Rich Harden has been drawing interest from several contenders, writes Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Yankees were just one of the teams on hand to witness his dazzling start last night. Harden held a potent Blue Jays offense scoreless through seven innings while punching out 11 batters and allowing just two hits and four walks.
All told, he's got a 3.91 ERA (3.73 xFIP) and a robust 10.2 K/9 in 53 innings this season. His heater, averaging 91.6mph, is down from his first stint in Oakland but up from the 90.5mph he averaged with the Rangers in 2010. He's still walking too many (4.1 BB/9) and a bit homer prone (1.36 HR/9), but Harden looks better than he has since late 2009 with the Cubs.
According to Slusser, the Yankees have watched Harden's last two starts, and several other contenders have been scouting him longer than that. New York seems a logical destination with the uncertainty in their rotation behind anchor C.C. Sabathia. Freddy Garcia just hit the disabled list (albeit with a minor injury), A.J. Burnett remains a mystery, Bartolo Colon has floundered in recent weeks, and Phil Hughes has been effective but his strikeouts have disappeared. A healthy Harden would give the Yankees another swing-and-miss arm to potentially overpower a lineup in a short postseason series.
The Red Sox nearly acquired Harden at the deadline for prospect Lars Anderson and a player to be named later, but Harden's medical records caused Boston to remove the PTBNL and the deal was dissolved. Since then, Harden has a 3.42 ERA with 30 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings of work. Boston acquired Erik Bedard as an alternative, but given that their rotation currently includes Tim Wakefield and a struggling John Lackey, Harden could still be an attractive option for GM Theo Epstein.
As MLBTR's Tim Dierkes pointed out when Harden hit waivers earlier this week, any team that acquires the right-hander would only be on the hook for about $360K plus his performance incentives, so he's a very affordable, potentially impact addition to a contender looking to solidify its rotation. Speculating here, but the Tigers, Indians, and Diamondbacks are other logical landing places for Harden (in the unlikely event that he managed to clear waivers or fell all the way to Arizona, of course).
Harden is currently an unranked free agent with no shot of achieving Type B status, so it makes sense for the A's to try to get something for him while they have the chance. As Slusser points out, it would be an interesting scenario to see Harden pitching against the Red Sox, the team that almost acquired him, in a Yankees uniform down the stretch and potentially in the playoffs.