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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Josh Harrison

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Will the Yankees look to bring in insurance for Troy Tulowitzki?

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Pittsburgh Pirates Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

With the Manny Machado saga still unfolding, we’ve profiled seemingly every other infielder the Yankees could target should Machado sign with another team. From glove-first shortstops like Freddy Galvis and Jose Iglesias, to versatile players like Marwin Gonzalez and Jed Lowrie, to darkhorses like DJ LeMahieu, the ranks of free agent infielders are vast, albeit underwhelming compared to Machado.

The Yankees, of course, threw in a twist when they secured the services of Troy Tulowitzki. Most reports have suggested that Tulowitzki’s presence will not have an effect on the Yankees’ pursuit of Machado, and in the end, importing Machado to stand on the left side of the infield is still the strongest move the Yankees could make this offseason.

If Machado ends up elsewhere, though, the Yankees will need infield insurance for Tulowitzki. Brian Cashman indicated last week that Tulowitzki was the starting shortstop, but can the Yankees really head into 2019 with confidence that Tulowitzki can stay healthy? The 34-year-old apparently moved well in a private workout held for teams, but there’s a difference between moving capably at practice and manning one of the game’s most challenging defensive positions six days a week in the majors.

In the unfortunate event that the Yankees fail to sign Machado, one plausible target that we have yet to mention is Josh Harrison. Jon Heyman reported last week that the veteran infielder has generated interest from a number of teams, and that a few heavy hitters, namely the Yankees, Phillies, and Dodgers, could be intrigued depending on how the big names in free agency shake out. If Machado spurns New York, what would Harrison have to offer?

Harrison has spent the past eight seasons with the Pirates, with two All-Star appearances to his name. He generated down-ballot MVP support back in 2014, when he combined a .315/.347/.490 slash line with superlative defense at multiple positions. The further removed that season becomes, however, the more fluky it appears, as Harrison has mostly settled in as an average player since 2014.

Between 2015 and 2018, Harrison has averaged a shade under 2 WAR per year according to Baseball Reference, and 2.5 WAR per 650 plate appearances. His .274/.319/.396 line over that span is nothing to write home about, but his subsequent 92 OPS+ is good enough for a quality fielder on the dirt. Indeed, DRS has rated Harrison 15 runs above average across the past four seasons.

Harrison’s versatility stands out as perhaps the most appealing part of his defensive profile. He played second base almost exclusively last year, but appeared 49 times at third in 2017, to go along with 58 innings in the outfield. It’s been a few years since Harrison played shortstop, but he does have over 200 innings played at the position for his career.

That ability to fit across the diamond would obviously come in handy with Didi Gregorius on the shelf for the first few months of 2019. Harrison could hypothetically spell Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar at second and third, respectively. When Tulowitzki needs a rest, which will presumably be often, Torres could shift to short with Harrison filling in at second, or Harrison could even stand at shortstop in a pinch.

Should Harrison produce an OPS within shouting distance of average while also contributing multi-faceted defensive value, he’d profile as an unimpressive but respectable regular. The question, of course, is whether Harrison would be able to hit his career standards as he progresses into his 30s.

Harrison is 31, and is coming off the worst offensive season of his career. He was hampered by a broken hand early in the season, and ended up with a paltry .250/.293/.363 slash line. It’s possible that the hand problems caused Harrison’s struggles, and his offense did tick up a bit after the All-Star break, indicating that he might have improved the farther he got from the injury. Regardless, it’s discouraging that Harrison suffered a clear downturn upon reaching age-30.

Ultimately, Harrison is most likely to bounce back somewhat from his career-worst 2018, though probably not all the way back to his best form. Steamer currently projects a .259/.310/.395 line for Harrison, one that would make him a modestly effective, slap-hitting infielder that relies upon defense to really contribute.

If that sounds disappointing compared to the MVP-caliber talent of Machado, well, it should. Harrison could provide league-average play next year as utilityman while Gregorius heals, but the obvious way for the Yankees to move the needle would be to sign Machado. With Tulowitzki coming off a two-season stretch in which he played just 66 games, the Yankees simply have to sign someone as insurance. Harrison would likely come on a one-year deal, and he’s a serviceable player, one that’s fun to watch. In the end though, if the Yankees wind up with Harrison, it will be difficult to argue they maximized this offseason.