Rich Harden's arm is always a matter of close observation and clinical study. And no one knows it better than Harden himself.
So it makes sense that Harden would ask the Cubs to shut him down in the tail end of a season the Cubs now have no chance of salvaging. Harden, Jim Hendry and Lou Piniella came to what Harden called "sort of a mutual decision," even if that's not the exact version Piniella gave the Chicago Tribune:
"He's done a real nice job here," manager Lou Piniella said. "... He doesn't want to pitch, and we respect his wishes."
"It'd be a lot different if we were in it and they needed me to pitch," he said. "I'd be out there in a second and I'd be fine. I'm still healthy, feeling good and took that as a positive for this season."
None of this is particularly worthy of outrage on its face. Harden is trying to preserve his arm by not throwing another 80 pointless cut fastballs. This makes perfect sense.
But could there be more to it?
Harden might be done for the Cubs for good.
If you wanted to, you could read Piniella's comment that Harden's "done a real nice job here" as a past-tense statement about Harden's time with the Cubs, how he's managed to stay healthy despite the odds, and how Piniella is willing to give him a little leeway in his last few days on the squad.
Or it could be completely innocuous, and we could be reading too much into it. But when you combine this with the simple facts of the matter -- Harden is going to cost a lot of money to re-sign, and he's injury prone, and not all that young anymore either -- it just sort of seems like this mutually beneficial relationship is coming to an end.
If that's the case, hey, Rich: Take the day off. Your 2009 wasn't great, but all in all, you panned out. You deserve it.
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.