Posted on January 3, 2020, by Bryan Zarpentine
They say that if you can’t beat them, join them. Reliever Will Harris took that to heart on Thursday. After failing to beat the Washington Nationals as a member of the Astros in last year’s World Series, Harris has joined the Nationals. Harris and the Nationals have agreed to a three-year deal worth $24 million that will make him an important part of the Washington bullpen as the team tries to defend its World Series crown in 2020.
“Will it be awkward for a second or two? More than likely, but that stuff fades and it’s about playing baseball,” Harris said of moving from one World Series participant to the other. “I’ve done my homework, and the guys they have that I know who have played there and been there, everybody has told me I’m going to love it.”
The 35-year-old Harris has spent the last five seasons in Houston, turning into one of the best setup men in baseball during that time. He owns a career ERA of 2.84 and is coming off perhaps the best season of his career. In 2019, Harris made 68 appearances, going 4-1 with a 1.50 ERA while collecting four saves and 26 holds. He’s also pitched in the postseason with the Astros in four of the last five seasons, amassing 23 playoff appearances.
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Of course, an otherwise outstanding postseason from Harris was tainted when he gave up a home run to Howie Kendrick to give the Nationals a lead in Game 7 of the World Series. In a way, he played an important role in giving Washington the title. But once the offseason began, the Nationals quickly pivoted their position and pursued Harris, knowing they needed to upgrade a bullpen that struggled for most of 2019.
“I felt like the whole process was kind of trending toward the Nationals maybe from the beginning,” Harris explained. “They seemed to be the most bullish on me and made me a priority from the beginning.”
In Washington, Harris will likely serve as the team’s 8th-inning setup man for closer Sean Doolittle. Harris is somewhat limited in his experience as a closer, although he can serve in that role. Doolittle, despite some struggles last season, is a trustworthy closer who was outstanding in the postseason. If he can avoid the knee issues that plagued him in 2019, Doolittle should be Washington’s unquestioned closer in 2020 with Harris is a shut-down reliever in the 8th inning.
However, there are some lingering questions about Washington’s bullpen outside Doolittle and Harris. Daniel Hudson, who was vital to the Nationals during the postseason, remains a free agent. He helped cover up a lot of problems and will be missed if the Nationals don’t re-sign him. To get to Harris and Doolittle in the late innings, the Nationals will rely on the somewhat unreliable group of Tanner Rainey, Hunter Strickland, Roenis Elias, and Wander Suero.
One potential concern with Harris is his age. However, he’s shown no signs of slowing down, which should help minimize the risk of committing to a three-year deal. As long as he avoids a sudden drop-off, the Nationals can feel good about the back end of their bullpen with Harris setting up for Doolittle. The same may not be true for the rest of Washington’s bullpen. But signing Harris is surely a big step toward the Nationals solving one of their biggest problems in 2019.