Over Spilled Milk: Harden to the Cubs

Earlier this week the Oakland Athletics announced that Scott Sizemore tore his ACL and would be out for the entire 2012 season. As the Athletics don’t have many other options, they stated that they are going to try converted catcher Josh Donaldson at third. The notion rose an eyebrow here as Donaldson’s has had experience at the hot corner, in the past, but overall it is pretty limited. Then again, they brought Scott Hatteburg out from behind the plate a decade ago, so “why not”? (They don’t have Ron Washington around anymore to tutor him though) Regardless, Donaldson’s name piqued my interest as he was involved in a trade a few seasons ago.

As we neared the trade deadline in 2008, the Milwaukee Brewers were in a division title race with the Chicago Cubs. In a bold move, the Brewers traded for ace starting pitcher CC Sabathia. With little on the trade market of Sabathia’s caliber, the Cubs took what they could get and acquired Rich Harden, a starting pitcher that had been known to possess the stuff to compete with Sabathia, but never put it all together for a completely healthy season. At the time I stated,

“Rich Harden is a game changing starter when healthy, when rarely healthy that is.  He has electric stuff, but he really hasn’t turned into a star because of his injuries.  Although he’s only pitched 77 innings so far, it’s the most since 2005.  But he’s also dominated this season as he has carried a 2.34 ERA with 92 strikeouts, while compiling a 5-1 record.”

That level of dominance was enough to draw the Cubs’ interest with the hope that he’d stay healthy the rest of the season. Then GM Jim Hendry traded Matt Murton, Eric Patterson, Sean Gallagher and the aforementioned Josh Donaldson for Harden and and reliever Chad Gaudin.

Harden would go on to post 12 more starts in a Cubs uniform, with even more dominant numbers (5-1, 1.77 ERA, 0.972 WHIP, and 89 K in 71.0 IP). The Cubs certainly got what they were looking for and it helped keep them in the lead in the NL Central, ending with a league-leading 97 wins. However, the Cubs were swept by the Dodgers in the first round of the playoffs that season. Harden came back the following season, but didn’t pitch as well. In 26 starts, Rich only gave up 122 hits in 141 innings, while striking out 171. But he also gave up 67 walks, pushing his WHIP up to 1.34 and his ERA to 4.09. Between the increased walks and the fact that Harden still couldn’t get close enough to the 200 inning plateau, it was being realized that Harden couldn’t become the dependable ace that the Cubs envisioned. He was granted his free agency in the winter of 2009 and posted two seasons of 5.00+ ERAs with the Rangers and the Athletics since.

Gaudin had bounced between starting and relief in Oakland and the Cubs were intent on keeping him in the pen. But things didn’t work out as Chad posted a 1.427 WHIP and a 6.26 ERA after the trade. He was released by the Cubs in the spring of 2009 and has bounced around to five other teams since.

The Cubs’ return on the trade was a post-season birth that they (would likely have gotten to anyway), a 4.0 WAR for 1.5 seasons of Harden and a -0.5 WAR from Gaudin.

Outfielder Matt Murton was the first player mentioned in the Athletics’ return for Harden. He showed some promise for the Cubs, producing good OBPs early on, but lacked the power to really be considered a starting corner outfielder. But in 2008 he fell apart and the Athletics must’ve thought they were buying low with the thought that Murton would bounce back. Yet he sank even lower, batting .100 with a .262 OPS (-0.2 WAR). In February of the following year he was dealt to the Colorado Rockies for infielder Corey Wimberly. Like Murton, Wimberly had interesting OBPs in the minors, but never received a call-up. He recently signed a minor league contract with the Mets.

Eric Patterson rose through the Cubs system as a second baseman and put up some good OBPs along the way (see a trend here?). However some scouts questioned his defense and, although he has spent some time there in the majors, much of this time defensively has been in the outfield. Cast into a utility role, the Athletics kept him around for three seasons to see how well he fit into that role for them. Although he wasn’t hitting well when he was traded, Eric fell apart at the plate after the move to Oakland, batting .174 with a .269 OBP. He rose to a career-bast .287/.373/.394 line in 110 AB in 2009. Yet he hasn’t hit above .226 since and he’s shuffled around to Boston and San Diego as a result. The Athletics received Fabian Williamson from the Red Sox for Patterson in a December 2010 trade. The lefty hasn’t been able to post a WHIP below 1.70 since he was traded to the Athletics.

Gallagher was a right-handed starting pitcher that was at one time highly regarded. Yet Sean gave up too many hits and had some control issues. After the trade to the A’s, Sean gave up 9.5 H/9 and 5.7 BB/9 that resulted in a 5.88 ERA. He was switched to relief the following season and his statistics didn’t show an improvement from at as he was pounded to a 1.953 WHIP. He was eventually shipped off to San Diego in a package with two others in a trade for Scott Hairston. Sean has since moved around and is now with the Cincinnati Reds on a minor league contract.

That brings us to the man of the hour, John Donaldson. Donaldson is a former first round draft pick (48th overall) of the Cubs. A catcher since he was drafted, Donaldson has been tried out in the infield and outfield corners since he was traded for by the A’s. He’s displayed some pop in the minors and seems to be progressing with the bat overall. So far, he’s played a total of 53 games at third base in the minors, so his defense is surely in question at this time.

As it sits, Donaldson is Billy Beane’s best chance at coming out ahead on this deal, and the chances are slim. Although moving back out from behind the plate may allow for Donaldson’s bat to improve, I’m not sure if he will hit enough to warrant regular playing time. So far Beane’s efforts have resulted in a -2.6 WAR from the four players, much of it from Gallagher’s struggles.

At the time of the trade I stated in a post:

“Although other writers are claiming this an even trade for the teams or even a win for the Athletics, I believe that the Cubs will come out the winners if Harden can stay healthy long enough to get the Cubs into the playoffs.”

For this trade I give Jim Hendry a hearty B+ due to the fact that Harden was instrumental to the Cubs reaching the playoffs that season and that he didn’t give up anyone that has moved on to produce even league average in the majors. The grade would’ve been higher if there was a decent impact beyond 2008. As for Beane, this trade gives him a D grade that could quickly drop to a D- if he’s unable to get anything out of Donaldson. The players he traded had a cumulative negative WAR impact on the ball club. His only saving grace is the fact that he likely wouldn’t have been able to keep Harden after the 2009 season, especially if Rich had stayed healthy.

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Trade Bait: Hendry Counters by getting Harden

A day after the Milwaukee Brewers bolstered their rotation by adding CC Sabathia, the Chicago Cubs made a countermove.  The Cubs and GM Jim Hendry traded players Matt Murton, Eric Patterson, John Donaldson, and Sean Gallagher for pitchers Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin.

Rich Harden is a game changing starter when healthy, when rarely healthy that is.  He has electric stuff, but he really hasn’t turned into a star because of his injuries.  Although he’s only pitched 77 innings so far, it’s the most since 2005.  But he’s also dominated this season as he has carried a 2.34 ERA with 92 strikeouts, while compiling a 5-1 record.

Gaudin was switched to relief after his first few starts this season, but he’s been pretty reliable in either capcity for the A’s.

The main haul for the A’s in this deal is pitching prospect Sean Gallagher.  Sean has a low-90s fastball and a plus curve.  He also has a changeup that he likes to use against lefties.  He’ll likely move right into the A’s rotation, hopefully developing into an good innings eater for the team.

They also get outfielder Matt Murton, who never stuck with the Cubs in the majors, but has the potential to be a league average left fielder.  He could eventually be Travis Buck‘s platoon partner, once Buck gets his swing back.

Eric Patterson has played second base and left field over the past couple seasons.  The way that the Cubs played him in the majors, it doesn’t seem like they were keen on him playing second base.  Maybe the A’s will try to improve his play at second to protect against Mark Ellis leaving via free agency after the season.  He has a good contact bat, with a little pop, but the drop in OBP this season is concerning.

The last player the A’s received was catcher John Donaldson.  The converted third baseman is a work in progress.  Although he hit well last season, he has struggled mightily in 2008.

Although other writers are claiming this an even trade for the teams or even a win for the Athletics, I believe that the Cubs will come out the winners if Harden can stay healthy long enough to get the Cubs into the playoffs.

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