When the Cubs first traded for Oakland Athletics pitcher Rich Harden, their task was much easier said than done. They had to evaluate whether Harden's ace-type talent outweighed the constant risk of injury.
The man is both talented and fragile. Which trait would win out?
Harden has been healthy for almost his entire two-year Cubs career. He's adjusted his pitching style and cut out all the arm-abusive sliders. Instead, he uses a fastball and a change up, both of which can cut or tail dramatically; Harden manages to fool hitters with two pitches, and without really taxing his arm. He's been healthy all the while.
And he's produced, too.
Harden's 2008 ERA for the Cubs was 1.77. His WHIP was an impressive 0.972.
2009 has been shakier -- Harden's ERA is a much more human at 4.04; his WHIP is above 1.2, and his peripherals, like HR per nine innings, are way up. He has not been the same pitcher this year, but he's still serviceable.
But questions of durability still linger.
Which means the Cubs have to ask themselves the same question this offseason: Is Harden worth the risk?
Only the metrics are slightly different this time around because the club has more than just money invested in Harden's arm. Jim Hendry traded players to nab him in the first place, and that alone is good reason to try and hang on to him.
At the same time, though, Harden's long-term career history should understandably give the Cubs' front office the willies. What happens if they lavish him with a new deal, and his arm breaks off at the elbow? Yikes.
In the end, it might come down to new ownership. If the Cubs are in a spending mood and feel like risking some money on him, then fine. They have enough to blow, anyway. But if they're not -- if the Ricketts family wants a brief spending reprieve when they take over their new team -- Harden might be left out. And really, neither response is incorrect. It's a matter of rolling the dice. Will the Cubs get lucky or not?
Actually, this being the Cubs ... don't answer that.
Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, eamonnbrennan.com. Follow him on Twitter.