Maybe it is time the Pirates start a rebuild.
The Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals have a pretty good grip on the National League Central. The Cincinnati Reds have improved a little and its hard to gauge how good the Milwaukee Brewers will be in 2018.
Where does that leave the Pirates? Dead last? Fighting it out for third place?
The reality is the Pirates just aren’t good enough to, at best, compete for a Wild Card.
Harrison is in the last year of his four-year contract. He’ll turn 31 this summer and is set to make nearly $7 million with two option years on his contract.
Harrison had a breakout year in 2014 (5 WAR), and is/was considered to be, along with Starling Marte and Jordy Mercer, the future of the Pirates. Struggles in two subsequent seasons saw his WAR drop by nearly 4 points in 2015. He wasn’t much better the following season, either.
Harrison seemed to right the ship last year with near career-highs in OBP (.332), Isolated Power (.160), and becoming a bit more patient at the plate (35.6% swings out of the strike zone).
For now, it’s clear that Harrison has value the Pirates could convert into prospects to help bolster the farm system; the Pirates are middle of the pack in terms of prospect rankings. They have three top-tier players in their system: RHP Mitch Keller, OF Austin Meadows, and RHP Shane Baz.
The big issue for the Pirates, should they trade Harrison, is what they will do about second base.
Harrison can play both the infield and outfield but was likely going to be the opening day starter at second. Losing his flexibility would be a detriment to the Buccos.
As you can see, the drop-off is pretty steep.
So, the question the Pirates front office has to ask themselves is what kind of product do they want to put on PNC Park?
Should they roll with the punches and accept mediocrity for another season or two? Or, take advantage of a player hitting the prime of his career and turn that into pieces of the future?
My concern with Harrison is the fact he may not be able to duplicate his 2014 season; he hasn’t given reason to think otherwise. Harrison is no scrub but there really isn’t telling what kind of player he’ll be in 2018.
STEAMER is projecting a .276/.324/.416 slash line, which is borderline All-Star material. Do those numbers help push the Pirates into contention?
It might be best to put the feelers out and see what teams are willing to give up to get the 30 year-old hitter.
The free agent market has been lethargic this off-season. It would appear teams are more willing to make trades than they are forking out big bucks for somewhat risky offensive options.
The Pirates could wait things out and attempt to deal him at the trade deadline. But by then, what kind of player are we talking about?
If I’m a General Manager, I don’t want disgruntled players in the clubhouse. While I can’t claim to fully comprehend the level of Harrison’s discontent, a guy who dogs it all season won’t be as highly regarded by pennant-chasing organizations looking to make a trade this summer.
The Pirates were 25th overall in 2017 attendance. Can ownership tolerate a drop once the fan base starts seeing their favorite players jettison to other teams?
Outfielder Gregory Polanco is a good player but not a ‘face of the franchise’ guy. First baseman Josh Bell still has more to prove before we declare him a star. Maybe you’ve got something with Marte, but outside of that, who are you going to PNC to see?
Not that Harrison was a huge draw but his departure does nothing to improve fan morale.
If I’m part of the Pirates front office (be thankful, Bucs fans, that I’m not), it might be best to sell (somewhat) high on Harrison and start planning for 2020+.