Tigers adding All-Star infielder Josh Harrison; seeking first-base help, too

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
The Tigers reportedly have agreed to a one-year deal with second baseman Josh Harrison.

Lakeland, Fla. — When shortstop Jordy Mercer first showed up at TigerTown after signing a one-year, $5.25-million contract, he wondered who his double-play partner would be.

After all, in his first seven seasons in the big leagues he played with just two full-time second basemen with the Pirates —Neil Walker and Josh Harrison.

Well, he may still only know two double-play partners. Looks like he's going to be reunited with Harrison.

The Tigers and the 31-year-old Harrison agreed on a one-year deal, pending a physical examination, Ken Rosenthal of MLB Network and The Athletic reported. National baseball writer Jon Heyman reported the deal is worth a base salary of $2 million, with another $1 million possible in incentives.

The Tigers have yet to confirm it, though they rarely do before the medicals are complete.

Harrison, who was used as a utility player until Walker left, partnered with Mercer in Pittsburgh the last three seasons. 

In his eight seasons with the Pirates, Harrison slashed .277/.317/.408 with a .725 OPS. He was a two-time All-Star (2014, 2017). His best season was in 2014, when he hit .315 with 13 home runs, 52 RBIs, and 18 stolen bases.

A left hand injury has cost him chunks of playing time the last two seasons, which is why the medicals are significant. He was limited to 97 games last season and his production was down — .250/.293/.363.

Tigers fans might remember Harrison. He's the guy who broke up Justin Verlander's no-hit bid in May 2012. Verlander was two outs away from his third career no-no when Harrison notched a sawed-off single to spoil it.

Assuming Harrison is healthy and productive, he was signed to be the everyday second baseman. The fallout from that affects three players, primarily.

Niko Goodrum, who was the front-runner to be the everyday second baseman, will now serve in a full utility capacity — which is what the Tigers' preference was all along.

Veteran Gordon Beckham, signed to a minor-league contract and invited to camp to compete with Goodrum, is now in limbo. He made it clear earlier this week that spending another year bouncing between Triple-A and the big leagues was not his preference.

He even said he would consider retiring if that ended up being the case.

Lastly, the move means prospect Dawel Lugo, who debuted last season, will get another season of seasoning at the Triple-A level. 

The Tigers might not be done. Earlier Wednesday, before news of the Harrison signing came out, Tigers general manager Al Avila hinted the Tigers might be dipping back into the free-agent market.

“There’s a possibility,” he said. “You never know. We’re just always open to seeing how we can make ourselves better in different areas. But that’s pretty much it.”

He wouldn’t go any deeper into the subject, but manager Ron Gardenhire has mentioned the possibility of bringing more players into camp.

“There’s guys out there that we’ve talked to before who still don’t have a job,” Gardenhire said. “And we have a few needs here, still. We’re still looking for pieces. We’re not completely set. It could happen, yeah.”

Gardenhire said one of the areas of need was veteran depth at first base. Miguel Cabrera has been the only true first baseman working drills over the first two days of spring camp. The others taking reps are multi-positional players — John Hicks, Brandon Dixon, Ronny Rodriguez, Goodrum and Dustin Peterson.

And over the winter, the Tigers had at least some conversation with nine-year veteran first baseman Logan Morrison, 31, who played for the Twins last season. He remains unsigned. Hanley Ramirez, Matt Holliday and Evan Gattis are three other unsigned veterans who play first base. Gattis is also a catcher.

The Tigers also sent scouts to watch a showcase put on by 36-year-old Adrian Gonzalez last month. The scouts came away feeling the 15-year veteran with 317 career home runs and 1,202 RBIs could contribute in 2019. 

He also has a long history with Avila. It was Avila, then an assistant to Dave Dombrowski in Florida, who pushed to take Gonzalez with the first overall pick in 2000.  

 “If there are some people out there who could help us, then absolutely,” Gardenhire said. “We’re still talking to players and their agents. There’s a lot of good players out there, whether we do something or not.

“We know what we have as far as the budget. They have to come to our terms now.”

Morrison hit 38 home runs and knocked in 85 with the Rays in 2017. His production waned last season, .186 with 15 homers.

“We have depth problems, and we’d like to maybe create a few more fights out there for a position,” Gardenhire said. “If there’s people still out there, and there are, that we can bring in here and push the envelope with, that’d be fun.

“Saying we will, there are no guarantees. And saying we won’t, there’s no guarantees. They are out there. We’re talking to them, just like every other team.”


Twitter: @cmccosky