Per Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Yankees were among the teams who have attended several of Rich Harden’s recent starts, including his dominant outing last night against Toronto. With Freddy Garcia on the DL, and question marks abounding in Bartolo Colon, AJ Burnett, Phil Hughes, and Ivan Nova, Harden does represent a potentially intriguing addition to the Yankee rotation. Harden has strikeout ability that only CC Sabathia has on the Yankee staff at present, and this ability to generate swings and misses can be potentially valuable.
On the season, Harden has pitched only 53 innings, but has been fairly effective (10.19 k/9, 4.08 bb/9, 4.12 FIP, 3.73 xFIP) when healthy. He probably has benefitted somewhat from pitching in the spacious Oakland ballpark, but overall, this is what we have come to expect of Harden: a lot of strikeouts, a decent amount of walks, and inconsistent health. According to Fangraphs, Harden has been making his living this season with his fastball (average velocity 91.6) approximately 60% of the time and his changeup the other 40%. Despite being essentially a 2-pitch pitcher at this stage in his career, Harden has been able to rack up strikeouts.
Would Harden represent an upgrade over the back end of the Yankee rotation, and be a potentially playoff starter? Quite possibly, but there is ample uncertainty regarding Harden’s health. When healthy, he has the ability to outpitch everybody in the Yankee rotation currently except CC, but his health may not be a sure thing down the stretch (and he may not be able to pitch very deep into games). The Yankees are in good enough shape for the playoff chase that they likely won’t need Harden to win the wild card (or the division). However, should the unreliability of the non-CC rotation options continue, Harden could be lined up as a potential playoff starter.
Of course, with any potential trade, what it would come down to is the difficulty of acquisition. Because Harden would have to pass through waivers to be traded, all teams in the AL with a worse record would have the opportunity to claim Harden before the Yankees, so there is a reasonable chance that he gets claimed (if only to block other teams from acquiring him). If he does make it through to the Yankees, the cost won’t likely be very high, since he won’t be worth draft pick compensation in the offseason (the result of his few innings pitched due to injury).
As such, it likely won’t cost a significant prospect, and I imagine the Yankees wouldn’t want to give up anything big for a guy with Harden’s injury history. Boston backed out of a Lars Anderson + PTBNL trade due to Harden’s medicals, but considering his injury history, it is not surprising that an MRI of Harden’s shoulder/elbow would not look promising. If the cost isn’t high, and by some miracle Harden makes it down to the Yankees on the waiver wire, I see little downside in trying to acquire him.
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