Dunedin, Fla. — The Josh Harrison era of Tigers baseball begins now.
General manager Al Avila announced before the club’s Grapefruit League opener against the Blue Jays Saturday that Harrison had passed his physical and signed his one-year, $2 million deal.
“Harrison gives us a really experienced veteran guy,” Avila said. “He’s a high-energy guy, a leader for some of our young guys. He’s going to fit in real well here.”
As one "era" begins, another grand experiment ends. To make room for Harrison on the 40-man roster, the Tigers waived infielder-pitcher Kaleb Cowart. He was quickly claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Angels, the team he played with for four seasons.
Cowart was out of minor-league options, so he was in effect like a Rule 5 player. With the Tigers overstocked with utility players, Cowart's best chance to make the team would have been as a reliever — and the Tigers drafted a Rule 5 reliever last December — Reed Garrett.
The odds of Cowart making the Tigers' roster were long, and the Tigers essentially did him a favor releasing him this early. It gives him plenty of time to win a job with the Angels.
Harrison, 31, spent the last eight seasons with the Pirates. For the last three seasons, he and new Tigers shortstop Jordy Mercer were the Bucs' double-play combo.
“Going into the winter, second base wasn’t really a priority, per se,” Avila said. “The priority at the time was shortstop. But we felt if we could improve ourselves at second base, we would. We didn’t have a young guy who could step up, like Dawel Lugo — we projected him more toward Triple-A.
“Nike Goodrum was an option at second base but going into the winter, we felt he could be a super utility guy. Harrison plays a lot of positions, too, so Gardy (manager Ron Gardenhire) really has a lot of opportunity to move guys around.”
Plugging Harrison into the everyday lineup at second allows Goodrum and John Hicks to back up Miguel Cabrera at first. It also frees up Goodrum to serve as an extra outfielder, allowing the Tigers to carry four on the 25-man roster if they choose.
“I knew we wanted to give Niko a lot of at-bats,” Avila said. “And Gardy said he’s certain that he’s going to get him all the at-bats he needs.”
The Tigers $2 million offer was on the table for Harrison for most of the offseason. Finally, last Thursday, he accepted it.
“I need to give (assistant general manager) David Chadd kudos,” Avila said. “He really stayed with it, and it happened. We think he still has a lot of left in the tank and he’s going to help out our young guys, the coaching staff.
“He just makes us a better team overall.”
Harrison is expected to work out with the team on Sunday. Gardenhire said he would give him a few days to get acclimated before putting into a game.