Just a few days before Christmas this past offseason the Minnesota Twins signed 31-year old RHP Rich Harden to a minor league deal. Though the former A’s starter didn’t pitch at all during the 2012 season – as he recovered from shoulder surgery – it was a worthwhile, low-risk gamble for the Twins to take given their desperate need for quality starting pitching both in the majors and the upper levels of the minor leagues.
Harden, who is the embodiment of the term “oft-injured,” was a long shot to pitch in the big leagues this season, but as it turns out throwing a single pitch in the minor leagues wasn’t in the cards either. Citing ongoing pain in his surgically repaired shoulder he requested his release and Minnesota granted that request.
A former #1 prospect in the Athletics system and #29 prospect in all of baseball (2002), Rich Harden has always battled the injury bug but early on in his major league career he was consistently above average, and at times electric, when he was able to take the mound. Of course as injuries and time on the disabled list accumulated his effectiveness waned and his last standout season was five seasons in the rear-view mirror (2008). He did make 26 starts with the Cubs in 2009 with an 109 ERA+ but it was clear that the tread was wearing thin by that point. After that he threw 174.2 innings between Texas (2010) and Oakland (2011) with an ERA+ of around 80. Those two seasons represent the only ones that he was a below average starter.
Considering he was struggling to throw minor league batting practice with the Twins this summer, his recent release may be the end of Harden’s professional career. According to Darren Wolfson, Harden will not pitch again this season but may try to comeback in 2014.
If he does retire he walks away with a 3.76 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 422 walks and 949 strikeouts in 928.1 innings pitched over nine seasons. His career ERA+ of 117 and his 16.9 career WAR are indicators of a solid career but anyone who watched Harden in the early years after his 2003 major league debut knows that he could have been something special if healthy. Injuries limited the heights he was able to attain and as a result his career is an odd mix of promise and potential both fulfilled and unfulfilled.
Still just 31 years old, Rich Harden may resurface in a few years, even if he does retire and walk away from the game for a bit. I for one would love to see him rise from the ashes two or three seasons from now and remind us all of what he once was.
As long as he doesn’t do it for the Yankees or White Sox anyway.