It's been rumored for weeks that veteran right-hander Rich Harden might be on the Red Sox' wish list this offseason. And where there's smoke, on occasion, there's actually fire.
According to Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports, a major league source told them Tuesday that the Red Sox are, in fact, "serious about pursuing" the Canadian-born pitcher who turned 28 on Monday. The source said, though, that no offer has been extended yet.
Harden spent the past season and a half with the Chicago Cubs, compiling a 14-10 record and 3.31 ERA in 38 starts over that period. In 2008 alone, he went a combined 10-2 with a 2.07 ERA between Oakland and Chicago.
The Cubs announced on Tuesday that they would not offer arbitration to Harden, a Type B free agent. That move is likely to increase the hurler's value on the open market, since teams won't have to give up draft picks in order to sign him.
Critics of bringing in an oft-injured, relatively inexpensive arm like Harden are likely to point to the struggles encountered by John Smoltz and Brad Penny during the 2009 season. The Boston brass paid the duo a combined $10.5 million last offseason and got very limited returns: 32 combined starts, a 9-13 record, a 6.24 ERA and 219 hits allowed in 171 2/3 innings pitched.
Though Harden's career numbers are excellent when healthy — 50-29 with a 3.39 ERA and 783 strikeouts in 753 2/3 innings — he has never thrown 200 innings in a season and has only once made more than 26 starts in a single campaign.
The potential for injury, however, may be worth the risk to the Red Sox, who would likely look to sign Harden on the cheap as a back-of-the-rotation starter. Also in Harden's favor is the fact that he had great success during his five and a half injury plagued seasons in Oakland — an American League city — unlike Smoltz and Penny, who had previously only pitched in the NL.