Posted on February 20, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
With spring training already underway, the slow-moving free agent market is finally starting to pick up steam. The Detroit Tigers managed to take advantage of the stagnant market on Wednesday, signing utility man Josh Harrison. The two sides have agreed to a one-year deal that will result in Harrison being Detroit’s primary second baseman in 2019.
This was not the offseason Harrison envisioned for himself. Even after the Pirates declined his $10.5 million option for 2019, he couldn’t have imagined waiting until after the start of spring training to find a job. With teams starting to put increased value on versatile players, one would have thought Harrison would be more in demand. The 31-year old has solid career numbers offensively, as well as extensive experience at both second base and third base. He’s also spent a fair amount of time in the outfield. However, it was ultimately a rebuilding team like the Tigers that wanted him the most.
To be fair, Harrison is coming off one of the worst offensive seasons of his career. He missed a month of action after breaking his pinky in mid-April and only ended up playing in 97 games for the Pirates. Harrison also settled for a .250 batting average and a disappointing .656 OPS. However, he’s a good candidate to have a bounce-back year. Despite a lack of power, Harrison is still a two-time all-star, earning a spot in the Mid-Summer Classic as recently as 2017. It stands to reason that he has something left in the tank.
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By joining the Tigers, Harrison has all but guaranteed himself an everyday job. Detroit is lacking high-end middle infield prospects, which leaves an opening at second base for a veteran like Harrison. The move to Detroit will also reunite Harrison with longtime Pirates teammate Jordy Mercer, who signed with the Tigers earlier this winter. Harrison and Mercer manned the middle infield together countless times while in Pittsburgh, and now they’ll do the same for the Tigers.
Obviously, having Harrison and Mercer at the middle infield spots doesn’t make the Tigers a serious contender in the AL Central. However, it means Detroit has reliable veterans at important positions in case they exceed expectations in other areas. Harrison’s versatility also means the Tigers can move him to another position on the off chance that one of their young middle infielders emerges as an everyday player. Having Harrison at second base will also allow them to keep Niko Goodrum in the same utility role that he excelled in last season.
Finally, Harrison gives the Tigers one more viable trade chip to move this summer. In all likelihood, Detroit will be sellers at the trade deadline. But if Harrison can have a bounce-back season offensively, he should be a wanted commodity for contending teams. Even if he doesn’t get much in a trade, he’ll be worth something in a trade deadline deal.
Ultimately, Harrison doesn’t push the needle much on Detroit’s rebuilding efforts. However, the Tigers don’t have any young second basemen worth watching at the moment. Signing a player like Harrison on a one-year deal gives them a better chance of competing early in the year, as well as a possible trade chip later in the year. All things considered, this is a good signing by the Tigers and a good opportunity for Harrison to get his career back on track.