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As Nationals mull second base options, there’s ‘mutual interest’ with Josh Harrison

Josh Harrison has spent his entire career with the Pirates but will almost certainly find a new home this offseason. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)
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The Washington Nationals have acted quickly all offseason, whether spurred by impatience or a strong sense of opportunity, and now second base is one of the few items remaining on their to-do list.

And there is “mutual interest” between the Nationals and free agent second baseman Josh Harrison, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, who also noted that Harrison’s camp is looking “closely” at other options. Washington General Manager Mike Rizzo has had two brief meetings with Harrison’s representation, the first in San Diego and the second at baseball’s annual winter meetings in Las Vegas last week. Harrison, who has spent his entire eight-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, is a two-time all-star who provides a reliable right-handed bat and versatility in the field. Harrison played in just 97 games last season because of a left hand injury and batted just .250, but he is a career .277 hitter and finished with a career-high 16 home runs in 2017.

That last part could be especially intriguing for the Nationals, who have shown light interest in adding another right-handed bat to their outfield. Harrison has played the corner outfield spots throughout his career and, along with that, would deepen the Nationals' bench by providing a surefire starter at second base. Washington generally casts a wide net each offseason, and Rizzo said in early December that he had already been in contact with about 40 free agents. But multiple meetings with Harrison’s representation indicate an interest that goes beyond the Nationals' routine.

In early November, Rizzo expressed confidence in a second base platoon of Howie Kendrick and Wilmer Difo for 2019. But that has slowly softened in the time since, which could be because of a number of factors, including Kendrick’s ongoing rehab from a torn Achilles' and the team’s financial situation. Either way, Rizzo made the Nationals' intentions much clearer in Las Vegas.

“If there was a definite everyday second baseman that we liked, we’d certainly consider that,” Rizzo said. “If it was more of a hybrid role, we would consider that.”

That makes Harrison a good potential fit for the Nationals, but he is just one player in a loaded second base market. Only veteran Ian Kinsler has signed so far — on a reported two-year, $8 million deal with the San Diego Padres — meaning DJ LeMahieu, Brian Dozier, Marwin Gonzalez, Jed Lowrie and Harrison, among others, are still up for grabs. Washington has had multiple discussions with LeMahieu’s representation, but a person with knowledge of the team’s plans indicated that he will probably be too expensive. The Nationals are a fan of the switch-hitting Gonzalez, who also can play almost anywhere in the field, and have interest in the 31-year-old Dozier as well.

Washington’s ideal situation would be to sign a stopgap second baseman on a one- or two-year deal, which could still allow the team to give an opportunity to Carter Kieboom or Luis Garcia in the near future. Kieboom and Garcia, both top prospects at shortstop, have begun learning second base because the Nationals have their long-term shortstop in 25-year-old Trea Turner. At the start of the offseason, the team seemed content to have Kendrick and Difo hold the place until Kieboom or Garcia were ready to try their hand at second (with Kieboom, 21, being closer to a call-up than the 18-year-old Garcia).

But that’s evolved into the Nationals' pursuit of a full-time option at the position. And it may be gaining steam.

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