Brendan Harris’ journey to major league success spanned three organizations, four teams, a fired general manager, and things out of his control ultimately controlling him.
A native of Queensbury, New York, Harris was a fourth-round pick of the Chicago Cubs in 2001, moving quickly through the system. He made his MLB debut in 2004 and was consistently regarded as a top-10 prospect in Chicago’s farm system. However, Harris’ brief stint in the Windy City was a precursor to him becoming a fixture in big trades.
He was traded to the then-Montreal Expos in 2004 as part of the four-team deal that sent Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs and Orlando Cabrera to the Boston Red Sox. After 41 games across two seasons for the Expos turned Washington Nationals, Harris was traded once more, this time to the Cincinnati Reds as part of an eight-player deal. At this point, the Reds were Harris’ third organization and if you count the Expos rebranding to become the Nationals, he was playing for his fourth different team.
“It can be frustrating,” Harris relayed to DRaysBay in a phone interview last week. “Six to eight weeks after I’m there, the GM that makes the deal for you [Omar Minaya] leaves and goes to the [New York] Mets. Now you get a new GM that comes in and they make their own moves and they have their own guys.
“You feel like the equity that you built up in your previous organization, in the blink of an eye, is gone and you have to start over again.”
Success didn’t happen for Harris with the Reds either, as he played in just eight games for the team in 2006.
Just like that, Harris, who was recognized as the best hitter by average for the Cubs (2004) and Nationals (2005) in the minors, was not getting the opportunity his performance suggested he deserved.
But that’s the story of professional baseball; there are thousands of players between the majors and minors. There are just 25 spots available for 30 MLB teams, a total of 750 jobs. Highly-touted prospects usually get the first look and solid prospects like Harris are either on the shuttle between Triple-A and MLB or need to capitalize on a rare opportunity immediately.
“There’s a lot of good players,” Harris said. “Part of it is focusing on what you can control, putting yourself in the right position, and hoping for an opportunity.”
DEVIL RAYS DAYS
The College of William and Mary product saw his contract purchased by the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays in a trade of cash considerations.
Still a cellar-dweller in the American League East, Tampa Bay could afford to experiment with prospects and virtual unknowns, throwing darts at a wall and seeing which ones stick; Harris was a savvy move.
Nobody suspected the Rays would be in the World Series one year later but Harris saw potential early in Spring Training of 2007.
“In camp, I was kind of like, ‘[there’s] a decent amount of talent here,’” Harris recalled. “For a last place team, we had [James] Shields and [Scott] Kazmir in camp, certainly B.J. [Upton], and Delmon [Young], and Carl Crawford, and Rocco [Baldelli], and Jonny [Gomes].”
Harris was teammates with Upton, Young, and Gomes years prior in the Arizona Fall League. He also remembered a meeting with manager Joe Maddon and general manager Andrew Friedman, letting him know that there will be opportunities to play – and play often – for players that step up.
Luckily for Harris, Upton – who was drafted as a shortstop – moved to the outfield, and injuries to infielders like Jorge Cantu and Akinori Iwamura created opportunities. Harris spent most of 2007 as Tampa’s primary shortstop – and part-time second baseman – while slashing .286/.343/.434 with 12 HRs and 59 RBIs (107 wRC+).
While Upton and the rookie Young were offensive standouts for the 69-83 Devil Rays, Harris brought a reliable bat and glove to a budding Rays squad. He finished with more doubles (35) than National League Rookie of the Year Troy Tulowitzki (33) and tied in HRs (12) with Derek Jeter, Edgar Renteria, and Jack Wilson.
“Some people asked me if Tampa Bay is bad and I told them, ‘that team is closer than you think,’” Harris said.
Harris had every reason to believe he’d enter 2008 as a starter in the Rays’ infield, instead, he was back on the trade block. The Rays rebranded, dropping Devil from their team name and adopting new uniforms, deciding to go in a new direction.
One morning, Harris’ phone blew up with texts about him being traded to Minnesota. Harris claims he heard rumors but nothing substantial so the news came as a surprise. The Rays sent Harris, Young, and outfielder Jason Pridie to the Twins for RHP Matt Garza, SS Jason Bartlett, and RHP Eduardo Morlan.
“You are rudely reminded that you are a commodity in the business of baseball,” Harris said.
Garza and Barlett led the new-look Rays to the World Series in 2008. Harris settled in as a utility infielder in Minnesota for the next three seasons, becoming the last batter in the history of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome before the franchise moved to Target Field in 2010.
While Harris was a focal point for a Twins team that became a perennial playoff contender, he did, at least in the first season, wish things went differently.
“I liked it there,” Harris said of his time in Tampa Bay. “I would have liked to have been there [for the World Series], [but] not in a way that denigrates the place you’re at [Minnesota], it’s more of a natural reaction to the fact you had just come from there.”
After 2010, Harris signed a litany of minor league deals with the Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Angels, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Detroit Tigers. His last MLB action was a 44-game cameo with the 2013 Angels.
Harris’ final years among other things, included stops in the independent league.
Currently a scout in the Angels organization, Harris brings a decade-and-a-half of experience in professional baseball. From trades to minor league pacts to free agency to executive changes, Harris’ career – if it was a video game – would have gone through every possible level before completion.
His advice to players, regardless of their situation, is to worry about rest – not rumors – when the season ends.
“You gotta mentally check out in the offseason, and refresh, recharge, rehab mind and body in the offseason,” Harris recommends.
A guy like former teammate Trevor Plouffe, who Harris remembers seeing when the duo was at their first camp -- Plouffe then a rookie and Harris on the cusp of becoming a grizzled veteran.
A versatile, power-hitting infielder who blasted 24 HRs just a few years earlier, Plouffe is now unemployed, and a possible Rays target.
Harris believes its a changing environment in baseball – not lack of talent – that causes teams to sever ties.
“There’s more of an immediate need to win,” he said. “You’re not going to see the three-to-five-year plan or the fanbases be as excepting of that as the Cubs did.”
Chicago broke a 108-year curse last month, winning it’s first World Series since 1908. But it was five years of building from the ground up, following GM Theo Epstein’s arrival, that got them to that point. Fanbases typically are not patient enough to sit through years of struggles to possibly see a World Series banner raised.
With that said, players – no matter of their status – shouldn’t get too comfortable. In the same breath, they should prepare just as they normally do, no matter where, says Harris.
“Certainly speculation keeps the media side of the game employed throughout the offseason,” he said. “But you need to focus on things you can control.”