The latest Astro free agent pitcher to sign elsewhere (joining Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley) was Will Harris, who signed a 3 year / $24 MM contract with the World Champion (it hurts to type this) Washington Nationals. This transaction feels so unusual because in Games 6 and 7 of the World Series, Harris gave up two-run home runs in the 7th inning of both games against these same Nats. The Game 6 homer to Anthony Rendon helped extend a tenuous 3-2 lead to a safer 5-2 margin, while the Game 7 homer flipped a 2-1 Astros lead to a 3-2 deficit a few outs short of the Astros second championship. Of course, the Nationals did get to see Harris pitch effectively in Games 1, 3 and 4 of the series.
In this latest successful rendition of the Astros, Will Harris is the second biggest bargain they picked up behind Collin McHugh. They gave up 0 assets for him as they picked him up on waivers from the Diamondbacks after the 2014 season. In 309 games and 297 innings with the Astros he had an 18-13 record with 20 saves, a 2.36 ERA and a 0.987 WHIP. He had arguably his best season in 2019 when he went 4-1 with 4 saves and a pristine 1.50 ERA and .933 WHIP.
From the rumblings after his signing with the Nats, it sounds like the Astros were not in the neighborhood of what he was looking for – likely falling short of both the years and the $/season.
We can look at this non-transaction by the Astros from two directions:
Positives – Reasons for the Astros to pass on Will Harris
- $8 million a year is a lot for someone who is your #3 in the bullpen pecking order
- Three years is a lot for someone of his age. Harris will turn 36 during the 2020 season and will be 38 before the contract runs out
- Harking back to Brad Lidge, the Astros have seen what a playoff changing home run can do to some pitcher’s psyches. And that one did not cost the Astros the World Series like this one did. (Well maybe it did as it kept Roy Oswalt from pitching in the 2005 WS until Game 3).
- The Astros have quite a few young pitchers (Josh James, Bryan Abreu, Forrest Whitley, Tyler Ivey, Cristian Javier, Brandon Bielak, Rogelio Armenteros, Cy Sneed, Francis Martes) who may be ready to be that #3 man in the bullpen or more.
- The chances of Harris repeating that 2019 performance are pretty low. It was the best numbers of his career and was tied to what has to be considered a “lucky” .247 BABIP (batting average on balls in play).
Negatives – Reasons for the Astros to not pass on Will Harris
- $8 million a year is not that much when you consider they just paid Joe Smith $7 MM and 8 MM the last two seasons for about the same amount of pitching Harris gave them last season alone.
- The Astros (see Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke) apparently think some pitchers are worth even bigger bucks at similar ages. Verlander will be 38 for the second year of his extension and Greinke will turn 38 if the Astros make a deep playoff run into October 2021.
- Will Harris could easily have used what happened to him in the last two games of the World Series to spur him on in 2020.
- Young pitchers have a lot of talent, but sometimes you are better off with an older player with a calmer demeanor in the bullpen.
- Maybe the chances of repeating 2019 are not that far fetched for Harris. A lot of us thought that Charlie Morton would not repeat what he did for the Astros when he left after 2018. He was as good or better in his terrific 2019 with the Tampa Bay Rays. Harris could do the same for the Nats, who need a boost in the bullpen department .
The bottom line is that it is always hard to see good players leave, but the Astros have had so many good players the last few seasons it is almost an impossibility to bring them all back. No one wishes Will Harris anything but the best, unless there is an encore World Series in everyone’s future.