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Breakfast with Benz

Tim Benz: Josh Harrison evasive about wanting to stay with Pirates

| Wednesday, July 11, 2018, 6:30 a.m.
The Pirates' Josh Harrison looks on against the Philadelphia Phillies at PNC Park on July 7, 2018 in Pittsburgh.
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The Pirates' Josh Harrison looks on against the Philadelphia Phillies at PNC Park on July 7, 2018 in Pittsburgh.

On Monday, Clint Hurdle spent much of his time with Pirates media members explaining the “Stockdale Paradox” of his position as manager. In other words, his internal conflict of how to maintain and exude optimism in the face of the team's bleak reality.

Hurdle's general manager had basically warned that a .500-or-worse week would perhaps result in a “For Sale” sign being draped over Honus Wagner's neck outside the front gate of PNC Park.

So while their manager was being asked complex questions about embodying confidence in the face of external pressure and negative odds, some of his players were being asked seemingly easier questions, such as: “Do you want to leave or stay?”

“I love it here,” outfielder Corey Dickerson said. “I feel comfortable. I'm not even thinking about anywhere else. I feel blessed with the opportunity they gave me here.”

Dickerson is one of many veteran players who has been mentioned potentially getting shipped out if the Pirates decide to make moves.

Dickerson, Francisco Cervelli, Ivan Nova, David Freese, Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer are owed a prorated $46.86 million to be paid out the rest of the year. Combined, they are owed $48.66 million over the remainder of their contracts after 2018.

So you know Pirates management would love to unload that projected debt as much as possible between now and the end of the month.

Dickerson may be one of the easiest to move. He was slated to earn only $5.9 million at the start of this year to begin with. He has only one more year of arbitration left. Plus, he is playing well, hitting .309.

But he would rather stay in Pittsburgh.

“It's really hard for a player to switch leagues and have success,” Dickerson said of his arrival in Pittsburgh after two years in Tampa. “It was so easy for me to come over here and perform.”

The answer was much less direct from Harrison, even though I asked him bluntly if he'd prefer to stay.

He didn't say “yes.”

“The question of staying is out of my control,” Harrison said. “Whether it's this place or the 29 other places, winning changes everything. The business-side and the game-side always clash.

“As players, as you get older, you understand, you can't control it.”

Another thing players understand as they get older? A direct answer gets quoted pretty regularly.

Harrison didn't offer one there.

Gently, that answer could be called “nuanced.” Cynically, it could be called “evasive.”

At no point did Harrison, who is hitting .256 (which would be his lowest average since 2013), say he really wants to remain a Pirate. His partial response about “winning changing everything” connotes a willingness to go to a playoff competitor, if possible.

That wouldn't be a departure for Harrison. Back in January, he expressed a desire to be traded after the Pirates dealt Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole.

Don't take that juxtaposition of responses to suggest that Dickerson is to be showered with praise for wanting to stay and Harrison is to be demonized for a willingness to leave. That's not the intent. It's merely different vantage points of the same view.

Dickerson probably sees Pittsburgh as a new beginning. Meanwhile, Harrison probably feels like he is watching a bad rerun. He's seen this fish before. He knows it smells bad. Yet another cycle of veteran talent going out the door with the alleged promise of building for the future in return.

Maybe Harrison can be part of that talent going out the door to more competitive pastures in other zip codes.

I don't blame him if that's what he wants. He has seen many of his friends and former teammates shipped out under the guise of that phony mission statement.

While grousing publicly at first, Harrison has played hard and put up a good public front since the spikes went on in April. Even on Monday he added, “My job is to show up in Black and Yellow and play for the guys to the right and left of me. We haven't gotten what we've wanted lately. But that doesn't stop us from coming out and giving it everything we've got.”

In a perfect world, Harrison probably would like to stay here if winning was possible. Instead, he'd likely prefer a fresh start. For Dickerson, Pittsburgh is the fresh start, and he'd probably like to keep it going for a while.

It's not as complex like Hurdle's “Stockdale Paradox.” But the mood and goals of the players in the Pirates locker room are understandably varied as the trade deadline approaches.

If Harrison gets more direct in his desire to leave, he shouldn't be criticized for it.

At least not as much as the last guy named Harrison who complained his way out of town.

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