The (AL) West just got wilder.
Rich Harden has reportedly signed a one-year deal, worth a guaranteed $7.5 million, with the Texas Rangers.
The Rangers will pay him $6.5 million in a base salary for 2010, plus $2.5 million in incentives. He gets $500,000 more if he pitches 155 innings and another $500,000 each at 165, 175, 185 and 195 innings.
There is a mutual option for 2011 worth $11 million with a $1 million buyout. Both the Rangers and Harden have the right to turn down the option for 2011 and have him become a free agent.
The deal is currently pending a physical.
The timing of the deal is no surprise as the Rangers traded incumbent staff ace, Kevin Millwood to Baltimore earlier today in exchange for reliever Chris Ray.
The swap netted the Rangers roughly $5-7 million worth of savings, leaving them with enough money to add one of the three big “risk vs. reward” pitchers on the market.
The club showed no real interest in lefty Erik Bedard, but did seem intrigued by Harden and the player they coveted—and nearly signed—a year ago, Ben Sheets.
Sheets priced himself out of the Rangers plans—and likely limited his overall market—when he announced that he was seeking a deal worth $12 million, the same figure he earned when he last pitched in 2008.
As such, Harden immediately became the most attractive option for Texas.
Harden, 28, was not offered arbitration by the Chicago Cubs, but was a Type B free agent and would not have cost the Rangers a draft pick either way.
The right-hander went 9-9 with a 4.09 ERA in 26 games last season with Chicago.
Overall he has a career record of 50-29 with a cumulative 3.39 ERA and 783 strikeouts in 753.2 innings pitched.
All of that work, however, comes in just 127 career starts spread over seven seasons.
Harden has a checked health history, there’s no denying that fact. He’s never pitched more than 190 innings in a season and he’s only surpassed last season’s mark of 26 starts once, back in 2004 as a 22-year old.
He does, however, offer exactly what the Rangers are looking for to head the club’s rotation.
He’s young, having just turned 28 at the end of November, he’s got experience pitching in the American League West after spending five and a half years with Oakland, and he’s a lot like team president Nolan Ryan, in that he likes to strike people out.
Harden has a career mark of 9.4 K/9 while allowing just 3.9 BB/9. He isn’t going to waste pitches and he’s got all the making of a legitimate ace on the mound.
The Rangers are definitely taking a gamble that he’ll remain healthy and effective while transitioning back to the American League after a year and a half pitching on the senior circuit.
If Harden is healthy, however, he’ll be a dramatic improvement over Kevin Millwood and could give the Rangers the push they need to leapfrog the Angels and Mariners for division dominance.
With that thought in the mind the Rangers are more than happy to welcome Harden back to the wild, wild AL West.