Rich Harden is the perennial guy-who-could-become-great-if-he-would-stay-healthy. Brandon Webb is another candidate for the same. Harden's stuff has always been impressive and he's never lacked the ability to blow away hitters. He has, however, failed to pitch even 150 innings in a year since 2004, when he was only 22 with Oakland and wowed the American League as the next great Oakland pitcher.
It's hard to believe that Harden is just now 30-years-old (last November) since it seems he's been kicked around the league for too long already. But Harden started with the Athletics when he was 21 and has tried roles with the Cubs, Rangers and then back to the Athletics. Perhaps another change of scenery is in order, and Kansas City could provide that setting. Why would he be worth it? Because if some team is going to cash in on that potential, the Royals could use what Harden offers.
If he's healthy, Harden's stuff has always been lights-out. He struggles giving up the long ball but Kansas City will have a need for starting pitching once spring training rolls around and Harden could fit in here. There's no guaranteed spot, but this is the time of year where intriguing spring training invites can make the difference on next year's team.
Harden kept his walks down last season while still striking out 91 in 82+ innings for the Athletics, but the home runs cost him with a 5.12 ERA. That won't do in Kansas City, but a player with such possibility is always worth a look up close.
Ken Rosenthal wonders if Harden could even make his way into some high-leverage relief role. He writes, "What if they tried him as a late-inning reliever who worked one inning rather than as a starter who was extended every fifth day? The idea isn’t so far-fetched. Harden, a free-agent right-hander, is drawing interest from clubs that would use him either as a starter or reliever, according to major-league sources. Teams never question Harden’s stuff; he has averaged more than a strikeout per inning in his career. Working out of the bullpen, he likely would throw even harder. And his chances of staying healthy probably would be greater."
Harden in relief would only work for the Royals if the team were to finally deal Joakim Soria after a myriad of rumors every off-season and trading deadline. With Jonathan Broxton and Jose Mijares already signed alongside Tim Collins, Greg Holland and company, it's difficult to picture Harden fitting into a crowded 'pen on a one-year deal trying to find the room to show off his stuff in next year's marketplace.
However, if Harden is going to remain a starter, Kansas City could provide the ideal option with a staff in need of help yet a low-pressure market awaiting him on a team with low expectations for at least one more year.