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PHOENIX – Josh Harrison is going to fit in great with these White Sox, there’s no doubt about that.
“That’s the understatement of the season,” Tony La Russa said.
As for whether he’s the best answer to the team’s question at second base?
That remains to be seen.
Harrison arrived at spring camp on Tuesday, his deal made official before the team hit the practice fields at Camelback Ranch. He burst out the back doors with Tim Anderson and José Abreu, the trio – featuring the White Sox’ two most important clubhouse leaders – all smiles. Harrison could be heard chatting throughout the morning and afternoon workouts. When he teamed up for a round of catch with Danny Mendick, the younger member of the pair introduced himself by reminding Harrison of a past in-game conversation during a regular-season game in some previous year.
“We talked at second base,” Mendick said, “and I felt like I learned your whole life story.”
That’s the kind of gregarious presence Harrison has already proven to be, just hours into his White Sox tenure.
But the question championship-hungry White Sox fans are wanting to know is whether Harrison is the offseason upgrade the position demanded.
His offensive production of the past couple seasons has been positive, making him an above-average hitter, and he earns rave reviews for his defensive ability and positional versatility, as well. Kind of sounds like the guy who had the starting second base job yesterday, Leury García, who is now free to do his play-everywhere thing now that the White Sox have someone to man second on a regular basis.
And that seems like the ticketed destination for Harrison, with Rick Hahn going as far to say Tuesday that any further moves his front office makes before Opening Day will likely be to address other positions.
“(Harrison) absolutely could very well be the Opening Day second baseman. He could be there on a regular basis. Let’s just see how things unfold over the coming weeks,” Hahn said. “We obviously like Leury’s versatility and ability to fill in at, essentially, six positions. Josh is a similar player, without obviously the center field or shortstop options, but someone who gives us the opportunity to mix and match a little bit.
“Never say never,” the GM added on whether the team was done addressing second base. “We are going to continue to look, but I think, probably, if we were to make other acquisitions, they will probably be at other spots around the diamond.”
Harrison, while a solid addition, might not jump out as a slam-dunk solution to the problem that was and could remain second base for the White Sox. His offensive numbers mean he’s only a slight upgrade over García, from a production standpoint – García had a higher OPS-plus in 2021, but Harrison’s was greater in 2020 and 2021 combined – and though he might have been the top available free-agent option after bigger names came off the board before the lockout, there seemed to be viable trade targets around baseball. And it’s quite possible Hahn explored those options and Harrison ended up as the best way to go.
The games have to be played before we find out whether Harrison will prove the upgrade to the lineup Hahn and the White Sox hope. Certainly, though, the veteran is ready for the job, talking up the kind of confidence that’s become a cornerstone of the way Anderson plays the game.
He’s ready to flash his glove, play anywhere on the field and make a lot of contact, keeping the line moving for his teammates throughout the White Sox batting order. Fans typically only focus on players’ personalities and their off-field contributions if the on-field production is there to match — just look at how Billy Hamilton was received before and after he started making highlight-reel plays in the middle of last season.
But if the fans listen closely and pay attention, they’ll discover a player they’re sure to love, someone who seemingly will fit in perfectly with the culture the White Sox have constructed.
“I’ve always been a confident guy who believes in myself,” Harrison said. “I don’t care who is out on the mound. I don’t care if I’ve struck out against you 10 times. I’m going to make it tough on you because at the end of the day, this game is about confidence.
“Small things win games. Everybody sees the big things: home runs, doubles. (It starts with) just moving the ball. One thing I’ve always prided on is being a tough out at the plate and not giving up any hits being in the field. If I’m not getting any hits, they aren’t either. And if I’m getting hits, they still aren’t getting hits. That’s how I take pride. I want to take as many hits away to help my pitchers.
“It’s about having good ABs and moving the line and showing the person behind you that, ‘Let’s put pressure on the guy on the mound.’”
Championship teams rarely have a superstar at every position, and as much as second base was screaming for a significant upgrade, it’s easy to see a guy like Harrison making a championship difference as a role player.
Right now, though, his role seems to be as the team’s starting second baseman. Whether that’s the role he’s best suited for will be determined by whether he can turn his positive presence into positive results.
As for what’s next for Hahn’s front office, the comments about addressing other positions leave a couple of routes open. Though no one will ever admit to having enough pitching, the Joe Kelly signing seemed to stock the back end of a bullpen that went through an exodus after last season and could still see further thinning if a Craig Kimbrel trade ever materializes.
That leaves adding another impact bat or adding another impact starting pitcher. It’s possible neither comes to fruition, though the typical spray of Twitter rumors has placed the White Sox in the market for another arm. Such a move would come with another, perhaps more difficult one, Hahn needing to free up room in a currently full starting rotation. But improvement has always been the top stated goal for the GM, and such a problem would likely be described as a good one to have.
Right field could also be on the wish list, with so many notable free agents able to fit the bill of providing a lineup-boosting bat. And that is perhaps more important than being able to man that position, what with Andrew Vaughn, Gavin Sheets and Adam Engel also capable of playing in the outfield. It’s nothing more than a gut feeling, but given the end of the second-base saga and the reality of Vaughn and Sheets likely both getting daily playing time as the roster is currently constructed – potentially wiping out an offensive platoon – signs seem to point toward a possible right-field (or DH) pursuit.
But what I long pegged as the team’s most pressing offseason need, second base, has been addressed. We’ll find out if it was enough.
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