Rich Harden signs with A’s; will Josh Willingham get a multi-year deal?

The A’s finalized today what we learned last week — right-hander Rich Harden is rejoining their pitching staff on a one-year, $1.5 million contract that includes incentives.

It appears the team — and Harden — are keeping an open mind as to what role he might fill. A’s assistant GM David Forst considers him a candidate for the No. 5 starter’s role as well as the bullpen. “I think that will play out in spring training,” Forst said.

We can talk all we want about what role fits Harden best, but it all boils down to whether he can stay healthy. That was his main obstacle in his first stint with Oakland, and injuries bit him again last year with Texas. A’s first-year pitching coach Ron Romanick, who has been with the organization for 12 years, worked with Harden extensively in Harden’s first go-around with the team. “I’ve known Rich since we signed him,” Romanick said. “(The key) is just getting back to basic fundamentals and try to head things off before (injuries surface).” Romanick said he thinks Harden could help the team in either a starting or relieving role. But he also described Harden’s stuff — the high fastball that hitters often swing through, the changeup that appears to drop off a table — as something that could be ideal out of the bullpen. “If you had to draw up a closer, or reliever, or late-inning guy, that’s how you’d draw him up,” Romanick said.

First things first. Let’s see Harden get through spring camp without any setbacks before we consider how he’s best utilized.

–I heard new A’s left fielder Josh Willingham chatting with Rick Tittle and John Baker today on KTRB-860. Willingham, who’s eligible for free agency following the upcoming season — said the idea of signing a multi-year deal with the A’s appeals to him. “If they’re willing to talk about something more than one year, I’m open to that,” Willingham said. He’s eligible for arbitration for the last time this winter after making $4.6 million last season. A’s GM Billy Beane said last week, upon acquiring Willingham from the Nationals, that it was too early to decide whether to sign him long-term. But Beane added that he planned to chat with Willingham’s agent, Matt Sosnick, who happens to live close to Beane. It’s something to watch for as spring training inches closer …

–“Sweet Home Alabama” is among the songs Willingham uses for his walk-up music.

I like it …

Joe Stiglich