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No arbitration for Cubs' pitchers Gregg, Harden
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff

Rich Harden

 

Associated Press

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Published: 12/1/2009 2:44 PM | Updated: 12/1/2009 3:49 PM

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The Cubs had been telegraphing their intentions for months, so Tuesday's news should not have come as any surprise.

General manager Jim Hendry made it official, announcing the Cubs would not offer salary arbitration to free agents Rich Harden, Kevin Gregg, Reed Johnson and Chad Fox.

This action does not preclude the Cubs from re-signing any of these players, although outfielder Johnson appears to be the only one with any chance of coming back. It simply means the Cubs will not get draft-pick compensation when another team signs one of these free agents.

Fox appears to be at the end of his injury-plagued career as a relief pitcher, so not offering him arbitration was a no-brainer.

Financial considerations played the largest role in the Cubs not offering arbitration to Harden, a starting pitcher, and Gregg, who was demoted from closer to setup man in the second half of the 2009 season.

"Obviously, a lot of these guys have done a lot of good things for the organization," Hendry said. "It's not out of the realm of possibility that somebody might be back from that group. At the same time, as we go forward, the amount of dollars at stake in arbitration is not conducive to what we want to do at this time."

If a team offers arbitration to one of its own free agents and the player accepts, he is automatically back for at least one year at a salary to be negotiated or decided by an arbitrator.

In a sluggish free-agent market, it's probable all of these players would have accepted arbitration and been in line for hefty raises.

Hendry's bosses in the Tribune Co. OK'd an unprecedented spending binge in the winter of 2006-07, right before the club was put up for sale. The team changed hands in October, with the Ricketts family taking over.

New owner Tom Ricketts repeatedly has said there is room for only a slight increase in player payroll going into the 2010 season.

Harden has been the lightning-rod player for Hendry in this scenario. He was paid $7 million this year, when he made 26 starts and went 9-9 with a 4.09 ERA. However, he has had a history of shoulder problems dating to his days with the Oakland Athletics, from whom the Cubs obtained him in a July 2008 trade.

Citing "arm fatigue," the Cubs shut him down for the season in late September. His final start was Sept. 16, when he lasted just 3 innings in a 9-5 loss to the Brewers.

At the time Harden was shut down, he told reporters it "was a mutual decision" between him and the Cubs. During the general managers meetings last month, Harden's agent, Arn Tellem, said that if the Cubs had been in the race, "he would have been pitching. (There are) no health issues at all."

Gregg, who made $4.2 million, lost his job as the closer in August. He had 23 saves in 30 chances.

Johnson, who made $3 million, battled back problems in the middle of the season and suffered a broken left foot in late July, when he fouled a ball off the foot. The injuries limited him to just 65 games. Johnson batted .255 with 4 homers and an on-base percentage of .330.

Hendry now will get ready for the winter meetings, which open next week in Indianapolis. He still has not found a trading partner to take embattled right fielder Milton Bradley, but there appears to be some optimism a deal could get done - perhaps with Texas or Tampa Bay - at the meetings.

The Cubs would love to move Kosuke Fukudome from center field back to right. When they finally move Bradley, they can entertain signing a free-agent center fielder such as Marlon Byrd (Texas) or Mike Cameron (Milwaukee), both of whom the Cubs like.