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The White Sox signed Leury García to his three-year, $15.5 million deal the day after my son was born, so by the time we got settled back home and I reestablished whatever counted for a writing routine, my first guess felt like a late hit.
Well, the addition of Josh Harrison kinda requires me to lay out my thinking on the García signing, because one of them would probably be enough on the roster.
I didn’t really want to see the White Sox retain García, but it’s not personal. García earns that kind of salary with his versatility, but seeing him start in a corner outfield spot two postseasons in a row — the first one coming off a busted thumb with no rehab games — made me think his flexibility makes the White Sox a little too comfortable with their depth chart.
Look at this way: García is a decent choice to start a week’s worth of games, especially when he elevates his play to emulate the player he’s replacing. He’s just not an ideal choice to start a week’s worth of the season’s most important games, especially lower on the defensive spectrum. That’s exactly where the White Sox have found themselves. He’s a security blanket, but sometimes of the false-sense variety.
Still, García’s signing can’t be properly weighed until you see who the White Sox roll with at the most pressing positional-player shortages. Let’s say the White Sox went out and signed Marcus Semien to play second base and Michael Conforto to play right field. García’s presence then looks like a killer bonus, and if he ended up starting in right field this October, the body count that necessitated that development would probably be in the double digits.
Then there’s the least active scenario. You know, the one where where Hahn signed García as the primary second baseman and hoped that one of their other utility prospects could get the job done, while leaving right field to Andrew Vaughn, Gavin Sheets and Adam Engel. That’s all well and good until Eloy Jiménez runs over himself with Roger Bossard’s lawnmower.
On that spectrum, the signing of Josh Harrison is much closer to the latter situation than the former. However, just like the García signing, slagging his presence feels unfair to the person.
Assessed individually, Harrison should be expected to play second base something like 60 percent of the time and bat ninth, with the ability to provide spot duties at four other positions. It’s overkill to call him a mistake for that job. Over at FanGraphs, Ben Clemens outlined a more positive future.
There’s a world where Harrison is an All Star this year. He’s a line-drive machine who rarely walks, strikes out, or makes soft contact; that kind of skill set leads to blistering hot streaks when the ball is falling in. He managed a .294/.366/.434 line in Washington last year before being traded, good for a 116 wRC+, and I guarantee you that White Sox fans would be happy with that performance.
His season didn’t end there, though, as he hit .254/.296/.341 in 48 games with Oakland, which would be far less exciting to South Siders. Those are the breaks when you’re a swing-happy, low-power hitter; when the ball isn’t falling, or when you aren’t drawing your fair share of walks for whatever reason, things can get ugly.
Let’s put it this way: I think there’s a one-in-three chance that Harrison outperforms Nicky Lopez, who Mike Matheny recently anointed the best second baseman in all of baseball. That’s a good result for someone the Sox signed to a one-year, $5.5 million contract, and a particularly good deal when you consider their alternatives.
Indeed, we might waste no time loving the Josh Harrison Era. He’s been a favorite of every clubhouse and fan base he’s played for, and even hostile crowds enjoy giving him the business.
He goes about the game with an easy charisma, and a style of play predicated on making things happen. Baseball would be better off with more guys who have the talent to create action and value.
Here are the problems: He’s 34, and he’ll turn 35 a week after the cutoff for determining the age of a player’s season. The little experience he’s had in the American League is the kind no player wants — .220/.263/.307 over 84 games with the Tigers and A’s. You can write off the first sample as injury-hampered and the second as merely small, but as a player with his skill set gets older, it might be harder to make a living as a King of Medium Contact for one reason or another.
Rick Hahn’s history with one-year deals also suppresses enthusiasm. Sure, he got Carlos Rodón right last year, but 1) Rodón was a re-signing, not external help, and 2) Adam Eaton was just as bad as we thought he’d be.
Harrison resembles Eaton as a modest acquisition that Hahn intends to mitigate risk. On paper, Harrison represents an improvement that maintains the front office’s precious flexibility. It just invites a different kind of danger thanks to their track record of professional scouting, in that he’s devoting the resources of a medium-sized contract that could’ve been directed toward actually solving a problem. Let’s say Harrison achieves his 20th-percentile PECOTA projection of .253/.316/.368. Combine his contract with García’s deal, and the Sox spent $11 million without fixing a position. This happens a lot.
Whenever I first-guess an acquisition I’m not a fan of, I try to temper the urge to be savagely right with an observation or two that keeps me from being completely wrong. My overall assessments of the Rodón and James McCann signings prognosticated poorly, but at least they referenced ways it could work.
Since the Sox signed Harrison, I’ve been wrestling with the prevailing side on the move. He can play the game in a way that makes everybody forget about Nick Madrigal for a while, so I don’t want to plant my flag as The Guy Who Didn’t Want Josh Harrison Around. It’s also right to be skeptical of that being such a heavy part of the argument for him, because the Sox have a history of intangible-heavy free agents who didn’t produce enough to last the season.
I think I’d be more comfortable if Harrison were replacing García, rather than running alongside him. García has speed on his side and the Sox would lose his outfield abilities, but his absence might indicate the desire to improve the outfield in such a way that rendered those skills unnecessary. Should the Sox stand pat in right, they’ll have two guys who are great for situations where Tony La Russa needs somebody, and less so for situations where La Russa needs something. Doubling down on guys who don’t offer a something means you could be one wrong turn from getting nothing times two.
Now, if the Sox went out and signed a real-deal bat for right field and/or DH, all significant concerns about this signing would melt away, and we could merely state our preference about which good-vibes guy should be getting more than half of the plate appearances in the spot that receives the fewest of them. That’s the world everybody should want to live in, and it’s still within Hahn’s power to make that happen.
Other first guesses
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