With the rumor mill swirling about the projected departure of Matt Garza, the Cubs will have to fill his vacancy with a suitable starting pitcher to eat up innings. Although this team isn’t projected to win by any stretch of the imagination, there are options on free agency that would allow the Cubs to fill the void with decent players.
Two such players, lefty pitcher Erik Bedard and righty Rich Harden, are two former top-notch starting pitchers who have seen injury issues plague their playing history. Bedard, a former Oriole and Mariner, ended his season with the Red Sox and started 24 games last season–the most since 2007. Harden, who was once a Cub for a year and a half, has had a career riddled with injury issues and inconsistency, all while showing spots of sheer dominance.
The two could most likely be had for the cheap; Bedard is entering his 33 year-old season and Harden has only once thrown more than 20 starts consecutively once in his career.
Given Harden’s injury past, the Cubs could make Harden a reliever. He has never been able to show consistent command, and a move to the bullpen would hide that fault (as it does its best for Carlos Marmol). Furthermore, Harden has shown that he is a far more productive pitcher earlier on in the game.
Throughout his career, Harden has held hitters to an OPS 25% better than league average in the first inning. That number drops to 18% better in the second, and 20% worse than league average in the third. From innings 4-6, Harden has 15% worse than league average.
More reliever-specific, Harden has held hitters to an OPS 23% better than league average the first time facing an opponent, and has been exactly average the second time around the lineup.
Bedard, on the other hand, has shown (when healthy) that he can be a rather productive pitcher in the past. He has posted better than average ERA for the past six seasons, and has performed better than average at things pitchers can control (FIP) his entire career, sans one season.
The knock on Bedard, however, is that he is the staple of a five inning pitcher, having only exceeded six inning per start once in his career, and never throwing more than 200 innings.
Bedard is a very decent pitcher though. His strikes out more than eight batters per nine, walks less than four per nine, and gives up home runs at an average rate.
Given the amount of quality the Cubs have in the back end of the bullpen with Marmol, Wood, Marshall, Russell, and Samardzija, the Cubs could pair Harden with Bedard in games Bedard starts. This would allow Bedard to comfortably throw five innings, with Harden to throw two, and not putting added strain on either of their arms. Give the ball to Marshall and Marmal and call it a night.
This could be a winning formula, but if it doesn’t work out, the 2012 season is essentially a lost one anyway. If one or both succeed, however, their value can be built up for a deadline trade that benefits the franchise in the long run.