In the wake of the recent trades that shipped Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole out of Pittsburgh, speculation has turned to the status of veteran Josh Harrison — another player that has long been mentioned as a candidate to be dealt. The veteran utilityman issued his thoughts on the matter today to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
After discussing his affinity for the team, city, and fans — as well as for the departing players — Harrison laid down a challenge of sorts to the Pirates front office. While he framed it as an expression of what might be “best for the organization,” Harrison seemingly conveyed a clear interest in being dealt if the club is not serious about putting a winner on the field. The full comments are available at the above link, but this seems to be the key passage:
[T]he GM is on record as saying, ‘When we get back to postseason-caliber baseball, we would love our fans to come back out.’ If indeed the team does not expect to contend this year or next, perhaps it would be better for all involved, that I also am traded.
Of course, just what “expect to contend” might really mean is open to some interpretation. The organization’s top leadership emphasized in the wake of the trades that it still sees the roster as a possible contender. While those comments are themselves worthy of skepticism, there’s room for debate as to just how the Cutch/Cole swaps will impact the team on the field — and time left for further developments to impact the overall picture. What the trades clearly do not portend, in and of themselves, is a full-blown rebuild; both players, after all, were within a year or two or free agency and the deals returned mostly MLB-level talent.
Interestingly, at least one of the players received, infielder Colin Moran, could help the team cover in the infield if it decides to send Harrison elsewhere. Talks involving the versatile, well-rounded performer have been ongoing over the winter, so a trade wouldn’t be surprising, regardless of the comments he issued today. The Pittsburgh front office no doubt anticipated some disappointment from its remaining veterans — not to mention a more vehement push-back from the fanbase and media — when it moved these core players.
That said, the Bucs likely don’t face a clear financial imperative to make a move, so far as is publicly known. The team currently has less than $85MM on its books for 2018 after moving most of the relatively significant salaries of McCutchen and Cole. Having opened the last two seasons within sight of $100MM in payroll obligations, there’s some breathing room to work with even with Harrison on the roster. He’s owed $10MM for the coming season and can then be controlled with successive club options ($10.5MM and $11.5MM, with a total of $1.5MM in buyouts).
Of course, that assessment of the money situation assumes the club is not preparing to draw down its outlay. In truth, that’s not really clear yet. Cashing in players who are getting older, more expensive, and closer to free agency is a longstanding ritual for smaller-market teams that otherwise would struggle to remain competitive without suffering through lengthy rebuilding stretches. But there are several ways to go while remaining mindful of the need to always keep the future in mind.
Just what the Bucs have in mind currently — a period of salary retrenchment and roster reloading? at least some reinvestment of free payroll on other assets? etc. — is still not entirely know. In a way, how they proceed with Harrison may be the evidence we need to understand the very intentions and expectations that his comment references.