Randy Wells' emergence has knocked Rich Harden to the back-burner -- and possibly off the team. The Cubs will have Tom Gorzelanny, Sean Marshall and Jeff Samardzija vying for the fifth starter's spot in the rotation in 2010 in what will resemble what Vince McMahon would call a gauntlet match -- but without a true No. 1 contender.
That's why the Cubs should re-sign Harden. If it was any other 9-9 starter with a 4.09 earned run average, I'd cut my losses right there. But Harden is no run-of-the-mill starter. He posted a 4-3 record, 1.119 WHIP, an 88-to-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 2.55 ERA in 12 second-half starts. His struggles at home (3-7, 5.99 ERA, 15 starts) seem to be way off base with what his career splits suggest. Lest we forget Harden was 2-0 with five (!) no decisions in seven starts at Wrigley Field in 2008. In those games, he posted a 0.75 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, a 61-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a ridiculous 13.7 K/9 ratio.
It's easy for fans to forget something like that, but it should not be lost on Lou Piniella or Jim Hendry. That dynamic duo cannot afford to make any mistakes after a disastrous offseason that led to the debacle that was the 2009 Cubs campaign.
In a free agent market that can be described simply as "weak as hell" the Cubs really should hold on to Harden by at least offering him arbitration just in case someone decides to unload a Brinks truck full of loot in front of his residence over the winter. And if he takes that loot, there is only one viable solution.
(Hint: It's not anyone I've named above.)
OHMYGAWD IT'S BRANDON WEBB!!!! (/Jim Ross'd)
Rather than roll the dice with one of the three untested, unproven unknowns , the 2006 NL Cy Young Award winner (and two-time runner-up) should be Hendry's go-to-guy. Buster Olney lists the Cubs as among a handful of teams that could reel him in for the 2010 season. And really, what team couldn't use a perennial Cy Young candidate?
Bob Nightengale of the USA Today suggested that the Diamondbacks were going to pass on Webb's $8.5 million option, making him a free agent. And apparently, Webb isn't interested in a restructured deal.
This is where the Cubs should go for the jugular.
Rehab seems to be going well, and Webb hopes to be ready by Spring Training. Usually when pitchers say that, it will take a few more months of additional rehab to get the kinks worked out. The Cubs could use the depth at the back end of their rotation to their advantage as whoever emerges from camp has a month long audition once the regular season kicks off.
Meanwhile, Webb will be waiting in the wings as he could go the John Smoltz route and refine his game without the pressure of 40,000 fans breathing down your neck
Adding a pitcher whose primary weapon is a devastating sinker and is 56-25 in his last three healthy seasons would be the cherry on top of a rotation that currently ranks among the five best in the National League.