Back in 2014, little-known second baseman Josh Harrison exploded onto the season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, putting up a 137 wRC+ and 4.8 fWAR in his first full season in the majors. Since then, however, things have gone a little downhill for Harrison. In over a decade of experience, Harrison has slashed .274/.318/.401 with a below average 96 wRC+, dismal 4.3 percent walk rate, and surprisingly good 15 percent strikeout rate. In that time, he has been good for 12.3 fWAR. I think it’s safe to assume Harrison’s days as a starter are likely over, unless he finds himself on a basement dweller like the Baltimore Orioles. As a deep bench utility piece, however, Josh Harrison may have some, albeit limited, appeal.
The first thing operating in Harrison’s favor is his defensive versatility. Since making his debut in 2011, Harrison has gotten reps at every position on the field except catcher. While second base is, by far, the position where he has logged the most innings, he’s also played a healthy amount of games at third base and in the outfield. Though his numbers are predictably limited in positions that he is not accustomed to — he has posted a -6 DRS at shortstop and -3 DRS as a right fielder in limited action throughout his career — he’s versatile enough that he can fill in at any of these positions in a pinch.
The second thing Harrison has going for him is his performance this past season. Splitting games between Washington and Oakland, Harrison slashed .279/.341/.400 with eight home runs, 60 RBI, and nine stolen bases. He walked just 5.6 percent of the time, but posted a strikeout rate of just 13.4 percent. His wOBA was .325 (compared to an xwOBA of .332), his wRC+ was 103, and he was worth 1.5 fWAR. All things told, that would be a very good season for a bench player. The only issue? He played in 138 games, primarily as a starter.
While his percentile rankings aren’t exactly stellar — he doesn’t hit the ball particularly hard and doesn’t walk a whole lot — it is worth noting that his 2021 strikeout rate placed him in the 94th percentile in the league. At this stage of his career, he is who he is at the plate: a decently high contact guy who just doesn’t make the right type of contact.
Beyond his defensive versatility and his performance in 2021, though, there isn’t a whole lot going for Harrison. He’s already 34 years old, he doesn’t really offer much at the plate by way of an impact bat, and it’s clear that his best days in the field are behind him. For a team like the Yankees that seems to get bitten by the injury bug more than most others, though, it’s not exactly the worst idea to carry a guy who can field multiple positions and at least put the ball in play on your roster. In essence, Harrison is the type of player that can come in off the bench and fill in for an inning or two as a defensive replacement, preferably on the infield, and isn’t a total negative at the plate.
Can the New York Yankees afford to give Josh Harrison 558 at-bats next year, as he did with the Nationals and Athletics this past season? Absolutely not. But, as a depth piece who can field multiple positions at an at least league average clip, the Yankees could probably do worse. If New York were to sign him to a one-year, low-cost, incentive-laden contract, that wouldn’t be the worst move of the offseason. Anything more, however, and I’d hope the team would look elsewhere.