Sandy Alderson appears to have found his fourth outfielder. On Friday, the Mets agreed to a minor league contract with Willie Harris, who played his last two season with the Washington Nationals. Although Harris struggled mightily in 2010, he should be a solid backup to Jason Bay, Carlos Beltran, and Angel Pagan next season.
After posting 4.2 WAR in 2008-2009, Harris’s bat imploded in 2010. Largely due to a .199 BABIP, Harris managed only a triple-slash line of .183/.291/.362 (.284 wOBA, 82 wrC+). Although this BABIP collapse was accompanied by a distressing increase in strikeout rate (from 19.2% to 26.8%), there’s reason to believe that Harris can work his way back up to respectability, if not the .340 wOBAs he posted in 2008 and 2009.
Throughout his career, Harris has been able to reach base at a decent rate. Harris carries a 10.7% career walk rate and a .327 career OBP into this season, and both of those numbers have been better over the past four seasons. In 2008, Harris saw an increase in power to go along with hit on-base skills. He hit 13 home runs to go along with 14 doubles and four triples that year; 2009 saw more of the same, with only 7 home runs but 18 doubles and seven triples, and both seasons saw fewer than 425 plate appearances. Even with Harris’s poor overall performance last season, these two aspects of his game remained largely intact. He still walked in 13% of plate appearances and hit 10 homers, six doubles, and two triples in only 262 plate appearances.
Harris is a relatively low-BABIP hitter over the course of his career – .281 in 1655 balls in play – but there’s no reason to believe that he will be this bad again. He should be able to recover to something resembling productivity. ZiPS projects a .224/.326/.378 line, which reflects the problems his increased strikeout rate could present but also his solid on-base and power skills. Unfortunately, Harris’s defense suffered when moved out of the corner positions. Harris is a good enough defender to work as a fourth outfielder given his bat, particularly if he can show in Spring Training that his 2010 was an aberration. On a non-guaranteed minor league deal, that’s exactly what the Mets need. Harris is a perfect low-risk medium-upside signing that should help the Mets get through this transition year as Alderson and company steer this franchise out of the ditch Omar Minaya drove it into.