Harden would be very attractive to contending teams, and there are 16 other teams who have a decent shot at the postseason at the halfway mark.
The hard-throwing righthander has been dominant, and he’s coming off a two-hit effort against the Philadelphia Phillies. Because of his injury history, the A’s have been very cautious with Harden this year. He had thrown only 95 pitches last Thursday, but manager Bob Geren went to the bullpen in the ninth, mindful that Harden’s injuries have usually come when he’s tired and overthrowing.
Harden is in the last year of a four-year contract, but the A’s have a club option for next season, so there’s no rush to trade him. And, there’s a real question: What would they want in return?
That’s not an easy question to answer. If you’re talking only in terms of making a run this season, a right-handed power hitter would be the choice, but one good enough to make a difference would probably come with a higher salary than the A’s would be willing to pay.
And, don’t forget that when A’s general manager Billy Beane traded Dan Haren, his best starter, and Nick Swisher, who might have been his best position player, his stated goal was to bring in young players who could be the genesis for an extended run over the next few seasons.
He’s done that, most notably on this year’s team with pitchers Greg Smith and Dana Eveland, both in the starting rotation, and outfielders Ryan Sweeney and Carlos Gonzalez, with more top prospects still in the minors.
Bringing in another outfielder would send Sweeney or Gonzalez to the bench, or even the minors. That is not going to happen. The A’s are very patient with their young players; Daric Barton remains in the lineup though he’s hitting in the low .200s because Beane is confident he’ll be a .300 hitter, with a high on-base percentage, in time. Neither Sweeney nor Gonzalez will be replaced by a veteran.
If Beane has any regrets about the offseason, it’s probably that he didn’t trade Blanton. He didn’t get an offer he liked, and he thought Blanton would be the stablizer for the starting rotation. Instead, he’s been a dead weight, and his trade value has dropped precipitously.
It’s eerie to trace the similarities between Blanton and Barry Zito, both Opening Day starters and now the least effective members of their respective rotations.
Blanton has only an average fast ball, so he has to have excellent control. Too often this year, he has left pitches out over the plate, not on the corners, and they’ve been blasted.
The A’s don’t have much choice but to keep Blanton in the rotation and work to make him more effective. They have pitchers who have worked both as starters and in relief, such as Justin Duchscherer and Chad Gaudin, but Blanton has been almost exclusively a starter, 98 starts in 102 appearances with the A’s.
By next year, with pitchers now in the minors competing for starting slots, I expect Blanton to be gone. But for the rest of this season, both he and Harden will stay in place.