Who Will Be Oakland's Fifth Starter In 2011?

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Will Rich Harden be a part of Oakland's rotation, or will he find success in the bullpen? (Photo Credit: The Bullpen Baker)

The Oakland Athletics have great pitching depth heading into the 2011 campaign, but the team still has a vacant spot in its talented young rotation.

Dallas Braden, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, and Gio Gonzalez all figure to be in the rotation for the A’s this season, but the team will be looking at several possible fifth-starter candidates this spring.

One of  those candidates figures to be Rich Harden, who makes his return to Oakland this year since being traded in 2008. Harden, 29, pitched last season for the Texas Rangers before getting designated for assignment on October 6th, right before Texas’ run to the World Series.

In 18 starts last season for the Rangers, the oft-injured Harden went 5-5 with an ERA of 5.58. Harden’s reputation as a flamethrower who can get the ball past you, diminished in 2010, as his K/9 rate dropped from 10.92 in 2009, to 7.34 in 2010.

Harden also had trouble last season with his control, which is evident by the 62 walks he issued last year. Harden, last season experienced a drop off in speed with his fastball, and as a result, he was hit harder.

The A’s invested only $1.5 million, however, in Harden, so the team didn’t take a huge risk signing Harden. Obviously, the team knows what Harden is capable of, and hope that he become a reliable pitcher once again. In his career, Harden is 55-34 with a 3.63 ERA.

Another likely candidate for the A’s vacant rotation spot is Josh Outman. Outman, 26, is another young pitcher whom the A’s value. He is currently attempting a comeback from Tommy John Surgery, which he underwent during the 2009 season.

During 2009, Outman experienced a brief moment of success, going 4-1 with a 3.48 ERA in 12 starts for Oakland. An elbow injury, however, put Outman out of commission for the remainder of the season.

He did not pitch in 2010, as he was still in recovery from surgery, but the team figures to have Outman healthy in time for this season.

In my opinion, Outman represents Harden’s biggest competitor heading into spring training. Outman is younger, and if he’s healthy, there’s no denying the fact that he could be a very good No.5 starter in Oakland’s rotation.

Another candidate that the A’s could use in their rotation is ex-Ranger Brandon McCarthy. McCarthy has been limited due to shoulder problems over the past three seasons, but he is optimistic about his health heading into the upcoming season.

The A’s signed McCarthy to a one-year deal worth $1 million, and he certainly provides the team with some depth. The 27-year old should be regarded as a serious candidate at landing the No.5 spot in Oakland’s rotation.

He is 20-24 with a 4.56 ERA in his major league career.

There are some other candidates in line for the starting job in Oakland’s rotation, but Harden, Outman, and McCarthy are the three big ones.

If you were to ask me right now who will be the A’s fifth starter in 2011, I would have to say Harden. It’s still very early, in fact, players don’t report to camp until Feb.26th, but I’ll say Harden because he’s my favorite of the three.

It’s still very possible, however, that the A’s (as well as Harden) decide that it’s in the best interest to the team that he be moved to the bullpen. Harden could prove very effective in the bullpen, and it could ultimately prolong his career.

Like I said, though, the year is still young, and the A’s have plenty of time before they have to decide who will be joining Braden, Cahill, Anderson, and Gonzalez.

Tags: 2011 MLB Season A's News A's Rumors Brandon McCarthy Josh Outman McCarthy Oakland A's Oakland Athletics Rich Harden Spring Training Preview Texas Rangers

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