Speaking with reporters on a teleconference Wednesday, Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry praised Harden as a hard-to-find pitcher who in spite of injury proneness at times displays "world-class" stuff. The Cubs gave Harden world-class money Wednesday, exercising a club option worth $7 million.
Chicago acquired Harden and right-handed reliever Chad Gaudin from Oakland in July. Harden went 5-1 with a 1.77 ERA in 12 starts while battling through shoulder discomfort near the end of the season, receiving a cortisone shot in early September as the Cubs tinkered with their rotation in order to give the pitcher some added rest.
Harden combined to go 10-2 with a 2.07 ERA in 25 starts for the Cubs and A's in 2008, and Hendry said the Cubs are convinced that Harden will be able to give them at least that many starts in 2009.
"I'm looking at it as at worst we get 25 starts from him next year, and if that's the way it is I'll take that in a heartbeat," said Hendry.
Harden had visited with team orthopedist Dr. Stephen Gryzlo in Chicago on Tuesday and underwent an MRI arthrogram. The results revealed no labrum or rotator cuff tears. Hendry said that Harden has been bothered by rotator tendonitis.
"After the arthrogram was diagnosed by Dr. Gryzlo and the other experts at Northwestern, it was clearly a situation where the best avenue was not going to (require) surgical procedures," Hendry said.
"It's just one of those situations where you have a heck of a good athlete and a guy with a good work ethic. On the advice of the medical people, which Rich has good faith in, is that (with) three or four months of real good conditioning and work and good rehab on it this off-season, he'll be as strong as he was when he teed up for Oakland at the beginning of the year," he added.
Hendry noted that Harden made 11 uninterrupted starts with the A's prior to joining the Cubs.
He said that Harden, who makes his offseason home in Arizona, is in talks with Cubs trainer Mark O'Neal to begin preparation on an offseason throwing program.
"He and Mark are in the process of starting up his offseason already and then Rich will begin on that as soon as he gets home," said Hendry. "I spoke to him (Wednesday) in my office. He seems very excited about it and very happy that he won't have to undergo any procedures."
"This is a guy that works really hard in between starts," Hendry said of Harden. "He's had to take care of this for a long time and I thanked him and applauded him for his efforts down the stretch this year because I'm sure there's times he pitched with some discomfort."
He said the Cubs are confident that Harden will be ready to go by opening day 2009.
"Obviously in shoulders, you have some difficulties," Hendry said. "In cases like this, there has been some history of subtle instability in his right shoulder and Rich will go about his business in the off-season, really preparing to make it stronger and rehab it all winter. We feel confident he'll be ready to go by opening day."
The Cubs were the best in the National League in the regular season, but once again they fell short…