Willie Harris Part Deux; Also reading the tea leaves in NatsTown

Will Harris watches as Washington Nationals’ Howie Kendrick circles the bases after hitting a two-run home run during the seventh inning of Game 7 of the baseball World Series Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

We loved you before we met you Will. Now you are inked for three years with the team that cost you a ring. Just like Trent Grisham, one singular play can change whether your old team wants you back. Sure, maybe it was all about the money as to why the Astros were not going to pursue keeping William Taylor Harris. The reliever grew up in Slidell, Louisiana and some called him Bill and others called him Willie Harris, but that nickname was already taken by a former Nat, William Charles Harris. Both players crossed over in 2012 which was Will Harris’ debut season and Willie Harris’ final season in the bigs . There will be a big ovation for Will Harris on Opening Day in Nationals Park this year when he is introduced as a member of the Washington Nationals. It was Harris who threw that nasty cutter low and outside to Howie Kendrick that was barreled up, somehow, and clanked off the foul pole as the decisive RBI in the 2019 World Series. One man’s elation became another man’s pain. Some would call it the ultimate irony that Harris now joins the team that cost him a World Series ring in 2019. Grisham got traded by the Brewers shortly after he watched Juan Soto‘s single change directions on him in the Wild Card game. At least Will Harris got to choose his next destination, and cashed in on a three-year deal worth $24 million from the Nats.

Harris made his MLB debut two weeks before his 28th birthday in 2012 with the Colorado Rockies which is the team that inflates pitcher ERAs in the thin Colorado air. The Rockies cut bait quickly on Harris and his 8.15 ERA and DFA’d him after only 20 games. After three DFAs, Harris was picked up after the 2014 season by the Astros where pitchers now go to prosper. Harris did. And in 2016 he was an All-Star, and in 2017 he earned a World Series ring. Before signing this contract with the Nationals, Willie Will Harris had earned just over $10 million in his career at the age of 35 ½. By the All-Star break next year, Harris will have made with the Nationals more money than he earned in his entire career including bonuses.

“I felt like the whole process was kind of trending toward the Nationals maybe from the beginning,” Harris said after the news of the signing leaked. “They seemed to be the most bullish on me and made me a priority from the beginning. … They were on my really, really short list of places I wanted to go, and to have that kind of matchup, I think, was great.”

The first team Harris will face in a Nats uniform will be the Astros in Spring Training. He will have to endure the Nats ring ceremony and have to don a jersey with the World Series champions patch on it for the entire 2020 season.

“[If] I have to wear those gold jerseys, I get to do all that,” Harris said if the Nats wear a traditional gold embroidered jersey as the champs. “The more I thought about it, it’s just like more of a testament of what the [Nats] did than what maybe we [as Astros] didn’t do. Will it be awkward for a second or two? More than likely, but that stuff fades and it’s about playing baseball. I’ve done my homework, and the guys they have that I know who have played there and been there, everybody has told me I’m going to love it.”

Harris wears jersey number 36 which was last worn coincidentally by his former Astros teammate Tony Sipp who was with the Nats in 2019 (but not the postseason), and Harris joins a fellow cajun and LSU alum, Andrew Stevenson, on the Nats roster. They will have a rooting interest in the NCAA football championship game coming up. Harris was also a teammate with Patrick Corbin in Arizona as well as Gerardo Parra.

In 68 regular season appearances in 2019, Harris was a workhorse and key set-up man for the Astros. His 1.50 ERA was tops for all AL relievers, and he had a stingy 0.933 WHIP. His 2019  postseason began with 10 scoreless appearances until he met Anthony Rendon in Game 6 and Howie Kendrick in Game 7.  Harris’ career in Houston was excellent with  a 2.36 ERA, 0.987 WHIP and a 9.5 K/9. The Nats are hoping that he came keep it up, and he will be 38 years old in the third year of this deal.

One man’s pleasure could become another man’s pain. You don’t have to be a mathematician to know that this signing puts extreme doubt on any re-signing of Nats World Series hero Daniel Hudson because the Nats now have only $30 million remaining under the CBT tax cap after Harris is officially added, and that will happen after his physical.  While some think the Nats could blow through the $208 million CBT cap, our sources as we reported in early November did not think the Nats would do that. It is a numbers game, and this signing might also be the first indication that Rizzo has moved on from Josh Donaldson just like last year’s signing of Corbin signaled the end of the pursuit of Bryce Harper. Sure, we can crunch the numbers to say there is still room for Donaldson, but there are more holes than just third base. Only Wilmer Difo who is a switch-hitter bats lefty in the infield right now, and he is not even a lock to make the Opening Day roster.

One of our sources within the Nats organization will not say that Rizzo is pivoting away from Donaldson, but the tea leaves say it is becoming more difficult to see that happening. One signing can start that domino effect. Of the $30 million remaining under the CBT, Donaldson would chew up almost all of that as he is expected to get an AAV of at least $25 million a year. Sure, you could probably add back Matt Adams as a lefty thumper if you sign Donaldson, but it just feels like that is not enough.

The roster is looking “older” than last year the way it is shaping up. This is the first significant signing for Rizzo on a player who wasn’t with the team last year. This is also a divergence for Rizzo who likes relievers who throw high 90’s gas. Harris won’t light up the radar gun to triple digits, and he might throw some fastballs in the upper 80’s by the time his contract is up as he averages 92 mph now. His main weapon as some Nats can attest is that filthy upper 70s curveball and low 90s cutter.

With Harris inked, the Nats WAR is now +41.6 on Fangraphs, and the team will add more players and more WAR and for now it will be a wait and see if Donaldson is still in those plans.

This entry was posted in Analysis. Bookmark the permalink.