes that Billy Beane would likely be looking for Ian Kennedy for starters, and likely Alan Horne and Jeff Marquez on top of that. In other words, there will be a discount, but it won’t be much. Those three for a healthy and productive Harden would be a good deal. Those three, or even just IPK and Horne, for a questionable Harden is an undue risk.
Remember, we’re still trying to figure out how to fill innings. In that regard, Kennedy has superb value for the Yankees. He has an innings cap for sure, but it will be well above that of Joba and Phil. I don’t see how anyone can expect more than 100 innings from Harden. And if he hurts himself again, the entire trade is a bust. The Yanks will have given up hundreds of innings of at least replacement level pitching (presumably) for an oft-injured starter who, even if healthy, won’t give them the innings they need.
It’s a great idea in theory. But communism works, in theory. If Harden gets through the year healthy, he should be eligible for free agency after the 2009 season. Maybe, then, we can start talking about trading for Harden this winter. But until he gets through 100, 120 innings without hitting the DL, I’d keep my hands off, despite the glorious upside he presents.