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Cross Rich Harden Off The Wish List

Rich Harden apparently signed with the Rangers today for one year and $7.5 million, with a 2011 club option for $11.5 million. It's a good deal for the Rangers, as Fangraphs and Lookout Landing note. He was on many Met fans' wish lists, with good reason. Youth, filthy stuff and an astronomical strikeout rate (K/9 of 10.91 in 2009, 9.35 for his career) are some of Harden's positive attributes. The strikeouts would have been particularly welcome on a Mets team which played awful defense in 2009.

Any Harden discussion would be incomplete without mentioning his major negative qualities: susceptibility to injury and high pitch counts, which lead to short starts. While it's true that his injury history is extensive, he's pitched 140+ innings each of the last two seasons. Only two Met pitchers reached that mark in 2009 and none made it to 200 innings. The nature of Harden's deal minimizes risk of wasting money on an injured pitcher. If he tears up his elbow this season, you decline the option, say thank you for the effort and move on. If John Lackey needs to go under the knife in year two of a six year deal, a team is stuck with an aging, injured arm costing somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 million a year. High pitch counts are a legitimate concern and in turn will tax a bullpen, but five or six inning starts from Harden are more palatable considering the quality of those innings. 140 innings from Harden and 60 from a replacement level pitcher would potentially be more valuable and certainly cheaper than 200 innings from Jason Marquis or Joel Pineiro.

That the Mets likely weren't in on Harden is not surprising. It appears Omar Minaya is placing a premium on durability, even if it means sacrificing on-field value. The Jeff Francoeur acquisition and reported interest in Marquis are examples. It would be nice to see the Mets go after players who have the potential for big seasons.  Harden is precisely that.