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Josh Harrison's extension makes sense, even to a skeptic

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

As David Todd notes elsewhere, the Pirates have signed Josh Harrison to a four-year, $27.3 million extension, with club options for 2019 and 2020. He'll get a $1 million signing bonus, then salaries of $2.8 million, $5 million, $7.5 million and $10 million with a 2019 option of $10.5 million with a $1 million buyout and a 2020 option of $11 million with a $500,000 buyout.

Harrison was awesome in 2014, and part of me wants to get excited about this deal simply because of that. Extensions involve financial commitments that are usually at least somewhat significant, though, and the Pirates already controlled Harrison through 2017, so we ought to step back to examine whether this deal is good for the Bucs. I think it probably actually is, even though I've been more skeptical than most about Harrison's future.

As I noted in September, I wasn't a big fan of the idea of extending Harrison. He had done so little before 2014 that paying long-term for a surprising breakout season seemed unnecessary, particularly given that the Pirates already controlled his next three seasons.

Still, there comes a point for every player (or every player who is at least decent) where an extension would make sense at the right price. This deal approaches that point. Harrison was set to make $2.8 million this year, and would have been eligible for arbitration for two more years, and that salary would have helped determine his salaries for 2016 and 2017. Given a normal progression of arbitration salaries, he might have made around $15 million combined in those three years. So a four-year, $27.3 million extension essentially guarantees Harrison that money up front while buying out an additional year (Harrison's age-30 season) at around $12 million.

That in itself isn't bad. In September, I suggested a lower total for a four-year deal, but Harrison's 2015 salary turned out to be a few hundred thousand dollars higher than I suspected, and I was swayed somewhat by commenters who pointed out that Harrison's defensive value actually gives him a fairly high floor for the next several seasons, even if there are reasons to be somewhat wary of his offensive breakout. The fact that Harrison can play multiple positions also helps, even though the Pirates signed another versatile infielder in Jung-Ho Kang over the offseason. In other words, even if Harrison regresses and declines offensively, $12 million might not be a ton to pay a good defensive infielder or a strong defensive super-utility player in 2018.

Then there's the fact that the Pirates are getting two options. That helps offset the risk the Bucs have assumed by paying Harrison up front, and adds a bunch of value to the contract. It's not uncommon for players with relatively late-career breakouts to have short peaks, and maybe Josh Harrison's 2019 season won't turn out to be worth paying for. But there's also some chance the Pirates will be getting bargains in 2019 and 2020, particularly since the options are very cheap. Given the way salaries have escalated throughout the game, a team might have to pay about $10 million for 1 WAR in 2019, so if Harrison is even a 2-WAR player in 2019, $10.5 million will be a great deal.

Again, I wouldn't have been in favor of the Pirates going overboard to control Harrison's age-30, age-31 and age-32 seasons, and given his sketchy track record, I'm not overly optimistic that he'll be productive then. But they haven't gone overboard. They've bought out his age-30 season at a reasonable price while giving themselves the ability to pay for his age-31 and age-32 seasons only if he's good. The options tilt this deal in the Pirates' favor.

If Harrison's peak does turn out to be brief, then the worst-case scenario is that the Pirates are on the hook for two seasons (2017 and 2018) that they wouldn't have wanted to pay for. That is, even if Harrison had tanked in 2015, the Pirates would likely have tendered him for 2016 anyway, given how good his 2014 season was. That the Pirates will be on the hook for a couple of unhelpful, or mostly unhelpful, seasons at the end of this deal is a risk, but I can live with it. There's little chance of this deal becoming a serious problem, even if Harrison doesn't do much from here on out. So while this deal probably isn't one I would have pursued, I can't argue with it for the price.