The Red Sox have been looking for ways to bolster their roster and have infielder Josh Harrison “on their radar,” reports Jon Heyman of The New York Post.
This item from Heyman came out before the Sox reached an agreement with Adam Duvall, but that move likely doesn’t do much to dampen their interest in Harrison. With Duvall taking some time in center field, that could theoretically move Enrique Hernández into a middle infield role, but they would likely still have a need for someone like Harrison. Just recently, when speaking about the club’s need to add a couple of up-the-middle players, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said it “doesn’t even need to be limited to two.”
There were a few reasons why the Sox needed to look for so much help up the middle. Xander Bogaerts, the club’s shortstop of many years, opted out of his contract and signed with the Padres. The hope in Boston was that Trevor Story, who played second base last year in deference to Bogaerts, could slide over to the other side of the bag this year. But while ramping up for the season ahead, he experienced some pain in his arm and ultimately required internal brace surgery, a variant of Tommy John. He’s now set to miss most or perhaps all of the 2023 season.
That left the club with limited options for the middle infield and center field. Hernández and Christian Arroyo could have perhaps combined in the middle infield, though both players have fairly limited experience at shortstop. Arroyo has just 172 1/3 big league innings there, spending much more time at second and third base. Hernández has logged 618 innings at short but scattered over the past nine seasons, never reaching 160 in any individual campaign. That scenario would also leave Jarren Duran as the everyday center fielder and the catching duties in the hands of Reese McGuire and Connor Wong. Aside from Hernández, none of those options have truly established themselves as everyday players in the big leagues, leaving Boston with one solid choice for four positions. That makes it plenty sensible that they’d look for fortifications in the form of multiple players.
Since the news of Story’s injury, the club has added Jorge Alfaro on a minor league deal to help behind the plate and the aforementioned Duvall signing gives them an extra option in center field. The latter signing seems to point to Hernández spending more time on the dirt but they could further bolster their infield by adding Harrison. The 35-year-old spent his prime with the Pirates but has since gone into journeyman mode, jumping to the Tigers, Nationals, Athletics and White Sox over the past four seasons.
With Chicago last year, he got into 119 games, providing his usual blend of low power and high contact. He hit just seven home runs on the year and only walked in 4.9% of his trips to the plate, but he also went down on strikes just 16.7% of the time. He finished the year with a batting line of .256/.317/.370 for a wRC+ of 98, just two ticks below league average. Defensively, Harrison played mostly second base but also occasionally played third base, left field and shortstop. He’s likely not viewed as a solution at that latter position since he only spent three innings there last year and just 265 in his career, with most of that coming way back in 2012. His work at second and third is generally graded well though, and he can take an outfield position in an emergency.
A signing of Harrison would likely require the Red Sox to view Hernández as a viable solution at shortstop. Chad Jennings of The Athletic wrote back in December that there are some in the organization who indeed see him that way. As mentioned earlier, he’s logged some decent innings there in the aggregate but hasn’t spent an extended stretch at the position. That makes it hard to gauge how he’d fare on a full-time basis, but for what it’s worth, advanced defensive metrics don’t make it seem like an outlandish idea. He’s earned nine Defensive Runs Saved over his 618 career innings and a 5.3 from Ultimate Zone Rating, though Outs Above Average has given him a -3.
The Sox have also expressed some interest in a more straightforward shortstop solution in the form of Elvis Andrus. He’s never played anywhere else except short and could simply kick Hernández over to second base where’s spent 1717 innings in his career, almost three times as much as his work at short. Since Andrus can play shortstop, he’ll likely require a slightly higher financial investment than Harrison, so the Sox would have to decide whether it’s worth the extra few dollars to get the more obvious fit or try to save a few bucks in order to try the more creative route and give Hernández a shot at the job. The latter path would be fairly risky, since Duvall also isn’t a proven option in center field. He only has 593 2/3 innings that that spot in his career, all of that coming in the past three years. Signing Harrison to play second would mean the Sox are committing to unproven options at shortstop and center, both considered to be premium defensive positions.
The agreement with Duvall pushes Boston’s competitive balance tax calculation to $216M, according to the calculations of Roster Resource. That leaves the club with some wiggle room before they reach the $233M luxury tax threshold, which they probably would like to stay under after just barely going over last year. They could certainly fit in a contract for either Andrus or Harrison while staying under the line, but they probably want to earmark some funds for some more pitching and midseason acquisitions. Other free agents who could help in the middle infield include José Iglesias, César Hernández and Didi Gregorius.
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