Yesterday, the Pirates and Josh Harrison came to an agreement on a 4 yr/$27.3M deal that covers his three arbitration seasons and his first free agent year. The contract also has two club options with a $1M buyout. The breakdown is:
- 2015 — $3.8M ($1M signing bonus plus his already agreed upon $2.8M)
- 2016 — $5M
- 2017 — $7.5M
- 2018 — $10M
- 2019 — (club option for $10.5M, $1M buyout)
- 2020 — (club option for $11M, $0.5M buyout)
Harrison is coming off an amazing 2014 season that saw him produce a triple slash line .315 AVG/.347 OBP/.490 SLG with good defensive metrics, resulting in a 5.0 WAR and a 9th place finish in the NL MVP race. However, that was his first real successful season, as he had nearly as many plate appearances last year (550) and he had in first three seasons combined (575). There’s a chance that Harrison’s 2014 season may have been a career season that he never comes close to replicating and he may regress this year. Obviously, the Pirates have faith that he won’t.
The sums of money shown above are not large in the first three seasons, especially when you consider that the going rate for 1 WAR on the free agent market is $6.5M. Additionally, the first three seasons are his artificially-depressed arbitration seasons. So in essence, the Pirates are hoping that in his age-30 season in 2018, Harrison will produce 1.6 WAR. That’s a relatively modest amount of WAR to justify the $10M, which doesn’t even consider that $/WAR may inflate to a higher number by 2018.
But the issue I have is not the raw year-by-year salaries, but rather that the Pirates felt the need to lock Harrison in for four years. They believe he is a key complementary player during this contention window; I happen to feel otherwise. For me, in case Harrison turns back into the bench player he was prior to 2014, I would rather have the flexibility to non-tender him after a season. Now the Pirates are risking having a burdensome contract on their payroll.
Just because the Pirates can pay $10M to Harrison in 2018 doesn’t mean they should pay $10M to Josh Harrison. Even if the payroll is sitting around $110-$120M by then, that’s 8-9% of the payroll allocated to a player with a low walk rate and moderate power, at best. The Pirates are paying for Harrison’s versatility, hoping that if he does regress that he can still cover multiple positions and provide a spark in the lineup, while being a positive veteran in the clubhouse.
This long-term commitment, coupled with the free agent signing of Jung-ho Kang, seems to be another strike against the Pirates signing Neil Walker past his team control after the 2016 season. Walker and the Pirates have never been able to get into the same sphere on what his worth is to each other. With Jordy Mercer still under team control for four seasons, it certainly appears as if the plan is for Kang to slide over to 2B, perhaps starting next season if he can properly adjust to MLB.
For many, this contract will be viewed as a positive. The Pirates are spending money and making an effort to retain the core of their team they feel will continue to be a winning squad. They now have five players (Liriano, McCutchen, Marte, Harrison, and Kang) under contract for the 2017 season. That’s positive as long as the right players are the ones under contract.
I just have reservations about Harrison being the correct player to hitch the wagon to long-term.