Harrison's release signals Tigers' strategy

August 9th, 2019

DETROIT -- ’s Tigers tenure concluded Friday before it could resume. The team granted the veteran second baseman his unconditional release, ending his attempt to come back from a torn hamstring.

The message is clear: The Tigers are going young down the stretch of a difficult season as they move forward with their rebuild.

“I talked to Josh earlier today and I explained it to him,” general manager Al Avila said. “I thanked him obviously for his hard work and his efforts, but it just didn't work out for him or for us this year. And at this point, we're deciding to stick with our young guys. As you can see, Harold Castro is playing pretty well, Niko Goodrum and guys like that. So at this stage of the season, and where we're at, I think it's obviously in our best interests to go with our young guys and keep on playing them.”

The Tigers signed Harrison to a one-year, $2 million deal on Feb. 23, hoping to stabilize their middle infield by reuniting the former Pirates sparkplug with his double-play partner from Pittsburgh, Jordy Mercer. Harrison opened the season as the Tigers’ leadoff hitter, but he got off to a slow start at the plate.

Harrison batted .176 (24-for-136) with seven doubles, eight RBIs and 26 strikeouts in 36 games before suffering a hamstring tear at the end of May. He underwent surgery and was working toward a return later this month, but with Goodrum and Castro sharing time at second base, it was clear his at-bats would be limited at best. Manager Ron Gardenhire hinted as much when talking with reporters Thursday.

"We can't worry about that," Gardenhire said Thursday regarding Harrison's at-bats in relation to his veteran status. "He's been in baseball long enough to understand that part of it. It's going to happen. As long as I explain it to him and let him know what page we're on and what we're doing, then it works. If you just do it without saying anything, it doesn't work. You have to let him know what's happening."

That conversation with Harrison took place on Friday.

“I've sat here in this chair with Gardy and other managers, and anytime you have to do something like this, it's very hard,” Avila said. “But in his case, obviously he worked very hard to get back to health, and I'm sure he has a desire to continue playing, so I hope all the best for him. These things are always tough to do. It's a shame it didn't work out for the better.”

Harrison, who turned 32 last month, batted 4-for-23 with six walks and four strikeouts through seven games on a rehab assignment at Triple-A Toledo.

“He's healthy right now,” Avila said, “he's been playing in Toledo, and maybe it gives him an opportunity for a team out there to pick him up and take a chance. He might be needed somewhere. That was basically the decision here.”

The Tigers will face another decision soon with Mercer, at least on playing time. Though Mercer has been on a tear, batting 9-for-18 with two home runs in his last five games -- including a walk-off home run in the Tigers’ 10-8 win over the Royals on Thursday -- the Tigers are expected to call up shortstop prospect Willi Castro (ranked No. 11 in the system by MLB Pipeline) once rosters expand in September, if not sooner. When Castro arrives, he’ll get every opportunity to stake his claim to the shortstop job for next season, which could leave Mercer in a reserve role.

“We will bring him up at some point this season,” Avila said. “We haven't really discussed an exact date, but we will bring him up sometime this season and give him some opportunity to play.”

The Tigers also granted right-hander Sandy Baez his unconditional release, opening a 40-man roster spot for Edwin Jackson to join the Tigers ahead of his start Friday night against the Royals. The 25-year-old Baez made one appearance for Detroit this year after nine appearances out of the Tigers’ bullpen last year.