Acquiring Rich Harden Won’t Be Simple for Red Sox

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Acquiring Rich Harden Won't Be Simple for Red Sox The Red Sox have a great deal of interest in having him around, and a ton of cash to spend on him. The interest seems to be there, and Boston looks like a good fit. The only problem is that this Pacific Northwest native might prefer heading home to play for the local nine in Seattle.

Jason Bay? No, Rich Harden.

The market for the hard-throwing 28-year-old righty is about to become crystal clear, and the Red Sox are bound to be right in the thick of things. But just like with Bay, the prized free-agent left fielder, the Red Sox can expect to meet stiff competition from the Yankees, Angels and yes, the free-spending Mariners. This one won't be easy.

Harden is now officially a free agent. The Cubs, his team for the past year and a half, declined last week to offer him arbitration before Tuesday's deadline, and Harden now hits the open market, where a whole host of contending teams with cash to spend will now fight over his services. With baseball's winter meetings taking place this week, the fight for Harden should escalate before our very eyes.

Early on in the free-agent season, the Red Sox emerged as favorites to land Harden — and with the uncertainty at the back of the Red Sox' rotation, it looked like a good fit. The Red Sox appeared to be one good starting pitcher away from being comfortable with their 2010 pitching staff, and Harden looked like he was that one pitcher. The buzz out of Boston last Tuesday was "that the Red Sox are serious about pursuing Harden", and that sounded like good news to anyone that likes star pitchers in their primes with wicked control and 94-mph fastballs.

The Sox certainly aren't desperate, but they could really use Harden. They have questions about their current starting five — whether Clay Buchholz has the experience to become a permanent fixture, whether Daisuke Matsuzaka is guaranteed to stay healthy, whether Tim Wakefield still has anything left as a starter. In Harden, they have a potentially solid insurance policy.

But signing Harden appears to be much easier said than done. The Mariners have emerged as a serious contender — they've got money to spend and just might make the righty an offer he can't refuse. The Yankees are right there as well, of course. Even the Texas Rangers are showing interest.

For his part, Harden is saying nothing. And the Wasserman Media Group, which represents the hurler, has been similarly silent this winter. That leaves us with nothing but uncertainty.

The Red Sox are doing nothing to alleviate that uncertainty. Listening to Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein would have you think the front office is more secretive than the CIA.

Theo told the Boston Globe this week that "we still have some moves to make to complete this team … We had a lot of balls in the air. It can be an unsettling feeling when you have so many different variables out there and none of them have reached a conclusion yet." Never mind what those moves, balls or variables are.

He told the Providence Journal that "the meetings are important. It’s a signal for the industry to go ahead and get some stuff done. Agents engage, teams engage the free-agent market, teams will engage each other, which is rarer than you think." So this tells us that "stuff" is getting done — and perhaps eventually, we'll find out what it is.

He told WEEI.com that the Red Sox "may or may not add a starter of significance. It could happen either [by trade, or by free agency], or not at all."

OK.

So all we know about Harden — and about the Red Sox' search for pitching help in general — is that we know nothing. We know that the Red Sox could use another starter. We know that Harden is out there for the taking. But ask anyone whether a deal is actually going to happen, and you're not getting a straight answer.

The winter meetings are supposed to be a crystallizing time for baseball's hot stove season — a turning-point week where everything starts to come together. But for Harden and the Red Sox, this week has been anything but.

Harden would be a great fit in Boston. If a deal got done, it would be a great move that benefited both sides. But will it actually happen?

No one knows. Not yet, anyway.

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