The Texas Rangers today essentially swapped Kevin Millwood for Rich Harden. Can’t go wrong there, right?
The Rangers are sending Kevin Millwood to the Baltimore Orioles for reliever Chris Ray in what is purely a salary dump. Ray, 27, is no great shakes. He might yet have a solid career in the majors as a middle reliever, but that’s the extent of it, and his ceiling.
What this deal did was rid the Rangers of Millwood, entering his age-35 year and the final year of a five-year, $60 million pact signed way back in 2005. While Millwood is a solid innings eater and is exactly the type of veteran pitcher Baltimore needed for this upcoming season, he was wearing his welcome out down south.
His 3.67 cumulative ERA posted on the season was his best in Texas, but the peripherals suggested he was playing over his head.
Take 2006, for instance, the first year of his contract. Millwood posted a 4.52 ERA with a 1.307 WHIP, 9.5 H/9, 2.2 BB/9 and a 6.6 whiff rate. Compare that to 3.67, 1.339, 8.8, 3.2 and 5.6 this year.
It comes as no surprise, then, that his xFIP this year was at 4.78, with 2006 at 3.97. This isn’t an indictment of the deal from Baltimore’s end, as they’re only paying $9 million of his $12 million salary and, to repeat myself, is exactly what Baltimore needs: a veteran who can soak up innings, contribute and help mentor the young pitchers.
It is a no-brainer, however, to move from Millwood to Rich Harden even if the latter has injury issues.
Harden signed a $7.5 million deal with the Rangers, first broken by Craig Calcaterra at NBC Sports. The deal also includes a $11.5 million option for 2011.
Texas’ targeting of Harden reflects sound logic. With his 9.4 K/9 over his career (and that number is in double figures the past two seasons), he’s the kind of pitcher Texas should be targeting. It’s important — especially in the dry heat of the summer — to have a pitcher that can miss bats and reduce the reliance on getting balls in play converted into outs.
The one negative is that Harden is certainly a fly-ball pitcher, making it curious that he selected Texas over Seattle, who was also in the bidding. Seattle with it’s fly-ball friendly park would have made more sense… but Texas likely was willing to guarantee more money. While the right-hander was never homer-prone when with the Athletics, you can chalk that up to the park. He was at 1.5 HR/9 in the Windy City last year.
Another issue is durability. Can Harden hold up for a full season? This is a guy who has started over 26 games exactly once: that was 31 starts in 2004. The past two seasons, he is at 51 combined and certainly is relatively healthy compared to 2006-7.
The risk is great that Harden won’t be able to hold up for a full season but if Texas can manage him appropriately, he should be good for 26-28 starts. The club may have to skip him a couple times or stash him on the disabled list at some point, but barring any major freak injury, they can rely on him.
Moving from Millwood to Harden has its risks in the inability of the Rangers to count on 200 innings from their top starter, but the potential payoff in having Harden on the mound as opposed to Millwood is that much greater.