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Why are the Pirates considering trading Josh Harrison?

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The comment thread to this morning's post about the possibility of the Pirates trading Josh Harrison included a number of important items that are worth teasing out, so let's do it.

IAPHDBuccosFan: Is Adam Frazier's second base defense bad enough that he would be a significant downgrade at the position? I’m thinking Frazier at second and then Alen Hanson becomes the utilityman. Or does Frazier have more value as the utilityman than the everyday second baseman?

Based on what I've seen of Frazier's defense, he looks more like a utliityman than a second baseman. And it's worth noting that even with Harrison in the fold, the Pirates would have plenty of use for Frazier next year -- Frazier essentially figures to inherit Sean Rodriguez's role, and Rodriguez collected 342 plate appearances in 2016. It already looks like Frazier will play a lot, so if you trade Harrison and make Frazier a starter, you then have to replace Frazier's plate appearances. In other words, the Pirates have no reason to clear space for Frazier to play. That space already exists.

Hanson, after posting a .707 OPS at Triple-A last year, doesn't look like a viable option as a starting second baseman either, since he doesn't project to hit enough to start.

Ken Rosenthal, in breaking the news about Harrison, noted that the Pirates' initial plan was to re-sign Rodriguez, then trade Harrison. That plan kind of made sense. But trading Harrison and going with internal replacements doesn't, so if the Pirates are still planning to trade Harrison, they need to make other moves as well.

Which again raises the question: If the Pirates wanted to re-sign Rodriguez so they could trade Harrison, why didn't they just pony up and pay Rodriguez the $11.5 million or so it would have taken?

WTM: The Pirates need pitching and there’s no money. That’s why they couldn’t sign Rodriguez. The net salary dump wouldn’t have been enough. They had to trade Francisco Liriano to extend David Freese and they have to dump more payroll to afford an established pitcher, even if they trade for one. This is why I found the Liriano trade so disturbing. It showed how desperate their payroll constraints have made the front office. They have no payroll space at all. There’s no money. None.

Right -- that's one conclusion, maybe the most obvious one. Much of what's happened over the past year or so -- trading Charlie Morton and Neil Walker for payroll flexibility and Jon Niese, signing Ryan Vogelsong for a pittance, the whispers of potential trades involving Andrew McCutchen and Harrison, and especially the Liriano trade -- amounts to circumstantial evidence for exactly the case WTM is making: that the Pirates' just don't have money. Whether that's Bob Nutting's fault or whether the money honestly isn't there is impossible to say, but that's certainly how things look.

That will become especially clear, by the way, if the Pirates really do trade Harrison without coming up for a replacement for him. I was never a fan of extending Harrison in the first place, but the Pirates got him to agree to a deal that was reasonable even if he regressed. He has regressed, but he's still a reasonably valuable player who produced 1.5 fWAR last year. FanGraphs estimates that Harrison was worth $11.9 million last season, way more than he will make next year under the terms of his extension. With apologies to Frazier, if the Bucs don't want to move Jung Ho Kang to second, then they don't have anyone right now who profiles as a starting second baseman. Josh Harrison is one. A team doesn't trade two starting second basemen in two seasons and leave themselves without a real alternative. Unless, of course, that team is out of money.

In a typical small-market reality, trading someone like McCutchen makes sense, because the Pirates would get good young players in return for an asset they only control for two more years. The return for Harrison figures to be much less significant, and the Bucs clearly can use him, so dealing him makes less sense, particularly if the Pirates are planning on fielding any kind of team next year.

WHYG Zane Smith: This is also why the David Freese deal puzzles me. If the Pirates are so hard up against their budget, I can’t see how Freese is a higher priority than pitching.

Yeah. Me neither. To review, the Pirates signed Freese to a two-year, $11 million extension in August, after the Liriano trade went down. Freese is a pretty good player, but even if the Pirates do trade Harrison, they won't have a starting job for him. He looks like a luxury item for a team that can barely afford the basics.