Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Rangers Trade Millwood to O's; Sign Harden

I'm not sure what the Texas Rangers are thinking here.

Today, the Rangers traded their number one starter Kevin Millwood to the Baltimore Orioles for relief pitcher Chris Ray, a player to be named later and an undisclosed amount of cash.

The Rangers then went out and signed free agent pitcher Rich Harden to a one-year contract worth $7.5 million.

Now, I understand that the Rangers unloaded Millwood to cut costs. He was in the final year of a five year contract worth $60 million. The Rangers owed Millwood in excess of $12 million in 2010. Millwood also turns 35 on Christmas Eve. He will become a free agent at the end of 2010 and likely pitch elsewhere in 2011 unless he really, really likes crabcakes.

Still, if I were the Rangers I would have wanted a little more in return than Chris Ray who had a dreadful season in 2009. Ray went 0-4 with a 7.27 ERA in 46 appearances with the Orioles this past season after missing all of 2008 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Ray had been the Orioles closer and had 33 saves in 2006. The silver lining here is that the Rangers bullpen is pretty decent with C.J. Wilson and Frank Francisco in the 8th and 9th innings. I don't think the Rangers expect Ray to be a closer. Nevertheless, I don't care how much money the Rangers got from Baltimore. If I am trading my most consistent starting pitcher I want more than a reliever who had an ERA north of 7.00.

What I understand even less is signing Rich Harden. Don't get me wrong. Harden has enormous talent and just turned 28. But Rangers President Nolan Ryan is looking towards having a four man rotation and his starters go deep into games. In seven big league seasons, Harden has only started more than 30 games or pitched more than 150 innings and that was in 2004 with the Oakland Athletics. He posted a career high 11 wins that season. Since 2005, Harden has been placed on the DL seven times. Given Harden's lack of durability, I just don't see how he fits into Ryan's plans.

Harden reminds me a lot of another talented ex-Cubs pitcher - Kerry Wood. Before being traded to the Cleveland Indians last off season, Wood went to the DL 12 times in ten seasons. Eventually, the Cubs converted him from a starter to a reliever. Like Wood, Harden strikes out more than a batter an inning. If Harden meets with injuries in 2010 then the Rangers or whoever takes him on needs to utilize him out of the bullpen.

As of now the Rangers starting three looks something like: Scott Feldman, Rich Harden and Derek Holland. The fourth member of the rotation could be Tommy Hunter, Brandon McCarthy or hard throwing 21-year old righty Neftali Feliz. The Rangers pitching was solid through August but faded late in the season.

Millwood provided a stabilizing veteran presence during his Rangers tenure. Feldman did win 17 games in 2009 but I don't we can pencil those figures in for Feldman or any of the other Rangers starters. Millwood made 30 or more starts in three of his four seasons in a Rangers uniform. While no one expects the Orioles to reach the post-season, Millwood will be an anchor for a very young rotation that includes the likes of Brad Bergesen, Jason Berken and David Hernandez.

Harden, on the other hand, might not pass the physical. The St. Louis Cardinals took one look at Harden's medical records and decided to sign Brad Penny instead. Like I said, I just don't understand what the Rangers are thinking here. But if Harden and Ray both pan out and help them to the post-season then Rangers GM Jon Daniels will be hailed as a genius.

No comments: