The Role of Rich Harden
The Twins have multiple pitchers in camp recovering from different surgeries in the last year. Scott Diamond and Vance Worley had bone chips removed from their throwing elbow. Mike Pelfrey and Kyle Gibson are recovering from Tommy John surgery. Another interesting name in camp is Rich Harden and he is trying to overcome some shoulder problems that have haunted him in the past.
Harden is attempting to make his way back to the big leagues after missing all of last season. In 2011, he started 15 games for the Oakland Athletics at the end of the season. He didn't put up outstanding numbers as he threw almost 83 innings and had a 5.12 ERA. The hope was that he could rekindle some of the magic from his early years with Oakland but that wasn't the case.
Last season, Harden didn't throw a pitch as he worked to recover from shoulder surgery. The last time he threw over 100 innings was in 2009 with the Chicago Cubs. His best years at the major league level were in 2004-2005. He threw over 300 innings with a 3.40 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP.
Minnesota signed Harden in the middle of December and his name was the most known out of any of the club's offseason signings. In the team's promotional video for the up-coming year, Harden was featured in the same section as Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia. These other two names figure to have more of a role this season so where does Harden fit in?
At the beginning of spring training, Harden was throwing off the mound. The team has taken a more cautious approach in recent days as he has only been playing catch. Harden has been throwing from 150 feet so it will be interesting to see when he gets back on the mound.
Since Minnesota signed Harden to a minor league deal, there is a good chance that he will open the year in the minors. His deal also includes an opt-out clause but he doesn't have the option to do this until July 31. Usually players have the option to opt-out after a month or so if they aren't added to the MLB roster.
The Twins still are unsure of what role they will ask Harden to fill. He has served as a starter and as a relief pitcher so the club can decide between either role. If the front office wants to have less stress on his shoulder, this could come in a relief role. His most successful seasons have been as a starter but his health is still a question mark.
It is also tough to figure out a place for Harden on the 25-man roster. The team has plenty of other options for the bullpen and the starting rotation. It might take an injury or two to even give Harden a chance to crack the big league roster. Since some of the other starting pitchers are on their way back from injuries, there could be more than one trip to the DL this year.
Harden is going to be an interesting player to keep tabs on this season. He seems destined to start the year in the minor leagues and that might be best for him as he comes back from injury. The team could start him at Double-A or Triple-A and he could be a veteran presence to some of the younger pitchers at those levels.
Is Harden ever going to get back to the pitcher he was at the beginning of his career? Probably not….
But the Twins took a low-risk chance on a guy that could make an impact for the team this year. It seems like a good deal to me no matter what his role ends up being.
Where do you think Harden should end up? Starter? Bullpen? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.