When Josh Harrison signed a four-year extension with the Pirates in 2015 worth more than $27 million, he probably didn't expect his next contract to be smaller.
Welcome to free agency in 2019.
That four-year extension bought out all three of Harrison's arbitration years and the first year he would have been eligible for free agency. In 2018, he was the Pirates' second-highest-paid player, earning $10.25 million. (Francisco Cervelli made $10.5M.)
The Pirates held options on Harrison for 2019 and 2020 but declined them, making him a free agent. So at age 31, coming off his least healthy and least productive season since 2013, Harrison is trying to find a new home.
The Phillies, along with at least three other teams, have reportedly expressed interest in Harrison. Why not? He will almost certainly fail to find a contract of more than two years, and given the recent contracts we've seen, it looks like his annual salary will be relatively low.
Something like two years, $10 million could get Harrison signed. Keep in mind that Andrew McCutchen is still the only position player this offseason to switch teams and receive a contract of more than two years.
D.J. LeMahieu signed a two-year, $24 million deal with the Yankees. Daniel Murphy got the same deal from the Rockies. Wilson Ramos got $19M over two years from the Mets. All three are more impactful players than Harrison and all are coming off better seasons.
Harrison's deal should be closer to what Ian Kinsler (two years, $8 million) received from the Padres. While Kinsler is five years older than Harrison, he's been the superior offensive player the last three years.
Harrison's big year was 2014, when he made the All-Star team, hit .315/.347/.490, played five different positions and signed an extension after the season. In the four seasons since, he's hit .274/.319/.396 for an OPS eight percent below the league average.
But Harrison would provide value for a team on the brink of contention. If the Phillies sign him, they wouldn't be utilizing him as the Pirates did. They wouldn't be batting him toward the top of the order and allocating 500 plate appearances to him.
Instead, Harrison would serve as a solid bench piece, a super-sub capable of playing second base, third base, left field, right field and maybe shortstop in a pinch. Harrison is a solid defender at second, third and the outfield corners. He won't wow you day by day but he also won't hurt you. For reference, Harrison has saved 35 more defensive runs at second base than Cesar Hernandez since 2013, according to Fangraphs data.
Looking at the Phillies' current roster, Harrison (or anyone else the Phillies sign as bench depth) would take the 25-man roster spot of Aaron Altherr. That would be an upgrade. If the Phillies do eventually sign Manny Machado, the corresponding move would likely be a trade of Maikel Franco.
The Phillies already have a utilityman in Scott Kingery, who in 2018 played 18 innings in right field, 30 in left field, 23 at second base, 76 at third base and 887 at second base. Adding another player who can play all over the diamond would allow Kingery to focus mostly on playing up the middle, which could benefit him.
Offensively, Harrison is a mixed bag. A team can feel good that he'll hit between .275 and .290. His career batting average is .277, and he hit .290 in the four seasons leading up to an unhealthy 2018.
Harrison does not walk or see many pitches, though. He's walked just 120 times in 3,012 career plate appearances. Put another way, Harrison has walked 10 more times in his career than Carlos Santana did last season.
Go for Zobrist
The more difference-making utilityman, from an offensive standpoint, would be Ben Zobrist, who the Cubs are reportedly considering trading and couldn't expect a ton in return for. Zobrist, a switch-hitter, is entering the final year of his contract. He'll make $12 million in 2019.
Turning 38 on May 26, Zobrist is no spring chicken. But he has remained a solid offensive threat into his late-30s and can do so many things for a team ready to win.
The left side of the diamond is probably off limits for Zobrist at this point in all but the most extreme of circumstances. He hasn't played third base since 2015 and has played just 13 innings of shortstop since 2014. But Zobrist can play first base, second base and both outfield corners well.
Last season, Zobrist hit .305/.378/.440 for the Cubs. In fact, over the last five seasons, his OPS has been at least 15 percent above the league average each year except 2017.
Zobrist consistently has high-quality plate appearances. He works deep counts, fouls off tough pitches and walks nearly as much as he strikes out. The last four seasons, Zobrist has 267 walks and 269 strikeouts.
He'd be a much more potent offensive threat than Harrison. And Zobrist's penchant for making contact, especially in high-pressure situations, would add a wrinkle to the Phillies' offense. He's a guy you can legitimately bat anywhere from second through sixth and not feel like you've created a hole in the lineup.
Imagine, for example, a game against a right-handed pitcher in which the Phillies' lineup looks like this:
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Jean Segura, SS
3. Manny Machado, 3B
4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
5. Andrew McCutchen, LF
6. Ben Zobrist, RF
7. Odubel Herrera, CF
8. Jorge Alfaro, C
That would be a deep lineup with power, on-base skills and six different players capable of hitting .280 or better.
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