The Pittsburgh Pirates looked to extend their window of competitiveness well into the future by today inking super-utility man, Josh Harrison (27), to a four-year (plus two team options) extension. After his break out campaign in 2014, the Pirates will reward Harrison with a contract extension which guarantees $27.3MM, over the next four years.
The deal buys out his first (and only) three arbitration years (2015 being year one), and then up to three years of free agency, thereafter. If the options are picked up, in 2019 and 2020, Harrison can make up to $50.3MM over the life of the deal.
Harrison broke out in 2014, hitting .315/.347/.490 over 550 plate appearances. He also stole 18 bases and played nearly every position on the field. It was a true breakout, because, before 2014, Harrison wasn’t particularly good. From 2011-2013, his first years up with the big league club, Harrison maintained a sub-.700 OPS. While it was rare to witness Harrison strike out during that span (11.8%, 13.4% and 10.5%), it was rarer to find him taking a walk (1.5%, 3.6% and 2.1%).
Part of Harrison’s breakout in 2014 can be attributed to the higher (but still quite low) walk rate of 4.0%. More notably, though, his BABIP (.353) was far higher than any of his previous marks, and probably higher than he should expect in 2015. However, his All-Star performance in 2014 wasn’t entirely predicated on luck. Harrison did have the highest ISO (.175) and Line Drive rate (24.0%) of his career – which helps to explain why more of his balls in play were landing as hits.
Overall, this is a good deal for both sides. The Pirates – who live and die on young, inexpensive players – get some upside and two team options, while Harrison gets life changing money guaranteed. If Harrison comes close to matching last year’s performance, though, the deal can quickly turn out to be a steal.
I bring this particular deal to your attention, though, not to praise the Pirates, but because the length and cost of deals like this can have a huge impact on the Cubs in the coming years. Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Jorge Soler are locked in, for now, but these “arbitration plus free agency” extensions are becoming increasingly relevant to the Chicago Cubs. Players like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Javier Baez, and Arismendy Alcantara all look to be prime candidates (theoretically) for extensions in the coming years, and will certainly examine precedents like the Harrison deal in their contract negotiations.
I don’t think this deal was extreme enough (low or high) to move the needle too far in any direction, but these are the things to keep an eye on, as the next few seasons roll on.
In the meantime, we’ll see how Harrison’s long-term retention impacts the Pirates, who figure to be a thorn in the Cubs’ side over the next half decade, at least.
Side note: wonder how the Pirates got Harrison in the first place? The Cubs sent him over as part of the 2009 deadline trade for Tom Gorzellany and John Grabow. At the time, Harrison was a largely-unheralded 21-year-old infield prospect in the Cubs’ system, one year after they’d taken him in the 8th round of the 2008 draft out of the University of Cincinnati. Talk about a late-bloomer.