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Should the Red Sox make a play for Josh Harrison?

Can the Red Sox take advantage of Pittsburgh’s fire sale?

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It took an eternity, but it seems as if the MLB offseason is starting to pick up steam. Granted, it sort of had to pick up steam at some point soon considering there would be baseball games to play at some point and teams couldn’t wait around forever to make some moves. Of course, the free agent market is still at a standstill at the top of the market, and the Red Sox are right in the thick of that traffic jam. They remain the prohibitive favorites to land J.D. Martinez, though there haven’t been any new developments on that friend of late.

The trade market, on the other hand, has been humming over the last few days with the Pirates serving as the catalyst for this run of moves. Pittsburgh is looking to retool and rebuild after their latest run didn’t go quite as expected. They recently dealt Gerrit Cole to the Astros and then on Monday they sent Andrew McCutchen, the face of their franchise for the better part of the last decade, to the Giants. It seems as if Pittsburgh still has an eye on being respectable for the time being rather than flat-out tanking, so more moves aren’t a guarantee. That being said, those in the know seem to indicate that they’ll at least be pushing to deal infielder Josh Harrison. The Red Sox weren’t involved in the Cole or McCutchen trade talks, but should they jump into the Harrison discussions?

While he’s a solid player, Harrison has spent his entire career in the National League and isn’t exactly a superstar, so it’s worth going into a little background in case some aren’t familiar with the veteran. He has spent his entire career with the Pirates, though he was drafted by the Cubs back in 2008 before he was sent to Pittsburgh at the 2009 trade deadline. Harrison made his major-league debut in 2011 and has been something close to an everyday player for the last four years. His 2014 was the best of his career when he posted a 137 wRC+ and made one of two career All-Star appearances (he also made the event in 2017). This upcoming season will be his age-30 season.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

So, that’s who we’re dealing with, and now we can see how he would possibly fit with the Red Sox. Essentially, Harrison would be taking over the Brock Holt role and the one that many would like to see Eduardo Nuñez take back in 2018. Harrison is a solid player in many aspects, but his most valuable quality is his ability to play all over the diamond. He mostly handles second and third base duties and grades out well by defensive metrics at both spots. Additionally, he can handle the corner outfield spots when needed and has even filled in at shortstop in a pinch. With Dustin Pedroia likely on the shelf to start the year, Rafael Devers still suffering from defensive questions and a lack of a fourth outfielder beyond Bryce Brentz on the roster, someone with Harrison’s defensive skill set makes plenty of sense.

At the plate, we’re not talking about a hugely impressive player, though he’s likely better than Holt at this point and arguably better than Nuñez while outshining both in the field. Harrison’s production has fluctuated year-to-year, but overall he’s shown himself to be essentially a league-average true-talent hitter. There’s not a ton of power in this bat, though he did get the ball off the ground more than ever in 2017 and that led to a solid .160 Isolated Power and 16 home runs. When Harrison is going well he’s using strong bat-to-ball skills to hit line drives and rack up base hits. That’s already something of a strength in Boston’s lineup and they could obviously use power, but it’s still a skill set that fits in the context of the rest of his game. The ultra-aggressive hitter will not strike out much, either, to help make up for his lack of walks. He’s also a decent threat to do damage on the bases with double digit steals in each of the last four years and a well-above-average base runner overall.

So, it seems there’s a solid fit here with the Red Sox both in terms of how he’d fit on the roster and his hitting style with the rest of the team. He’s not the big bat everyone is looking for, but Harrison could be a really nice complimentary piece. Now, it’s time to determine how much he’d cost to acquire. To start, it’s worth noting that this would not be a rental. Instead, the 30-year-old is under contract for $10.25 million in 2018 with options for 2019 and 2020 at $10.5 million and $11.5 million, respectively. Those are fairly cheap numbers and certainly less than he’d get on the open market.

As far as trade costs go, you may know by now that I hate designing trade proposals. It just ends up at people laughing at you and my fragile egos can’t take it. That being said, it’s kind of hard to write this kind of post without at least touching on it. So, to begin, we should consider that the Pirates have gotten less than what many expected in both the Cole and McCutchen deals. That doesn’t necessarily mean Harrison will be a steal, but it should mean that Boston won’t have to give up any of their top four prospects. It should also be noted that Pittsburgh has been taking many major-league ready prospects, even those without a high ceiling. So, the Red Sox have a few of those in the system. Sam Travis would be the obvious trade candidate among those — especially for me as I’ve long been lower on him than most — but the Pirates have Josh Bell as a long-term first baseman already. Beyond that, you’d be looking at pitchers like Brian Johnson, Jalen Beeks, Jared Cosart, Mike Shawaryn and Travis Lakins. That doesn’t seem like enough, but it’s at least a conversation starter with players like C.J. Chatham, Lorenzo Cedrola and Bobby Dalbec able to be added in after as well.

Like I said, I hate making trade proposals. Do with those names what you will. Ultimately, the main point here is that the Red Sox should at least be looking at Harrison as a potential trade target. I wouldn’t trade one of the top four players for him — at that point they can just go and sign Nuñez — but beyond that Harrison is a good fit for the roster. He provides plus defense at two key spots on the infield and would serve as the everyday second baseman to start the season. With the Pirates seemingly trading off strong players at discount rates, Boston would be silly to not at least check in on the asking price.