The Cubs and Oakland Athletics completed a six-player deal Tuesday, with Harden and reliever Chad Gaudin going to Chicago in exchange for pitcher Sean Gallagher and outfielder Matt Murton, and Minor Leaguers Eric Patterson and Josh Donaldson.
"I like our team," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "I like it even more now with this addition."
Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said he had been talking to Oakland general manager Billy Beane for three or four weeks about the deal, well before the Brewers completed their deal for Sabathia with the Indians on Monday.
"It certainly wasn't a reaction," Hendry said. "We would've gladly had Rich two or three weeks ago if we could."
Harden, 26, who has an option for 2009, will most likely make his Cubs debut Saturday against the San Francisco Giants. The right-hander was 5-1 with a 2.34 ERA in 13 starts this season, striking out 92 in 77 innings. His ERA would rank second in the Majors behind teammate Justin Duchscherer, but Harden is shy innings-wise to qualify.
"When Rich is out there on the mound, he's as good as anybody in baseball," Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster said. "Look at some of the lineups he's faced throughout the year -- he's faced [Philadelphia] and Texas, and they've got big swingers and big boppers and he's gone out and dominated.
"That's a big trade for us. It doesn't guarantee us success or guarantee us wins, but it sure makes your whole team a lot better."
"We felt this guy is a legitimate high, high-end starter, and will add to the ballclub we have," Hendry said of his new pitcher. "It's not any secret that when he's out there, he's as good as it gets. There's certainly some risks, but very, very high reward."
Harden had heard his name mentioned in trade rumors.
"I had heard talk about it, but it's still always a surprise," he said, minutes after learning of the deal. "It's a bit of a shock. But they're a good team, and they have a chance of doing something special.
"It's tough to prepare yourself for something like this. Every year there's rumors, but you really never know."
Hendry made it clear to Beane that he wanted a top-line pitcher for the rotation.
"They weren't looking for starting pitching," Beane said. "They were looking for Rich."
Harden spent one month on the disabled list April 10-May 11 because of a strained right shoulder, and has been on the DL six times since 2005. The Cubs doctors contacted the Athletics medical staff before the deal was finalized. Harden, whose last start with the A's was Sunday against the Chicago White Sox, was 3-0 with a 0.68 ERA in four starts against the National League this year in Interleague Play.
"It will be a fun change," Harden said. "I haven't faced a lot of guys [in the NL], so I have to learn new hitters.
"I couldn't ask for a better situation to go into. It's a great city with great fans. I'm definitely looking forward to getting there."
Gaudin, 25, was 5-3 with a 3.59 ERA in 26 appearances with Oakland, and has a 3.38 ERA in his 20 relief appearances. He will be used in the bullpen, but also could sub in the rotation if needed. Gaudin pitched for Piniella in Tampa Bay, and has a hard sinker and good slider.
"I was happy to hear that Chad's going with me," Harden said. "It's always good to have a teammate follow you over. And he's been traded before, so he knows what this is like."
Harden, who has spent his entire career with the Athletics, said his main priority is to stay healthy.
"I'm definitely excited but, at the same time, it's tough leaving," he said. "I'm still kind of in shock. I feel a little bit of everything."
The news surprised Piniella. Hendry told the Cubs manager Friday that they were no longer contenders in the Sabathia derby, but had other options. Piniella didn't find out about the Harden deal until 3 p.m. on Tuesday, when he got to the ballpark.
"Yesterday, Milwaukee made a nice deal for a left-handed starter, and today Jim went out and made a nice deal for a right-handed pitcher," Piniella said. "It's good to see [Hendry] is so competitive and doing everything in his power to ensure we win."
Told that Hendry had been discussing the deal for a few weeks, Piniella quipped, "Without me."
"If you talk to our players and talk to our coaching staff, everybody is really happy about this," Piniella said. "But, we still have to go out and play. We have a long, tough road ahead of us. The three best records in the National League are in the National League Central. This makes us better, and we're very pleased."
The Cubs players definitely appreciated the quality reinforcements to the pitching staff.
"The Brewers go and make a trade yesterday, and we came into the clubhouse today and we didn't need a trade made to make us feel like we had to keep up with anybody," Dempster said. "We feel like we have a really good team. But, the fact that Jim is always trying to make our team better, even when we're in first place, he's always trying to improve our team. As a player, you respect that so much and you appreciate it."
Gallagher was 3-4 with a 4.45 ERA in 12 appearances, including 10 starts, and was expected to go into the A's rotation. Murton, who has a .294 average in 308 big league games, gives the Athletics a much needed right-handed bat. Patterson, who has played second and outfield, was at Triple-A Iowa, but had been called up to the big league team earlier this year.
"The deal isn't made without Gallagher in it," Hendry said. "It wasn't a guy who I wanted to put in in the beginning."
"He's a tough kid, has a good arm, and I think he's going to get better with more experience," Piniella said of the young right-hander. "Murton needed an opportunity to play. Patterson is an athletic kid who is going to get better as he gains more experience."
The Tribune Co., which is trying to sell the Cubs, gave Hendry the go-ahead to make the trade. Chicago has a 3 1/2-game lead in the Central Division, but Hendry said they don't feel as if they've locked up a postseason spot.
"There's a lot of baseball left," Hendry said. "We don't look at it today that we're in it for sure. Our mode all year has been that we will try to get better. Whether we get in or not, our mindset is get in, and do a heck of a lot better when we do get in."