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Josh Harrison Rumors
Harrison tore the UCL in his left thumb on July 6 — an injury that required surgery to correct. He’s returned to action slightly faster than the Pirates anticipated, as their initial announcement said he’d be sidelined for seven weeks. The loss of Harrison left the Pirates short-handed and contributed to the acquisition of Aramis Ramirez. Now that Harrison is back, he’ll presumably split time at third base and in right field, possibly at the expense of some playing time for Ramirez and Gregory Polanco. Given his defensive prowess and solid bat, it’d be surprising if Harrison weren’t in the lineup on an everyday basis.
Wall, 28, had his contract selected to the roster earlier this week after a 15-inning game that left Pittsburgh’s bullpen short-handed. Wall has appeared in the Majors in each of the past three seasons, totaling 13 2/3 innings, but he’s yet to pitch in the Major Leagues this season. Instead, he’s spent the year at the Triple-A level, where he owns a very strong 2.93 ERA with 8.5 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 30 2/3 innings.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle says Josh Harrison‘s recent injury could lead to the Bucs being “aggressive with early opportunity to add” this month, MLB.com’s Tom Singer tweets. Harrison is set to miss seven weeks with a torn UCL in his thumb. Since Harrison could return by the end of August, acquiring offensive help earlier, rather than at the deadline the end of the month, would perhaps best help the Pirates best compensate for his absence.
The Bucs have a capable replacement in Jung-Ho Kang taking over for Harrison at third base, but the loss of the versatile Kang leaves the Pirates with an underwhelming bench of Chris Stewart, Sean Rodriguez, Steve Lombardozzi, Gorkys Hernandez and Travis Ishikawa. It already looked possible that the Pirates would consider pursuing an outfielder at the trade deadline, and that still looks like a possibility, even though young right fielder Gregory Polanco has shown signs of life lately — again via Singer on Twitter, Hurdle says left fielder Starling Marte‘s side injury could force him to the disabled list if he doesn’t respond well to pregame tests. (Marte might not miss many games even if he’s placed on the DL, however, given that the All-Star break will cover several of the 15 days he’ll be required to miss.)
The Pirates could pursue a variety of possible third base or outfield options, then, likely leaning toward a right-handed hitter if they pursue help in the outfield. Purely speculating here, but one would think a player like the switch-hitting Ben Zobrist, who’s capable of helping in both the infield and the outfield, would be especially attractive. Aramis Ramirez could be another possibility at third, with Harrison potentially returning to a super-utility role once he’s reinstated from the DL.
JULY 8: Harrison has a torn UCL in his left thumb and is expected to miss seven weeks after surgery, Pittsburgh announced.
JULY 6, 2:51pm: Harrison says he’ll receive a second opinion once the swelling in his hand goes down, but for the time being, there’s no specific diagnosis or timeline on his recovery, per MLB.com’s Adam Berry (on Twitter).
2:36pm: Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison will miss the next six weeks with a torn ligament in his thumb, reports Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Twitter links). Harrison injured his thumb while sliding into second base on Sunday, according to Biertempfel.
Harrison will be placed on the disabled list to accommodate the club’s roster claim of Travis Ishikawa, the Pirates announced. The loss of Harrison likely means that the Pirates’ infield alignment will feature Jung Ho Kang at third base and Jordy Mercer at shortstop for the foreseeable future. Harrison will also no longer be an option to spell Gregory Polanco in right field against left-handed pitching, as he’s done on occasion this season.
The 27-year-old Harrison signed a four-year extension with the Pirates this offseason and got off to a slow start in the wake of that deal. However, he’s turned it on since the beginning of May, batting .302/.335/.391 in that time with a pair of homers and nine steals. Most of his defensive work this season has come at the hot corner, where Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved peg him at slightly below average to average, although he grades out as a plus defender there over the course of his entire career.
Harrison’s loss makes the club’s offseason acquisition of Kang that much more crucial, as Kang’s versatility will soften the blow of losing Harrison’s productivity for the next month and a half.
Here are the highlights of Pirates GM Neal Huntington’s Sunday chat with the media, via Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- The Pirates acquired versatile infielders Jung-Ho Kang and Sean Rodriguez to give Clint Hurdle more tactical options and to allow the team to be more “proactive” about resting starters, Huntington says. Both players have, perhaps, been more useful than the Pirates anticipated — Kang is hitting .304/.369/.435 and has lately worked his way into regular duty, and Rodriguez has seen plenty of time at first base as well as the outfield corners.
- Third baseman Josh Harrison struggled early in the season after signing an extension in Spring Training, but he’s hit well recently, batting .488/.511/.714 in his last two weeks before today’s game against the Mets. “It looks like a guy that’s having fun playing the game again,” says Huntington. “Just showing up with energy every day and trying to do everything in his power to help a club win versus trying to justify.”
- Prospect Nick Kingham has yet to get a second opinion for his elbow injury, two weeks after it was reported he was going to seek one. “Nick chose a very busy doctor. Our hope is to get him in this week, and we’ll have an update after that,” Huntington says. Kingham has not pitched since May 6, but the severity of his injury is still unclear. He was set to provide the Pirates with rotation depth this season. MLB.com ranks him the sixth-best prospect in a strong Bucs system.
The Phillies announced that Cody Asche will be optioned to Triple-A and converted into an outfielder. That move seems all but certain to herald the return of top prospect Maikel Franco, a third baseman. As Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News tweets, Philadelphia will wait until at least Friday to formally move Franco up, which will ensure that the club will add an additional year of control.
- Meanwhile, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. says that the club is continuing to talk with other clubs, as Todd Zolecki of MLB.com tweets. “We’ve been in dialogue about a lot of things,” said Amaro. “That really hasn’t stopped since the offseason.” Obviously, with Philadelphia having long been established as a seller, plenty of homework and groundwork has already been accomplished heading into the summer.
- Jung-ho Kang continues to produce at the plate for the Pirates, and Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says that it isn’t too soon to increase his workload. The Pittsburgh front office and field staff is favorably impressed with Kang’s effort to adapt to his new environment, both on and off the field. Colleague Adam Bittner, meanwhile, offers a counterpoint, arguing that both Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer have enough of a track record and promise in their peripherals to warrant continued patience.
- Rockies GM Jeff Bridich addressed his club’s pronounced struggles, as MLB.com’s Thomas Harding reports. “We have a good collection of players,” said Bridich. “And at this point, meaning the last two weeks of the season, they’ve added up to a bad team.” Colorado’s head baseball decisionmaker went on to discuss the fundamental problems he sees, such as a failure to move runners and hit when runners do reach scoring position (on the offensive side) and issuing too many walks while failing to attack the strike zone (for the club’s pitchers). While there may be plenty of truth in that assessment, and while it would surely be hard for Bridich to say much else at this stage, the fact remains that a broader roster shake-up looks like an increasingly strong option for the front office to consider.
Here’s the latest on the Pirates from GM Neal Huntington, courtesy of the Post-Gazette’s Paul Zeise:
- Huntington feels that third baseman Josh Harrison, who’s hitting just .173/.209/.282 after today’s game, is pressing to prove he deserves the extension he received last month. Huntington feels that players react one of three ways after receiving a new contract. Some players relax and play better as a result; others, content with their newfound wealth, stop trying as hard. And then there’s Harrison. “The third case, which is what we believe is the case with Josh, he is trying to justify the contract, he is trying to show those who doubted him and show those of us that had faith in him that he is deserving.”
- Prospect Nick Kingham, who injured his elbow last week, is seeking a second opinion. Huntington is not yet willing to say what doctors believe Kingham’s injury is. Heading into the season, MLB.com, Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus all ranked Kingham in the bottom half of their lists of the top 100 prospects in the game. He was pitching reasonably well for Triple-A Indianapolis and likely will make his big-league debut this season if he can return to health. The news that he’s seeking a second opinion suggests that his injury is significant, however.
- Jose Tabata is hitting .338/.416/.397 at Indianapolis, but it doesn’t sound like Huntington is anticipating that the often frustrating outfielder will return to Pittsburgh, even though he’s signed through at least 2016. “We have been very open with Jose that while we hope his return to the big leagues [is] with us, he is a guy who may need to get somebody else’s attention and have somebody come get him,” says Huntington.
The Pirates have announced a four-year extension for infielder/outfielder Josh Harrison. Pittsburgh will guarantee the super-utility man $27.3MM over the next four seasons and will also hold two club options that could bring the deal’s total value to $50.3MM.
Harrison, who is represented by MSM Sports, will take home a $1MM signing bonus. After earning his previously agreed-upon $2.8MM salary this year, he will earn $5MM (2016), $7.5MM (2017), and $10MM (2018). The options are worth $10.5MM ($1MM buyout) and $11MM ($500K buyout). The options can each increase by up to $1MM depending upon escalators based upon MVP voting, accounting for the rest of the achievable value.
Harrison, 27, broke out last year for the Bucs after several years shuttling between the big leagues and upper minors. Despite previously carrying a sub-.700 OPS, Harrison slashed .315/.347/.490 in 550 plate appearances in 2014, adding 13 home runs and 18 stolen bases.
Playing excellent defense at multiple infield and outfield positions not only helped enhance Harrison’s overall productivity, but makes him a highly versatile piece moving forward. In the aggregate, Harrison posted 5.3 rWAR and 5.0 fWAR last year.
That elite contribution came at an opportune time, as it landed Harrison a $2.8MM contract in his first year of arbitration eligibility. In exchange for promising away the rest of his arbitration years and three seasons of free agent eligibility (two via options), Harrison now pockets an additional $24.5MM in guaranteed money.
MLBTR’s Steve Adams took a look at Harrison as an extension candidate back in September. After a detailed breakdown of his surprising emergence, Steve explained the difficulties that the two sides might encounter in valuing a new contract. A new factor was introduced when the Bucs landed Korean infielder Jung-ho Kang.
But with Harrison showing no signs of slowing down over a solid spring, team and player were able to bridge any differences and find common ground. In the end, Pittsburgh will commit slightly more than the Indians did last year for Michael Brantley but will pick up an additional season of control in the second option. The club will now enjoy the wide flexibility that Harrison offers in planning their next several offseasons, while hoping that his contract pays off as much as Brantley’s has.
Detractors will note that Harrison benefited from a .355 BABIP last year. But he has traditionally carried a high mark in the minors and still would have had plenty of value on offense — to say nothing of the other elements of the game — had that number been lower. If Harrison can remain even a slightly above-average hitter, he ought to justify his contract and then some.
All links to Twitter: Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com first reported the total value of the deal. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported details while Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review also reported financial details and Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette added the deal’s escalator clause.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
4:21pm: Pittsburgh has also settled with outfielder Travis Snider for $2.1MM, as Mike Perchick of WAPT was first to report (Twitter link). That is just $100K short of the MLBTR/Matt Swartz projection.
Pittsburgh has also reached agreement with reliever Tony Watson for $1.75MM, tweets Perchick. That figure falls a quarter-million shy of Watson’s $2MM projection. And Perchick also reports that Sean Rodriguez and the Pirates have avoided arb with a $1.9MM deal for 2015 — $100K shy of his projection.
2:52pm: The Pirates have agreed to a $5.4MM salary with closer Mark Melancon, according to Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Twitter link). Additionally, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets that Josh Harrison will receive $2.8MM on the heels of a breakout 2014 campaign.
While Melancon falls shy of his $7.6MM projection, Swartz explained in an Arbitration Breakdown post that Melancon’s unique statistical profile “broke” his projection algorithm in a way similar to Craig Kimbrel last offseason (when Swartz first wrote about “The Kimbrel Rule“). As Swartz explained in that post, he personally considered Melancon to be a Kimbrel-esque exception to his model and expected a salary in the $5.6MM to $6.1MM range.
The 29-year-old Melancon was dominant for a second straight season in 2014, registering a 1.90 ERA with 9.0 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 33 saves and 14 holds in 71 innings. That rare combination of ERA, saves and holds led the projection model to overshoot Melancon’s salary despite the fact that there’s no historical precedent for a raise of that magnitude for a relief pitcher (hence Swartz’s followup post and personalized expectations for Melancon).
As for Harrison, the 27-year-old broke out with a surprisingly excellent season that landed him ninth in NL MVP voting. Harrison batted .315/.347/.490 with 13 homers and 18 stolen bases, playing strong defense all over the diamond — second, short, third, corner outfield — before settling in at third base and displacing incumbent Pedro Alvarez. Harrison figures to man the hot corner on an everyday basis in 2015. He topped his $2.2MM projection by a hefty $600K.
Over the next few weeks, I will be discussing some of the higher profile upcoming arbitration cases. I will rely partly on my arbitration model developed exclusively for MLB Trade Rumors, but will also break out some interesting comparables and determine where the model might be wrong.
Josh Harrison will enter his first year of arbitration this winter after having a great year. From 2011 to 2013, Harrison had irregular playing time and bounced between the minors or majors, but in 2014 he firmly cemented his starter status with a .315 average and 58 extra-base hits. Harrison had a .347 OBP after failing to crack .290 in his previous three seasons, and slugged .490. Although his high OBP, 38 doubles and 7 triples made him a tremendously valuable 4.9 WAR player in 2014, they unfortunately (for him, at least) are not the kind of contributions awarded generously through the arbitration process.
Harrison had just 13 home runs, along with only 52 RBIs. The limited runs batted in are not surprising given that he hit out of the leadoff spot the majority of the time, but leadoff hitters usually offset some of their lack of power numbers with stolen bases when they go to arbitration. Harrison had 18 stolen bases, which is solid but not elite. In Harrison’s case, the value he added in 2014 does not typically get rewarded in arbitration. Harrison also loses out relative to other players because he only had 550 PA in his platform season. Playing time is perhaps the most crucial characteristic of a good arbitration case, and Harrison loses out to players who have more PA.
On the other hand, Harrison does benefit from the fact that arbitration rewards a strong platform season far more than performance in recent seasons. In his previous three seasons, he had only 575 PA combined, with just 7 home runs, 46 RBIs, and 13 stolen bases. And with only a .250 average in his pre-platform seasons, Harrison hurts his case, but far less than if he had struggled to hit safely in his platform year.
As a result of this, the model projects him to earn $2.2 million for 2015 and I do not think the model is far off in this one. Combining the peculiarity of the pairing of his strong platform season and his weak pre-platform years, the high average with lack of major power or stolen bases out of the leadoff spot, and his low playing time totals, it is difficult to find comparables for Harrison, but as we discuss some options below, the $2.2 million estimate starts to look pretty appropriate.
Looking for comparables, there were three key features that I searched for first. One was having between 400 and 600 PA in his platform season, so that the player was a starter but did not get too much playing time. I also initially looked for players who hit .300 since that is such a strong part of Harrison’s case, but who had less than 20 home runs, since power would have really helped his case. That left two players in the last five years.
Nyjer Morgan’s 2012 case is a pretty strong one, and he earned $2.35MM. He hit .304 with 4 home runs and 37 RBIs, and stole 13 bases over 498 PA. So he had less power and plate appearances than Harrison in his platform year, but was otherwise similar. Morgan did have 1403 PA in his pre-platform years, more than double Harrison’s 575 PA. Morgan also hit .283 in his pre-platform years, also beating Harrison’s .250 average handily.
Rajai Davis’ 2010 case is a little old to be used a typical arbitration case but also looks similar despite only getting $1.35MM. He hit .305 with 3 home runs and 48 home runs, and actually stole 41 bases, all with 432 PA. His .256 average and 462 PA pre-platform do look a lot more like Harrison, though. Even still, that case looks pretty out of touch with more recent numbers.
Expanding the group of potential comparables by looking for guys who hit between .290 and .300 in their platform year adds a couple names. David Murphy in 2011 got $2.4MM for a .291 average, 12 home runs, 65 RBI, and 14 steals in 467 PA in his platform year, and 1085 pre-platform PA in which hit .278, with 35 home runs and 147 RBI, along with 16 stolen bases. Tyler Colvin’s 2013 case is especially similar, and he got $2.275MM. Colvin hit .290 with 18 home runs and 72 RBI, along with 7 steals, although he only got 446 PA. In his pre-platform years, he had 636 PA and hit .215 with 26 home runs and 78 RBI, adding in six stolen bases.
The main issue with this group of four guys is that none of them had 500 PA, let alone 550 like Harrison. Eric Hosmer in 2014 could perhaps be a solid comparable for his platform year, with a .302 average, 17 home runs, 79 RBI, and 11 stolen bases. But Hosmer’s pre-platform years sum to a much loftier line than Harrison’s. He had 1161 PA, again about twice Harrison’s total, and he also hit 33 home runs and 138 RBI, far more than Harrison’s seven home runs and 46 RBI. Hosmer’s $3.6MM salary seems pretty unattainable for Harrison. Austin Jackson and Billy Butler both earned $3.5MM with similar lines to Hosmer, and both seem unlikely matches for Harrison because of their far greater pre-platform playing time.
Sometimes in arbitration cases, it is useful not just to look for comparable players, but to sandwich a player between a ceiling and a floor player. The ceiling player would clearly have superior numbers and should have a salary above the player in question, while the floor player would have inferior numbers and a low salary.
Alejandro de Aza’s 2013 arbitration case netted him $2.075MM, which seems like a reasonable floor for Harrison. He had a similar number of PA, 585, but hit just .281 and only had 9 home runs and 50 RBI, although he did steal 26 bags. His pre-platform years are worse, with only 388 PA to Harrison’s 575, and only four home runs and 36 RBI, both less than Harrison’s seven and 46, and with a similar number of stolen bases. De Aza did hit .280 in his pre-platform years, but that difference is not as large as the platform year batting average advantage that Harrison enjoys. As a result, it is difficult to see Harrison getting less than $2.075MM.
Jay Bruce looks like a ceiling. He had 573 PA going into his 2011 case, and he hit 25 home runs with 70 RBI. Bruce did have a .281 average, which is less than Harrison’s .315, but it seems unlikely that Harrison’s batting average could be more important than his lack of relative power. Bruce also had 839 PA pre-platform, and although he hit just .240, he had 43 home runs and 110 RBI. The fact that Bruce went into arbitration with 68 career home runs, more than triple Harrison’s 20, makes him a ceiling. Harrison is unlikely to match Bruce’s $2.792MM salary.
So it seems likely that Harrison will fall somewhere between $2.075MM and $2.792MM, and probably closer to $2.075MM. Tyler Colvin’s 2013 earnings of $2.275MM seem like the best comparison, which further cements Harrison around that range. I could see Harrison getting somewhere in between my $2.2MM estimate and maybe $2.5MM, but it will be hard for Harrison to go much past that point.
Asked to create a list of candidates for the 2014 NL batting title five months ago, few would have seriously suggested Pirates utilityman Josh Harrison. However, it’s September 11th, and the .318 mark that Harrison carried into the day paced the National League. A decline in performance for Pedro Alvarez and an eventual season-ending injury for the slugging third baseman have opened the door for Harrison to serve as the club’s everyday option at the hot corner down the stretch — an opportunity on which he has capitalized. Though the 27-year-old Harrison had never even topped 276 plate appearances prior to this season, he’s tallied 472 and should finish the season well north of 500.
The Pirates acquired Harrison with little fanfare in the 2009 trade that sent Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow to the Cubs and watched him produce steady batting average and on-base percentage marks as he ascended the minor league ranks. However, while his glovework graded out favorably heading into the season, he also carried a career slash line of just .250/.282/.367 into 2014.
Harrison hasn’t drastically changed his approach at the plate — his swing and contact rates are similar to his previous marks — but he’s slightly increased his walk rate, cut down on his pop-ups and laced line drives at a career-high rate. On top of that, Harrison has found some power despite never hitting more than six homers in a minor league season. He’s swatted 13 long balls and posted a .196 isolated power mark even though he plays at PNC Park, which is known to significantly diminish right-handed pop. The end result has been an outstanding .318/.351/.514 batting line to go along with those 13 homers, 17 steals and strong defensive marks.
Harrison has cleared three years of Major League service time now and will be eligible for arbitration this offseason. Clearly, an NL batting title, 15 or so homers and 20 or so steals will help his agents at Millennium Sports Management make a strong case. However, first-time arb salaries are based on a player’s entire career to that point, unlike second- and third-time arb salaries which are based more on a player’s most recent season. With the agents likely touting an elite platform season and the team likely pointing to earlier seasons to drive the cost down, a multi-year contract might be worth examining. Pittsburgh would get cost certainty, while Harrison would receive financial security in the event that he does not replicate his brilliant 2014.
Of course, from the Pirates’ point of view, they may look at Harrison as a player whose most consistent attributes are defense and baserunning — two aspects that, while valuable, are not highly rewarded in arbitration. While he does have a career-high in homers, the Pirates could also look to Harrison’s average fly-ball distance of 279.98 feet — 136th in the Majors according to BaseballHeatMaps.com — and the fact that seven of his 13 homers fall into the “just enough” category on ESPN’s Hit Tracker. Those two stats suggest that he may have difficulty sustaining this level of power, which would subsequently deflate his arb prices in future cases. A low-payroll team like the Pirates may express hesitancy at over-committing in the event that his power numbers won’t stay this high.
As such, Harrison and the Pirates may have trouble reaching common ground should either side look to pursue a long-term deal that buys out free agent years. The Pirates will cite Harrison’s short track record and reliance on defense and baserunning to provide value. Harrison’s agents, meanwhile, will likely position him as a breakout player and could point to five- or six-year pacts signed by other infielders in the past year or so. However, even a similar late bloomer like Matt Carpenter had an excellent 2012 season and a fourth-place MVP finish in 2013 before signing his six-year, $52MM contract. Harrison has just one elite season.
While Harrison isn’t the first player to jump from utility player to All-Star (though the feat certainly isn’t common), few, if any players have found themselves in his situation and his service bracket and ultimately inked a long-term deal. A look at extensions for infielders with three to four years of service time shows few deals that serve as comparables. Pablo Sandoval signed a three-year, $17.5MM to buy out his arb years at the same stage of his career, but he had a much better offensive profile at that point. Elvis Andrus‘ original three-year, $14.4MM extension was signed when he had an even three years of Major League service. He lacked an offensive season in the vein of Harrison’s excellent 2014, but he had a longer track record of providing value.
The Pirates are one of baseball’s most cost-conscious teams, and as such there would seem to be some benefit to securing Harrison’s arbitration paydays, and for a player with no track record prior to 2014, I’d think that holds some appeal to him as well. Perhaps the two sides could work out a three-year deal in the $15-16MM range to provide Harrison with a lifetime of financial security but still position him to hit free agency at a relatively young age in search of a significant payday. While Pittsburgh would undoubtedly have interest in adding a club option that could push the total value of the contract into the Michael Brantley range (four years, $25MM) if exercised, that doesn’t seem to be a worthwhile trade-off for player and agent, even if the buyout was fairly significant.
Beyond Harrison’s three arbitration years, the situation feels to this writer like one in which the team’s lack of margin for error (due to payroll constraints) makes betting on Harrison’s surprise breakout a bit too risky to pay him like the late-blooming star he could very well be. Of course, there’s risk for the team to pass on a long-term deal as well; if Harrison is capable of sustaining something close to this level of production, his price tag on a long-term deal a year from now could exceed that of Carpenter.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.