Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Pitching Blockbusters

The Cubs and Brewers just swung blockbuster deals for top starting pitchers. Did either team come out ahead, and by how much?

In an important way, both NL Central teams made good trades: they each took some assets they were never going to get full value out of, and converted them into something of immediate value. Matt LaPorta was blocked in the Brewers' system by Prince Fielder and to a lesser extent Ryan Braun. Matt Murton and Eric Patterson were never going to get full-time jobs in Chicago, and Josh Donaldson was blocked by Geovany Soto. Whether or not trading these players was correct from a talent standpoint, cashing them in is better than letting them rot.

Harden, while healthy, is as good a pitcher as Sabathia, but the Brewers still landed the bigger fish, for a few reasons:

- Just look at Sabathia. If there's a bigger fish out there, I'd like to see him.
- Sabathia is obviously much more likely to finish the season without an injury.
- In addition to providing a big upgrade to the Brewers' chances in October, CC (not C.C.!) also delivers a solid boost (10-15%) to Milwaukee's chances of getting there in the first place. The Cubs were almost guaranteed a spot anyway, so Harden doesn't help a lot on that front.

Chad Gaudin is a nice bonus, though. He'd clearly be a better starter than Jason Marquis at this point; hopefully the Cubs realize this. However, it looks like they'll use him in a suboptimal bullpen role.

I question whether or not the Indians got the best deal they could have, although LaPorta was probably the best prospect available. The A's did well; had they waited until the deadline, there's a reasonable chance Harden would have suffered a serious injury. They also picked up some young, cheap players that were undervalued by their old team. This package doesn't have the upside of Daric Barton and Dan Haren, but the trade is similar in structure to the Mark Mulder deal, which worked out fabulously for Oakland. Of course, it's also similar to the Tim Hudson trade, one that looks brutal in hindsight.

Honestly, if I'm the Cubs, I give some serious thought to sending Harden home for the next two months, bringing him back only for a couple of tuneup starts, then the playoffs. At the very least, they should give him plenty of extra rest if they have a big lead entering September.

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