Josh Harrison had dealt with the downside of free agency, twice.
After waiting by his phone the entire winter of 2018-19, the veteran utility man finally got an offer from the Tigers after players had already reported to Lakeland, Fla., for spring training. Then, following an injury-plagued season in Detroit, he was left with little choice but to accept a minor league offer from the Phillies with an invitation to big league camp last winter.
Given that frustrating backstory, Harrison departed Washington at the end of the 2020 season and immediately realized he wanted to return for the 2021 season. And as soon as the Nationals made their interest known as well, Harrison wasted no time.
“I didn’t really want to play around with the offseason,” Harrison said Friday during a Zoom session with reporters. “It’s been a crazy year, but at the same time it’s a place I enjoyed. I like the coaching staff, I like the players. For me, it really wasn’t a matter of seeing what’s out there, ‘cause it was a place where I wanted to be.”
Harrison’s quick decision may have been prescient. Only a handful of fellow free agents throughout baseball have signed deals more than two months after the 2020 regular season ended. And given the continued uncertainty about clubs’ financial statuses and the continued distrust between owners and players, it may be another month or more before the majority of unemployed ballplayers get jobs for the 2021 season.
That the 33-year-old wound up in D.C. in the first place was a matter of cosmic fate and fortuitous timing. After getting released by the Phillies shortly before opening day in late July, Harrison and his family drove home to Cincinnati while waiting to find out what other clubs were interested in him.
As they reached the final leg of their trip, Harrison was all set to sign with the Braves. Then, only 20 minutes from his house, his agent called again and said the Nationals wanted him right away. Harrison dropped his wife and kids off at home, then drove straight to Washington, where he joined the Nats just after opening day.
It took no time for the veteran to feel right at home in his new surroundings.
“From the minute I was in D.C., the clubhouse, the coaching staff, it was a place that allowed me to be me,” he said. “It was a good place to be.”
Harrison wound up playing well, batting .278 with three homers, 14 RBIs and a .352 on-base percentage in 91 plate appearances. And though he’s not assured of anything more than a part-time role in 2021, the clubhouse vibe and promise of a better team performance in 2021 convinced him there was no need to test the free agent waters again.
“It made sense for me: A situation where they wanted me, I wanted to be back. And the rest was history,” Harrison said. “If I really wanted to sit around and talk to other teams, I would have. But I’ve done that the past couple years. I found a place that wanted me, and a place where I wanted to be. And I like it.”