A few weeks after extending third baseman Austin Riley, Alex Anthopoulos and the Atlanta Braves are at it again. This time, the recipient of a long-term contract is Michael Harris II, one of the team’s two starters. The newly painted contract will last at least eight years, with $15 million and $20 million club options in 2031 and 2031, respectively, that will buy them $5 million each. All told, Harris stood to pocket at least $72 million; If the Braves exercise both options, the deal will be worth $102 million.
Ya Harris in 2010 Signing an extension in August of 2022 that would carry him into the 2030s would be a startling revelation for someone living in the pre-lockout days of doubling the next best National League starter in WAR. After all, Harris had yet to play above High-A, and while he was very good in the Sally League, he was not dominant in the way that Julio Rodriguez was at the same level of play. But like Rodriguez, Harris only needed six weeks of Double-A ball before he was ready to star in the majors.
When Harris was called up in late May, the Braves were still over .500, 7 1/2 games behind the Mets in the NL East. Atlanta’s outfield beyond Ronald Acuna Jr. has been sorely tested, Eddie Rosario is out with eye surgery, Marcell Ozuna’s OPS is hovering around .650, and the Baja boys have felt like they’ve hit more recently than Travis DeMerite. Some teams took the path of least resistance and called up journeyman fifth outfielder Delino DeShields or perennial prospect Drew Waters. Instead, the Braves took the bold step of calling up Harris. Unlike the other options, Harris was at least playing good baseball for Double-A Mississippi, hitting .305/.372/.506 in 43 games.
Goz was not disappointed with their numbers. Immediately placed in the starting lineup in midfield, Harris quickly closed out his career by starting every game. He now stands at a .288/.327/.498 line with 12 homers and a 127 wRC+ over 72 games. Add in a defense that has played at a level that looks like shenanigans, if not at least a Gold Glove finalist, and the campaign is up to 2.7 WAR through half a season so far.
Suffice to say, Harris’ projections have changed significantly since the start of the 2022 season. The ZPS only projected Harris to a .242/.294/.380 line heading into the season, mainly due to his short résumé and lack of experience in the high minors, but they liked his long-term outlook. Preseason Zips Top 100 Prospects List. If I told Zips preseason that Harris would get 272 plate appearances in 2022, his offensive projection would be a good 6% of his actual results.
With full knowledge of his 2022 season, including minor league performance, the full version of ZPS is more optimistic about Harris than the simple season model.
2022 ZPS Forecast – Michael Harris II
Year BA OBP SLG AB RH 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR 2023 .276 .321 .423 565 97 156 30 4 15 80 34 137 13 93 7 2.6 325 5 5 15 36 129 13 103 7 3.4 2025. .382 382 .382 526 10 80 7 80 7 826 33 8 44 136 10 10 10 10 5303 3.2 205 .375 .375 .475 510 90 531 533 93133133183 136 11 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 10 9 10 9 10 10 9 10 9 9 10 329 .443 472 85 129 26 3 16 73 37 107 7 100 4 2.5
ZPS doesn’t expect Harris to keep up this level of performance and has been underwhelmed by his approach to the plan to give him a big edge. But this is still a prediction of the best player that will show up in some All-Star games and want to put on your roster instead of letting someone else be a part of it. How much would the Braves pay Harris if he went year-to-year? This answer is a little difficult. Under the previous CBA tenure rules, the Braves had to spend roughly $41 million over the six seasons under Harris’ spending control and then $57.5 million over two years of free agency, for a total of $98 million over eight years. But Harris’ rookie campaign changes those calculations, as under the new CBA, the Rookie of the Year player who finishes in the top two gets a full year of service. My award estimator gives Harris an 85% chance of finishing in the top two of the NL Rookie of the Year; Hitting free agency a year ago raised the system’s cap value to $123.5 million. Add that up and you get a value of about $120 million over eight years.
Harris didn’t actually earn $120 million and is trading way too much money in return for guaranteed money. It’s tempting to compare this to Ozzy Albies’ contract, a seven-year, $35 million extension with two very favorable team options, but Albies had one more year of service, had a higher level of play and took more money. Even falling below the ZIPS, Albis’s low pay is shocking. From 2019 to today, the Braves have paid Albie less than Bruce Sutter over the same period. This is a team-friendly deal, but not in the same ballpark as Albies’ contract, and given the uncertainty in Harris’ baseline and the amount of time until arbitration, I think it’s reasonably defensible.
For the Braves, the benefits are clear. With the exception of Dansby Swanson, Atlanta has their most valuable offensive players under long-term contracts, and for the most part they’re paying far less than what they’d pay for the same product in free agency. With two-thirds of their lineup now locked in, the Braves can start focusing on extending Max Fried this summer and pursuing other starting pitchers. With the Mets likely to remain aggressive this season and into the future, the Braves will need all the talent they can get.