Harden bidding for rotation spot with Twins

by on January 6, 2013

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* RHP Rich Harden (Victoria, BC) has signed with the Minnesota Twins after missing the 2012 due to surgery. And while he’s considering to pitch for Canada in the WBC there is a job to win in spring training too ….

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By Liam McGuire

Can Rich Harden contribute in 2013?

Victoria B.C. native Harden hopes to join fellow Canadians Justin Morneau and Scott Diamond on the Minnesota Twins major league roster, as the former Oakland Athletics pitcher signed a minor league contract with the Twins on Dec. 21.

The big question that dictates Harden’s success is, can the former strikeout-machine stay healthy over a full season? The former Central Arizona College alumni had rotator cuff surgery last year preventing him from pitching a single inning in an organized pro league.

The last time Harden pitched more than 100 innings was in 2009 when he worked 141 innings for the Chicago Cubs. In the last three years Harden has made 25 appearances including 33 starts for the Texas Rangers and the Oakland Athletics.

Aside from his sophomore season with the Oakland Athletics in 2004, Harden has not pitched a full season in his career.

Harden joins a long list of new starting pitchers for the Twins challenging for a rotation spot. The Twins acquired Phillies pitcher Vance Worley in a trade for Ben Revere early in the off-season, they signed Kevin Correia to a two-year $10 million dollar contract and signed former Mets righty and first-round pick Mike Pelfrey to a one year $4 million dollar contract.

Guelph Ont. native Diamond, who will likely slot as the number one pitcher in the Twins rotation, is the only sure thing for the Twins rotation aside from the new acquisitions. The Twins ranked dead last in the American League in ERA despite Diamond’s 3.54 ERA and AL best BB/9 of 1.6.

Diamond had minor elbow surgery and will be ready for opening day according to the Twins, but is a scratch For Team Canada and the World Baseball Classic. Harden is also considering pitching for the WBC, but he has to look after his full-time employment with the Twins.

Challenging Harden for the fifth spot in the rotation is a group of pitchers that finished the season in the Twins rotation. Former innings-eater and mainstay in the Twins rotation, Nick Blackburn, had a disastrous 2012, where he went 4-9 with an ERA over seven, is expected to challenge Harden for the final spot.

Other competitors include 2012 rookies Cole De Vries and Liam Hendricks along with Samuel Deduno and Esmerling Vasquez who collectively combined to make 53 starts for the Twins in 2012 are also in the conversation.

There is chatter of converting Harden to a reliever, which makes sense as it would limit his innings and could lead to him staying healthy. Harden only has 10 career appearances as a reliever in his MLB career.

Former Atlanta Brave John Smoltz is the most famous example of conversion of a successful starting pitcher moved to a closer’s role, especially after injury. Smoltz had 55 saves two years after missing an entire season due to Tommy John surgery.

After multiple injuries, including a partially torn rotator cuff, former Chicago Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood had a successful career after transitioning from starting pitcher to reliever.

Harden, who has shown flashes of being an ace early in his career, is now 31-years-old on his fourth team in five years. Billy Beane once predicted he’d win a Cy Young award.

It is possible that if he doesn’t show those same flashes of success, no matter how brief with the Twins, or at least stay healthy for at least half the season, his career may be over.

The contract is a low risk, high reward situation for the Twins. If he doesn’t make the team, no money or love is lost, however if he can get back to at least half the pitcher he used to be, striking out well over a batter per inning, either as a starting pitcher or a reliever, then the Twins may have found one of the biggest bargains.

Liam McGuire
Liam was formerly the editor-in-chief of St. Thomas University’s student newspaper, The Aquinian, and now serves as a writer and a social media intern for Canadian Baseball Network. Liam has always been a fan of advanced stats and looking beyond the box score.

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