Josh Harrison Makes Sense as a Buy-Low Option for the Yankees
The Pittsburgh Pirates are rumored to be open to dealing infielder/outfielder Josh Harrison this offseason. The versatile 29-year-old would be a nice fit for the Yankees.
According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Pittsburgh Pirates are looking to move Josh Harrison and the $19 million remaining on the extension he signed prior to the 2015 season, after a disappointing 2016 campaign in which he hit .283/.311/.388 (85 OPS+). Any deal would likely be a straight salary dump, so the New York Yankees could upgrade their infield depth without dealing from their stockpile of top prospects.
Josh Harrison, a career .284/.316/.410 hitter, has become expendable for the Pirates, withJung Ho Kang, David Freese, Alen Hanson, and Adam Frazier as internal options to fill out their infield for 2017 and beyond. The Pirates work on a shoe-string budget, so it isn’t surprising to see them try and save the $19 million owed to Harrison over the next two years.
Harrison was drafted in the sixth round by the Chicago Cubs in the 2008 MLB Draft, and was traded to Pittsburgh in July of 2009. Since making his debut in 2011, Harrison has compiled 10.4 WAR during his six big league seasons according to Baseball-Reference.
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More than half of that value (5.3 WAR) came during his excellent 2014 campaign, where he hit .315/.347/.490 (133 OPS+) with 13 home runs and 18 stolen bases. He has failed to match that production in the last two seasons, but remains a valuable asset primarily because of his versatility.
Harrison has experience playing many positions, seeing action at third base, second base, shortstop, right field and left field in his Pirates tenure, and is an above-average defender at second and third for his career according to DRS and UZR.
One possibility is that Harrison could act as a stop-gap replacement for Chase Headley this winter if the Yankees find a taker for their incumbent third baseman on the trade market. Even with Headley in the fold, however, Harrison would be a useful super-sub, possibly taking over the role Rob Refsnyder and Ronald Torreyes played off the bench in 2016.
Harrison’s value goes further than his flexibility in the field, as he rarely strikes out (just 14.3% of his at-bats), and adds speed to any lineup. Harrison has swiped 47 bags over the past three seasons, with his career high of 19 coming in 2016.
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What is concerning is the drop-off in power Harrison has seen the last two seasons. After hitting 13 homers in 2014, Harrison has hit just four in each of the last two seasons. More telling is the drop in slugging percentage from .490 in 2014 to .390 in 2015 and then .388 in 2016. However, is is possible that transitioning to the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium could boost Harrison’s power numbers.