Josh Harrison

Which veteran roster candidates have outs in their Phillies contracts?

Which veteran roster candidates have outs in their Phillies contracts?

Opening day is just three weeks from Thursday and as Phillies officials begin to ponder final roster decisions they must consider that several veteran non-roster candidates have the right to become free agents during the final week of camp.

Infielders Logan Forsythe and Neil Walker and relievers Francisco Liriano and Anthony Swarzak all have outs in their contracts on March 19, two days before they must learn whether or not they will make the opening day roster. If these players do not make the roster for the March 26 opener, the Phillies can seek to retain them as minor-league depth by paying them a $100,000 retention bonus.

Forsythe, Walker, Liriano and Swarzak are eligible for these retention bonuses because they ended last season on a major-league contract and have more than six years of service time.

Rosters have increased from 25 to 26 men this season, giving the Phillies room for an extra man on the bench. Forsythe and Walker are both competing for a spot there. Forsythe has come out of the gate quickly with a double, two homers and four walks in his first six Grapefruit League games.

Liriano, a lefty, had a strong season out of Pittsburgh’s bullpen in 2019 and stands a good chance to break with the club. Swarzak, a 10-year veteran, pitched in 59 games for Seattle and Atlanta last season.

Josh Harrison and Phil Gosselin, both infielder/outfielders with a chance to win a spot on the bench, each have outs in their contracts on March 23, three days before the opener. Neither are eligible for a retention bonus if they go to the minors. Harrison has another out on June 1 and Gosselin on July 1.

The Phillies' 40-man roster is full so the team would have to make room for any player from this group that it adds.

Here are the outs for other veteran players in Phillies camp on minor-league deals:

Reliever Blake Parker — Can request release on March 19.

Catcher Christian Bethancourt — Can request release June 1 if in the minors and another team offers a big-league job; July 15 for requested release.

Outfielder Mikie Mahtook — Can request release June 15 if in minors and another team offers a big-league job.

Reliever Bud Norris — Can request release June 30 if in minors and another team offers a big-league job.

Reliever Drew Storen — Can request release June 15 if in minors and another team offers a big-league job.

Outfielder Matt Szczur — Can request release June 15 if in minors and another team offers a big-league job.

Infielder Ronald Torreyes — Can request release June 1 if in minors and another team offers a big-league job; August 15 for requested release.

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Phillies sign Josh Harrison to minor-league deal

Phillies sign Josh Harrison to minor-league deal

The Phillies added a recognizable name, signing veteran utilityman Josh Harrison to a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training.

Harrison played eight seasons in Pittsburgh, improving from extra man to everyday player and making a pair of All-Star teams (2014, 2017). From 2014-17, he hit .290/.331/.428 while playing second base, third base and both outfield corners.

The last two seasons, he hasn't hit, with injuries playing a role. After a quiet final year with the Pirates in 2018, Harrison signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Tigers. He led off for Detroit on opening day 2019 and for the season's first three weeks but never found any footing, hitting just .175 in 147 plate appearances before being released on Aug. 9. Harrison broke his left hand in September 2017 and again in April 2018. In 2019, he missed time with hamstring and shoulder injuries.

In his prime, Harrison was a solid contact hitter with 30-doubles pop. He hit a career-high 16 homers in 2017 but has just nine in 133 games since.

Here, he'll have a chance to win a spot as a utilityman off the bench capable of manning four different positions.

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Phillies rumors: Stars aside, Phils should consider trading for Ben Zobrist

Phillies rumors: Stars aside, Phils should consider trading for Ben Zobrist

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
9. Pitcher

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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