'A good get': More than just a player, Tigers see Harrison as leader, teacher
Lakeland, Fla. — It’s not like he was openly recruiting him, mind you. But they have been close friends and teammates for nearly a decade. Naturally, Tigers shortstop Jordy Mercer has been keeping in touch with Josh Harrison these last couple of months as he remained an unsigned free agent.
“I would be like, ‘Any traction?’ and he would say, ‘Still waiting, still waiting. Trying to figure out the best spot,’” Mercer said Thursday morning. “I was like, ‘Well, I am over here now – come on. Let’s go.’
“I didn’t think it would ever happen.”
And then it did.
On Wednesday, the Tigers and Harrison reached an agreement on a one-year, $2 million deal, pending a physical. Harrison, who will wear Lou Whitaker’s No. 1, is expected to arrive at TigerTown Saturday.
“I talked to him yesterday and he was fired up,” Mercer said. “I am fired up.”
A quick history lesson: In July 2009, the Pirates acquired Harrison in a trade with the Cubs and sent him to High-A Lynchburg (Va.). One of the first players he met was Mercer.
“I asked him if he needed a place to live and he said he didn’t have anything,” Mercer said. “I told him we had a pullout couch in our living room he could use until he found something. And he ended up staying the whole year.
“I didn’t know him at all, I was just trying to lend him a hand. I didn’t think he was going to stay the whole year, but I am glad he did.”
A Class A championship, a seven-year run as teammates in Pittsburgh – the double-play combination the last three seasons – and a life-long friendship ensued. But when both entered free agency after last season, they figured their days as teammates were over.
“Most likely we were going to go our separate ways,” Mercer said. “We hoped we’d meet again but no way did I think it’d be this quick. I am excited for everybody else to see what he’s all about. Pittsburgh knows what he’s all about, but other people in this clubhouse, they may have played against him, but to see it in person, it’s unbelievable.”
In his eight seasons with the Pirates, Harrison, who played just about every position on the field before settling in at second base, slashed .277/.317/.408 and was a two-time All-Star. He’s been hampered by left hand injuries the last two seasons, limiting him to 97 games last season.
“He’s a good get for us,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s a positive person, a leader who has proven himself at this level. He’s another guy who can help improve our situation this year, and maybe beyond.
“He helps us not only as a player on the field, but he’s a teacher. If we’re going to have some young players on the field, he can help them, too.”
Harrison had been on the Tigers' radar during the Winter Meetings, but his price was too high at that time.
“There’s a lot of guys still looking for a job,” Gardenhire said. “And he kind of fell into our lap, which is awesome. David Chadd (assistant general manager) did a great job working with their people. We’re excited.”
Gardenhire joked that it didn’t hurt having a second agent inside the clubhouse working on the Tigers behalf, either – meaning Mercer.
“I am really happy for him and I am really happy for this club,” Mercer said. “He’s going to fit right in. I’ve been around him a long time, almost my whole career in professional baseball. I know the type of guy he is, the type of teammate he is.
“He brings a lot to the table that this team is really going to welcome. These young kids here are going to look up to him.”
Harrison’s presence will indirectly solve the Tigers depth issues at first base, too.
Niko Goodrum, who was in the fight to be the everyday second baseman, is now expected to resume his role as super utility player, filling in all over the field. He and John Hicks will back up Miguel Cabrera at first base.
“However they want to do it, I can’t control that,” Goodrum said. “I can’t control anything except how I come to the field, how I do, how I work. Everything outside of that is outside my control.”
Gardenhire pumped the brakes on doling out roles and playing time this soon. He wisely suggested everybody wait until Harrison actually gets here and gets playing. Having both Harrison and Goodrum gives the Tigers a lot of versatility.
“Niko has known that from the get-go,” Gardenhire said. “I told him to take ground balls everywhere. I’ve never told him you’re going to be my second baseman, and I never told him he wasn’t going to be my second baseman.
“I just said, let’s everybody just come in here and compete for jobs.”
Mercer said getting back into rhythm with Harrison at second base would be, “like riding a bike. Give it a couple of days, a couple of practices and it’s going to be, ‘Here is it, here we go.’”
The Tigers will have to clear a spot off the 40-man roster once Harrison passes the medicals and is officially signed.