On Thursday night, the Nationals agreed to sign Harris, pending a physical, to a three-year, $24 million contract, according to a person with knowledge of the deal.
How’s that for history?
Harris was one of the top remaining relievers on the free agent market, and the Nationals landed him with a sizable investment. He will be 38 when the contract expires. There are no additional options on the end of it.
Harris was a standout for the Houston Astros in 2019, posting a career-low 1.50 ERA in 60 regular season innings. He has made more than 60 appearances in five of the past seven seasons, and he has a career 2.84 ERA across eight seasons with the Astros, Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies.
The right-hander will immediately become one of the top arms in Washington’s bullpen, which was a severe weakness this past season. The group’s regular season ERA of 5.66 was the worst ever for a team that made the playoffs. But the Nationals won the title anyway, mostly using six pitchers — including just two relievers in Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson — to scrap through 12 postseason wins.
Now they are bringing in one of the opposing pitchers who helped them win the championship. The Harris deal means the Nationals are unlikely to pursue Hudson, a free agent who expressed a desire to come back to Washington. The Nationals were not willing to pay Hudson more than two years and $10 million, according to a person with knowledge of the negotiations. Hudson was looking for something close to the two-year, $14 million deal reliever Chris Martin signed with the Atlanta Braves in November. Hudson recorded four postseason saves and the final out of Game 7 of the World Series.
Hudson will turn 33 in March. Harris is nearly three years older and came at a higher price, but he has proved to be more durable in the back half of his career. The Nationals were worried by Hudson’s injury history, including back-to-back Tommy John surgeries and, just last season, a strained medial collateral ligament in his right knee. Hudson is a do-everything reliever who complemented the left-handed Doolittle down the stretch and throughout the postseason. Then the Nationals decided to spend a bit more and plug Harris into that role.
Washington’s evolving bullpen will now include Doolittle, Harris, Tanner Rainey, Wander Suero, Hunter Strickland and Roenis Elías. Other options on the 40-man roster include Kyle Finnegan, signed in November, Austen Williams and whoever doesn’t make the starting rotation among Erick Fedde, Joe Ross and Austin Voth. Javy Guerra, a member of the World Series team, is back on a minor league contract. Fernando Abad, a 34-year-old lefty, has a spring training invite and is a long shot to make the club.
From here, the Nationals are unlikely to make any more significant bullpen additions. They could use another lefty given Elías’s shaky splits this past season. But they are still in the mix for star third baseman Josh Donaldson, who is expected to demand around four years and $100 million. Securing Harris was a big step for the bullpen. The rest of the roster still needs a bit of work.
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