Update on The Latest Cub Unicorn

There is this article in today's Sun-Times about Rich Harden's winter rehab. He's working on a  6 day a week strengthening program that could be the most rigorous of any Cub this offseason. It's designed to "ease" him up to pitching conditions "by the end" of spring training. Fine. I remember this somewhere in the not too distant Cub past (including the Larry Rothschild quotes). Flushed with a strong sense of Déjà vu, I finally saw some new information in the article:

But sources also confirmed Saturday that Harden has a tear in the joint, just severe enough that some players might seek surgery but slight enough to be in a range often treated effectively with a strengthening program, therapy and a well- managed work schedule.


Gordon Wittenmyer in the Sun-Times doesn't give enough info to make me absolutely certain but the implication is Harden is putting up with a "Kerry Wood type" rotator cuff tear. I do recall that Harden underwent an MRI/Arthrogram after the season to better assess his shoulder issues and before the team decided to pick up his $7 Million option. The press was told this on October 8th:

General manager Jim Hendry said an MRI-arthrogram on Harden's shoulder revealed no tears of the labrum or rotator cuff, referring to Harden's problems as "subtle instability in the shoulder."

At the Cubs Convention yesterday GW's article says "sources" confirmed Harden has "a tear in the joint." This implies the rotator cuff tissue has an area that is showing structural damage on the MRI/Arthrogram, but not involving the full thickness of the cuff tendon and thus without any detachment from it's insertion on bone (greater tuberosity). Any surgical repair has to take down some degenerative tissue that is worn but not detached. The results of surgery on that type of situation would be iffy for a high end starting pitcher, especially if they were counting on him for 2009. Hence he's on a non-surgical treatment protocol analagous to what Kerry Wood went through after his MRI/Arthrogram in July 2006.

Just for grins, here are two of the quotes leaning toward non-surgical treatment after Wood's MRI/Arthrogram:

(Cubs trainer Mark) O'Neal said: "In all reality, there are significant number of people who have successfully returned conservatively."

"My gut feeling is saying no surgery and strengthen it," Wood said Saturday. "I've still got to get more opinions. 

And since I was trying to reflect on previous prognostications, I dug up this Will Carroll (Baseball Prospectus) piece on Wood and Prior from February 20th, 2006:

You can't have spring training anymore without pitcher problems or at least rumors of said problems. Those usually start with the Cubs, and this year is no different. Reliable sources--the same ones that tipped us early to Mark Prior's Achilles problem--now tell us that Prior is having shoulder problems. The Cubs deny this and point to Prior's work on the mound. Prior was doing towel drills on Saturday, but this is the same type of work he was doing last year when there was a problem. According to our best sources in Mesa, Prior looks "weak and sick." Until he throws, we just won't know, though I'd like to believe Larry Rothschild.

News is better for Kerry Wood, on track to get back in the rotation by May. The Cubs have depth in the rotation and a favorable early schedule to give them time, even if Wood has a small setback. Wood will return to the rotation. If he's ever a bullpen guy, it won't be for the Cubs.


I agree that this is the right course of action for Harden but his status is analagous to the unicorn in Tennessee Williams classic play "The Glass Menagerie". This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone as Jim Hendry knew he was getting an ace pitcher made of glass. It's just that he's lacked a diagnosis that matched his situation up to this point. Hmmmm, the downside of this problem can go pretty low, but it's not a long term contract as Harden is on a one year deal. When Hendry traded Sean Gallagher, Josh Donaldson, Eric Patterson and Matt Murton for Harden last July 8th, he made enough of a statement that clearly he's going to play out the hand he's ante-upped for. We're going to see if Harden can functionally start on a regular enough basis to not be overly disruptive to the rest of the pitching staff, which is what we got in 2008. Clearly, he's awesome when his shoulder isn't bothering him.

It makes me wonder if he too will become bullpen material at some point in his career.

Déjà vu? Oh, and please remind Mr. Harden of the hazards that await when slipping while getting out of the hot tub.

Comments

and don't forget to check out the links to this article...

particularly the "Rich Harden" and "downside" links

Nicely done, Dr. Hecht. But dammit.

Looks to me like, unless the Cubs are ready to have both Marshall and the Shark or Marshall and Gaudin in the starting rotation for some time this year, they may need to go out and get another guy who can start. Someone who could be effective but won't block Marshall? Guess that might be asking too much.

by the way Rob...that's a great pic of Harden!

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  • Can't get soft just because we have a big lead!

    billybucks 59 min 51 sec ago view
  • kershaw will be lucky to put in 160+ip. even though it projects to be an awesome 160+ip it's going to be extremely difficult for him to do much with that. he's still got minor league rehab game(s) to go through and he's only stretched out to 2ip with his last simulated rehab...it may take another couple weeks before he returns.

    the numbers are awesome, but he's lost the equivalent of a good chunk of a top-tier pen arm's season in innings of work compared to the rest of the lot.

    crunch 1 hour 11 min ago view
  • Kershaw, Fernandez and Syndergaard are your current leaders and all will be pitching meaningful games down the stretch that could make or break them. Hendricks will not be and his saber-numbers aren't anywhere close to those 3 and he'd split votes with Arrieta and Lester whom all are basically neck-and-neck for  WAR and FIP. If Kershaw pitches like just okay Kershaw in September he deserves to win in a landslide. Voters are pretty much saber-inclined now so it would take a crazy shutout streak or something for Hendricks to jump in the picture.

    Rob G. 9 hours 39 min ago view
  • AZ PHIL: With starters the likes of Edwin Jackson, even Chris Rusin or Michael Bowden could look good on their staff. At best, he is a #5-6. But as always, LH are at a premium.

    The E-Man 11 hours 9 min ago view
  • Sure we would all want consistency. He is not even 24, has played 5 (!) positions this year. Can you imagine what is in his head? He was only a part-time player at 2 spots last year. And THEN think about hitting?? Cut him some slack...You sure are picky lately. First wishing #6 NL RBI guy Russell have a better average, and now an "unncessarily fancy pick". Geez tough crowd!

    The E-Man 11 hours 13 min ago view
  • it's going to be hard to take down scherzer.

    kershaw is supposedly coming back soon, though he'll probably need a good amount of deep innings to match up with scherzer...probably too late at this point. tanner roark, bumgarner, and hendricks are probably going to steal some votes along with kershaw.

    crunch 11 hours 42 min ago view
  • I absolutely love Javy's game, and I love the way Maddon changed the perception of him as a ballplayer, but I really wish he would just make the routine plays routinely. On the ground ball in the 9th, he made an unnecessarily fancy pick. He made the play, but tried the same thing last night and made an error.

    billybucks 12 hours 3 min ago view
  • How many wins does Kyle need for serious Cy Young consideration? Would 17 be enough if he leads the league in ERA? My goodness, what a season -- makes a Dartmouth alum proud.

    billybucks 12 hours 6 min ago view
  • jacos 12 hours 9 min ago view
  • hendricks WHIP drops to 0.98 over 159 innings after throwing 7ip 3h 1bb 4k, 0r/er

    ERA down to 2.09 on the season.

    crazy good.

    crunch 12 hours 31 min ago view
  • I am pretty well fed up with the majority of home plate umps. Just terrible inconsistencies.

    The E-Man 12 hours 34 min ago view
  • Oh shit forgot about that
    Shark and Sczur right?

    jacos 12 hours 48 min ago view
  • Yes, football player?- check.

    The E-Man 12 hours 56 min ago view
  • jacos 13 hours 9 min ago view
  • If it was 2006 Hendry would be there w a Bible and a contract
    https://mobile.twitter.com/Ken_Rosenthal/status/77...

    jacos 15 hours 42 min ago view
  • he subscribes to my twitter, he's beyond TCR. #yolo #swag

    crunch 16 hours 20 min ago view