Dayton Moore stated after signing Bruce Chen that the Royals were hoping to acquire another starter before the end of the offseason. If the Royals do that I will feel much more comfortable with the Royals decision to bring back the reigning Royals pitcher of the year Bruce Chen. Let me continue by stating that I don't want Rich Harden to be that "one more starter." I simply think that if the Royals can take a flyer on a guy, he would be a great guy to grab one on.
First, we need to establish that Rich Harden will qualify as a flyer type of guy in 2012. Based off his 2011, performance I can't see his value increasing for 2011. Considering he only made $1.5 million last season as an Oakland Athletic he should be in a very low cost range. If the I could nab Harden for anything less than what he made last season, I do it in a heartbeat.
Yes, I know that in the past two seasons Harden has made only 33 starts and has posted a 5.36 era in 174.2 innings. But if you look deeper into his 2011, numbers there are signs that he was returning to pre-2010 form.
On the most basic level, Harden's fastball velocity rose 1.2 mph, after it dropped 1.6 mph the year before. Given that Harden has always relied heavily on just a two pitch mix, I suspect that this return of velocity was a strong factor in Harden's K/9 rising from 7.3 in 2010 to 9.9 in 2011. (Harden's K/9 prior to 2010 was 9.4.)
On a deeper level we find that Harden's swinging strike percentage which came in at just 7.7% in 2010, jumped up to 12% in 2012. Harden's contact percentage which was 82% in 2010 dropped off to 72% for 2011. In short I think it is pretty obvious that Harden, while not entirely regaining his pre-2010 form in 2011, was much more similar that version of himself than the 2010 version.
Of course the big problem for Harden in 2011, was his growing inability to keep the ball out of the air. The Coliseum historically has suppressed offensive output, thanks in large part to it's incredibly huge foul grounds, but in terms of suppressing home run totals, it doesn't work as well as The K. Harden's HR/9 has climbed considerably over the past several seasons, but if The K could mitigate Harden's home run totals he could take a huge step toward performing closer to his xFIP than his ERA.
By the way in 2011, Harden's xFIP came in at 3.68, considerably lower than his ERA of 5.12. I'm not guaranteeing that Rich Harden is going to rebound back to pre-2010 form in 2012. But for a flyer he would definitely appear to be worth the risk in my mind.
Obviously the white elephant in the room is Harden's propensity to spend large portions of the season on the disable list. This weighs into the risk, but in all seriousness Harden wouldn't even be an option here if he was a guy that could keep himself healthy.
Despite starting just 15 games in 2011 for the Athletics, Harden was able to net the team $2 million in value according to Fangraphs. Even if the Royals were only able to get 15-20 starts out of Harden in 2012, if those starters were of the same quality as his starts in 2011 the Royals would get more than fair value.
Also, even if the Royals' hand was forced, due to Mike Montgomery or Jake Odorizzi the Royals could deal Harden at the deadline for a prospect. Given his low salary I am sure there would be plenty of interested teams. If Harden doesn't perform it would be very simple to just cut ties at midseason or give him an opportunity to reestablish himself in the bullpen.
(Actually, given Harden's two pitch mix and injury history, it might not be a bad gamble for some teams to sign Harden just for the purpose of trying him in the bullpen.)
I doubt the Royals take the chance on Harden, and like I said if this was the only other pitching addition the Royals make in the offseason it will be disappointing. However, as an extra arm the rewards for Harden could be great, especially when you consider how weak the rotation is. Good teams have depth, it isn't a coincidence that the last two teams Harden has signed with were Texas, and Oakland. Two teams that have quality rotations already saw the potential reward in Harden, why wouldn't a team desperate for pitching take a shot? Why not?