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Josh Harrison wants out of Pittsburgh

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In the wake of the Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole trades, Pirates infielder Josh Harrison released a statement to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic today in which he said he’d like to be traded if the Pirates are going to rebuild over the next couple of years.

Harrison said “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,” He couched it all in is love of Pittsburgh and his desire to win in Pittsburgh, adding “I want what is best for the organization that gave me a chance to be a Big Leaguer,” but he said “I just lost two of my closest friends in the game. Cole and Cutch were not just friends, they were the best pitcher and best position player on the Pittsburgh Pirates. Now, I am the most tenured member of the Pirates, I want to win, I want to contend, I want to win championships in 2018, 2019 and beyond.”

Harrison is under team control on a very team-friendly contract that has him locked up through 2018 with the Pirates holding pretty cheap team options for 2019 and 2020. He’ll make $10 million this year and if the Pirates want to keep him they’ll owe him $10.5 million in 2019 and $11.5 million in 2020, with $1 million and $500,000 buyouts, respectively. Harrison played second, third and in the outfield in 2017 and hit .272/.339/.432 with 16 homers and 12 stolen bases.

Part of Harrison’s statement included the phrase “baseball is a business.” That is correct, and when Harrison signed his deal he had to know that the Pirates could blow things up, trade him or anything else during its term. That’s simply a risk one runs when one agrees to a deal that buys out free agency years. At the same time, it can’t be at all fun to be part of a tear-down process the likes of which is now getting underway in Pittsburgh, and it’d be hard to say any of us would feel differently than Harrison does if we were in his shoes.

All of that said, Harrison may very well get his wish. Rosenthal writes that the Mets, Yankees, and Brewers are among the teams with reported interest in Harrison. There are probably way more who would make a good offer for him given his versatility and given how often recent World Series winners have featured a player with exactly that kind of versatility (think Ben Zobrist and Marwin Gonzalez).

My guess is that he’s either going to be dealt now or at the deadline this coming season.

Two injured MVPs is a major bummer for baseball

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Last week Christian Yelich‘s season ended with a fractured kneecap. At the time he went down he was neck-and-neck with Cody Bellinger — I think a tad behind, though people may reasonably differ — and, at least by my reckoning, a hair or three above Anthony Rendon, Ketel Marte and Pete Alonso in the race for the NL MVP Award. As I wrote last week, I think that means Bellinger is going to walk away with the hardware when the winner is announced in November. Yelich’s injury will prevent him from making a late season surge to surpass Bellinger, but I think it would’ve taken a surge for him to do it.

Over the weekend we learned that Mike Trout’s season is over as well. He’ll be having foot surgery to deal with a nerve issue causing him pain. At the time he went down he was the clear frontrunner to win his third MVP Award. Unlike Yelich, I’m pretty sure Trout will still win the trophy. Sure, Trout hasn’t played since September 7, meaning that he’ll miss more time than Yelich will, but strained articles stumping for alternative candidates notwithstanding, his lead in the MVP race was more secure.

Trout’s 2019 ends with him setting a career high in homers with 45 and slugging percentage at .645—both of which lead the American League. He likewise leads the league in on-base percentage (.438), OPS (1.083), and in both Baseball-Reference.com’s and FanGraphs’ versions of WAR at 8.3 and 8.6, respectively. With just under two weeks to go it seems likely that Jorge Soler of the Royals will pass Trout for the home run lead, but he’s not an MVP candidate himself. Alex Bregman will likely pass him in walks. Trout seems pretty certain to finish with his lead in all or most of the other categories intact. That’s an MVP resume even if he’ll only have played in 134 games. To give the award to anyone else would be an exercise in narrative over reason. Something born of a desire to reward a guy — like, say, Bregman — for playing on a winning team as opposed to his individual accomplishments. Sure, voters are allowed to do that, but they’ve mostly eschewed such tendencies in recent years. It’d be a surprise if they backslid.

Even if Yelich’s and Trout’s injuries aren’t likely to radically change the MVP race — again, I think the NL’s was Bellinger’s to lose — they’re both still lamentable separate and apart from the fact that all injuries stink. Lamentable in a way that, unfortunately, creates a downer for baseball as it gets ready for the postseason.

The Brewers won the game in which Yelich went down and have won four of five since then. In so doing they have remained close in the race for the second Wild Card and currently stand one game back. They also have an insanely favorable schedule the rest of the way, exclusively facing the weak sisters of the National League in the Padres, Pirates, Reds and Rockies. Even so, it’s no gimmie — those Reds and Rockies games are on the road, and Great American Ballpark and Coors Field makes those bad teams better — and the reward at the end of this is likely to be a one-game play-in. You want your best player in any and all situations and the Brewers don’t have theirs. And won’t, even if they make the postseason and even if they win the Wild Card game. Having one of the game’s brightest stars on crutches for the playoffs is not something anyone at the league office wants.

The Angels have no such postseason concerns and haven’t had them for most of the season. Once again they’re terrible. As they have been for almost the entirety of Trout’s career. They’ve made the postseason only once in his career — back in 2014, losing the LDS in three games — and do not appear poised to put a winner on the field any time soon. Trout is still in his prime, obviously, but like all players he’ll either slow down or break down eventually. Given the state of the club, I’m not sure I’d put a ton of money on them being good, let alone consistently good, while Trout is still the best or even one of the few best players in baseball. The upside to me seems to be an Al Kaline situation with the Tigers, in which the team finally put it together behind him only after he began to age and miss time to injuries. Having the best player in baseball outside of the playoffs looking in is not something anyone at the league office should want either.

Yet here we are.

Injuries happen. Every contender is missing at least one and in some cases several important players. But for one MVP candidate to miss the postseason this year and another one to miss the postseason every year is a major bummer for a league that has a tough go of it marketing itself even under the best of circumstances.