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What value does Josh Harrison bring to the Nationals?

Josh Harrison will be back in D.C. in 2021 on a one-year deal. What value does he bring to the Nats’ lineup?

New York Mets v Washington Nationals - Game Two Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Earlier this week, the Washington Nationals decided to bring utility man Josh Harrison back on a one-year, one million dollar deal. Harrison played in 33 games for the Nationals in 2020, slashing .278/.352/.418, generating a wRC+ of 106, and an fWAR of 0.2. Extrapolated over a full season, Harrison might be close to a one win per year player.

So, in what will be his age 33 season, what does Harrison bring back to the Nats? As a long time observer of the Pittsburgh Pirates, I am intimately acquainted with Harrison’s on-field production. During his time in Pittsburgh, he became known as a fun and exciting player filled with hustle and who played the game hard. He sprinkled two All-Star seasons in there, one coming in 2014 and the other in 2017. In ‘14, he also finished in the top-10 in MVP voting (9th). But that was then, this is now.

Harrison’s first season away from Pittsburgh came in 2019 as a member of the Detroit Tigers. He played in only 36 games for Detroit, but was awful, registering a -0.6 fWAR over his brief Tiger tenure. That output, combined with his 2018 regression for the Pirates, had many writing off the end of Harrison’s career, myself included. But that might have been premature.

Aside from his versatility in the field, Harrison experienced a bit of a resurgence at the plate under the Nationals’ watch, as we touched on at the open of the article. While his numbers have dipped since his prime, he’s still holding onto fairly respectable outputs, including the aforementioned wRC+ of 106, which is slightly above average. His defense, not what it once was, is still not bad, logging approximately 0-1 DRS (depending on position) and a UZR of up to 0.8 at second base.

At worst, Harrison looks as though he might be a veteran presence who’s been around before. If you’ll recall, Harrison has playoff experience, dating back to 2013-15 with Pittsburgh, the middle of which he posted 4.8 fWAR. So, Harrison knows what it’s like to be on and contribute to a winning team. But if all goes south, at worst the Nationals are out a million dollars while they try to chart the best path forward. At best, he’ll help out the offense and defense in a supplemental role.

In an aging organization, Harrison doesn’t do much to buck that narrative, but he seems to be a transitional piece, a guy that’s going to fill a need while the organization tries to become competitive again.