Rich Harden Going Soft Down The Stretch

Maybe Rich Harden likes Chicago so much that he is pitching himself back into the Cubs' price range.

The right hander has $100 million stuff but the endurance of a 17-year-old.  Harden is 9-9 with a 4.09 earned run average, rebounding from a 5-6 first half to go 4-3 thus far in the second stanza with a 2.55 ERA.  But since the Cubs failed to trade him to Minnesota before the waiver-deal deadline, Harden has struggled.  He is 1-2 allowing 13 runs (9 earned) in 17 innings.

Wrigley Field has been the un-friendly confines for Harden, who has a 3-7 record at home this season with a 5.99 ERA.  On the road, he's 6-2 with a 2.00 ERA and 1.15 WHIP.

Between those mind-numbing splits and Harden's injury history, there is no wonder the Cubs have been cautious when dealing with a possible extension.  And despite the Cubs' glaring needs of speed, power and a second baseman taller than your average circus midget, re-signing Harden might be the team's biggest offseason conundrum.

The free agent market is slimmer than Calista Flockhart on a diet.  And since the Cubs' starting rotation is the furthest thing from being the team's Achilles heel, I would take issue if the rotation lost one of its more valuable members.  Sure, Sean Marshall or Tom Gorzelanny could step in, but both are unproven and seeing them once every four days would probably send Cubs fans into convulsions.

The fact of the matter is as follows.  Losing Harden and not replacing his production in the rotation would be kin to the Cubs trading Mark DeRosa and not replacing his production at second base.  At this point, Harden ranks as a Type A free agent and would net a return of two draft picks if offered arbitration and signs with another team.  But if he does accept arbitration, he could be looking at a raise to about $10 million next season.

It's a risk worth taking, but a road the Cubs would not have to be traveling down had they just sent Harden to the Twins for some prospects.