Wait, it’s not “spin” if it’s true. Cool. Understandably, the Harden trade has unnerved some who feel unsure how much the A’s lost and how much they gained. I do think the trade will wind up as a good one for Oakland, and here’s why:
* Rich Harden: Sure, Harden could be shelved after his Cubs’ debut and he could pitch straight through the end of the 2009 season. However, the likeliest scenario is that Harden will make his next few scheduled starts, but that his arm will not hold up over time. History, in the form of six D.L. stints and a worrisome “tired arm” already this season, suggests he will break down later if not sooner, perhaps around September 1st. Perhaps Harden will even pitch well enough and for long enough to have made the Cubs’ investment in him worthwhile – but still not continuously enough to have been the difference in the A’s chances to contend in 2008.
* Chad Gaudin: Gaudin is a solid #4 starter and durable bullpen arm, but he is very replaceable, so much so that there are literally about eight starting pitchers who figure to be past him on the major league depth chart in the next two years, from Greg Smith and Dana Eveland, on to Gio Gonzalez and James Simmons, right on down to Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill. It's not a big loss, especially when you get a major-league ready starter back in return.
* Sean Gallagher: Scouts, on average, only project Gallagher as a #3-#4 starter, an innings-eater, but he’s going to be better than that. Here’s what I think fans easily forget about scouting reports: They are pretty accurate on average, but there are always some players who are better than their scouting report and some who aren’t as good. A team’s job – and the A’s are exceptionally good at this – is to identify which players are actually going to be better than their projections. Sometimes a pitcher is under-projected because he was rushed to the major leagues and put up some ugly numbers (Gaudin, Eveland), sometimes because he doesn’t pop the radar gun (Simmons), or because he doesn’t have a scout-friendly frame (Hudson, Harden). The A’s believe they have identified a pitcher who will be a solid #3 starter, and to get a solid #3 starter who is 22 years old and yours for six years is to get something significant. And it’s not all the A’s got…
* Matt Murton: What are the A’s getting in Matt Murton? They are getting a career .294/.362/.448 (.810 OPS) hitter whose success has not been park dependent – on the road he is a nearly identical .293/.359/.448 (.807 OPS). For perspective, put into the A’s lineup today he would be the A’s second leading hitter for average (behind R. Sweeney), second in OBP (behind Cust), and he would lead the team in OPS (no one is currently over .800). Murton may not be a hitting superstar or a sexy name, but his bat represents a real improvement to the A’s lineup right now (I expect to see him in Oakland any day - I'm guessing that the A's just want him to get hot first in Sacramento so they can bring him up when he's feeling good, just as they did with Bankston).
* Eric Patterson: I don’t know if Patterson will ever play for Oakland but he doesn’t have to be a star in order to be an upgrade. Major league teams need utility players too, and in order to be an upgrade Patterson only needs to exceed the production of a Donnie Murphy or Rajai Davis. If his addition in a trade helps to get a good deal done (as it just did for the Cubs), that’s useful too.
* Josh Donaldson: Like Patterson, he has good physical skills and is worth a flyer. If he exceeds expectations, great, and if he doesn’t, he did not make or break the deal. Over the years you take flyers on ten talented individuals like Patterson and Donaldson, figuring maybe two will pay off – you’re not sure which two, you just know you need to add ten to get two.
Bottom line: I predict that by mid-September, Harden will likely run out of gas before the Cubs run out of season, and we’ll be relieved we’re not the ones cursing “what could have been”. Meanwhile, Gallagher will have shown why the A’s wanted him more than the average scout thought the A’s should want him, and Murton will be helping an A’s offense that needs all the help it can get. And we’ll like the trade more than we thought we would, as usual!