While a visit to Dr. James Andrews is never a good thing, it almost seemed inevitable for Harden. After a tremendous 2004 season, in which he compiled a 4.5 WAR in 189.2 innings, Harden’s career has been riddled with injuries. Harden has been on the DL at least five times since 2005 — really six if you count his lat injury last season — with arm-related injuries, but he’s also had trouble with his back, hip and obliques over his career. Though his injuries haven’t affected his ability to strike out hitters, Harden’s effectiveness and stamina have suffered.
Though he still missed considerable time this past season, Harden managed to reestablish some of his value with his return to Oakland. He maintained a high strikeout rate and got his walks back to an acceptable level. Harden actually remained healthy enough to be involved in a potential trade to the Boston Red Sox at the deadline. The Red Sox declined after looking at Harden’s medical reports. While his 5.12 ERA was worse than his 4.69 FIP and 3.68 xFIP suggested, the A’s made him a free agent this winter.
Interest in Harden this winter has been mild. While there was some talk that Harden could be used as a reliever, nothing materialized. A move to the bullpen may have allowed Harden to limit his innings, but he’s probably not the type of guy who should be pitching consecutive days. Pitching fewer innings could have maximized Harden’s value, but he would still have to be handled with extreme care. Harden probably would have pitched so infrequently that teams didn’t think it was the worth the trouble to take a chance on him.
Gammons responded to the story this morning, claiming Harden has always been hurt, and will finally come back healthy in 2013. While that might explain Harden’s past arm issues, one has to wonder how the injury went undetected for several seasons as Gammons’ tweet seems to suggest.
Now that he’s expected to miss the 2012 season, Harden’s career could be over. And he’s only 30. After having a major shoulder surgery, teams are going to be concerned with how he’ll hold up next season. Injury prone veterans coming off torn capsule surgery aren’t the most desirable free-agent targets. Unless Harden comes back stronger than ever, this could be the end of the line.