Life is busy these days for Matt Harrison, though not necessarily the kind of busy he was expecting for the final year of the five-year, $55 million contract he signed with the Texas Rangers before the 2013 season.
He was coming off an All-Star season and career-high 18 wins, and was emerging as one of the top left-handers in the American League. Now, he’s out of the game because of a bad back — really bad — and working away on his property in Creedmoor, N.C.
There was a dock to build for the two-acre pond, fencing and sheds to build over the 18 acres, and lots and lots of grass to mow. He even coached his 5-year-old daughter’s coach-pitch team.
But something is missing.
“There ain’t no adrenaline rush putting up a fence,” Harrison said. “There’s nobody cheering, ‘Hey, great job. Way to drive that nail.’ ”
Harrison’s final act with the Rangers came July 31, 2015, as the lone major leaguer in the package of six players the Rangers sent to the Philadelphia Phillies for left-handers Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman ahead of the annual non-waiver trade deadline.
The Rangers and Phillies play Tuesday through Thursday for the first time since the trade. Harrison never threw a pitch for the Phillies, and only one of the five prospects sent to the National League have made a significant impact.
Hamels and Diekman are both on the disabled list, but their impact was immediate in the form of two division title and has been lasting after the Rangers’ disastrous 2014 season.
“It’s not just the two playoff appearances, but 2014 was an awful season and I think that had shaken the fan confidence in the club a little bit,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “Now, with the performance of the last couple years, it kind of framed 2014 as an aberration or a blip on the radar and not a sign of things to come.”
Alfaro, Williams and Thompson were the key prospects, but Eickhoff and Asher have had the best runs in the majors. Eickhoff will start the opener of the three-game series at Globe Life Park after being selected as the Phillies MVP in 2016 after posting a 3.65 ERA in 33 starts.
Asher, who was suspended 80 games last season after testing for performance-enhancing drugs, is with the Baltimore Orioles.
“The guys at the time that they wanted that we didn’t include, primarily, were Joey Gallo, Lewis Brinson and Chi Chi Gonzalez,” Daniels said. “Ultimately, [the Phillies] made a wide decision. They were focused on the big picture and getting back the most talent they could get. They understood that to do that we needed to have Diekman and we need to have pretty good financial relief.”
The Rangers included Harrison, who was likely headed back to the disabled list, and the Phillies took him to balance out the money part of the deal. Harrison came off the Rangers’ books, and the Phillies were anticipating that they could pocket a handsome insurance check with his back unlikely to allow him to keep pitching.
The Phillies released Harrison in November, forgoing the insurance money to open a spot on their 40-man roster. The insurance company forced Harrison to see multiple doctors and face stiff questioning that he might be trying just to collect a check without having to work for it.
Specialist after specialist continued to confirm the original diagnosis of a herniated disk and cyst in his spinal canal that will eventually require another operation. The Phillies and insurance company ultimately reached a settlement.
Harrison has had to settle for an early retirement, though he continues to receive paychecks.
“Yeah, that’s still happening,” Harrison said. “Not the way I want it to. I’m not going to give it back.”
The Phillies are still waiting to see how the deal designed to rebuild their organization works out. The Rangers are vying for a three-peat in the American League West, and expect that Hamels and Diekman will be a part of their second-half push.
Even though the Rangers’ farm system is depleted because of the trade and three others the past two years, it’s a deal the Rangers would make again.
“I would,” Daniels said.
Rangers vs. Phillies
7:05 p.m. Tuesday, FSSW