ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) - Matt Harrison has gone from a pitcher the Texas Rangers left off their postseason roster to one they believe can become one of the league's best left-handers.
The Rangers finalized a $55 million, five-year contract with the All-Star lefty Thursday. The deal includes a 2018 club option that could become guaranteed depending on the number of innings Harrison pitches.
"This is a testament to all the hard work he puts in," said Thad Levine, the team's assistant general manager. "The talent shows up every time he pitches. ... The more we've gotten to know Matt Harrison, the more we believe in Matt Harrison. And we believe the best is yet to come."
Hours later, the Rangers agreed with right-hander Neftali Feliz on a $2.9 million, one-year contract to avoid salary arbitration.
Harrison was 18-11 with a 3.29 ERA and four complete games in 32 starts last year, and his 3.10 ERA in 18 road starts was the lowest in the American League. Over the past two seasons, since being left off the Rangers' postseason roster in 2010, he is 32-20 while throwing 399 innings.
Texas acquired Harrison, Feliz and shortstop Elvis Andrus from Atlanta in July 2007 in a seven-player deal that sent Mark Teixeira to the Braves.
The 27-year-old Harrison made his major league debut in July 2008, going 9-3 in 15 starts after being called up. After starting the 2009 season in the rotation, he started having issues with his left shoulder that eventually required season-ending surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome to remove a rib to alleviate the situation.
"I was definitely on the other end of the spectrum than I am now. Things weren't really going my way and I had a lot of hit-and-miss starts," Harrison said. "The biggest thing that led up to where I am today is just figuring out that mental toughness and the mental part of the game. The talent was there, it was just figuring out how to use it and use it the right way."
The real turning point for Harrison was the 2010 postseason. After being used primarily as a reliever throughout the regular season while coming back from surgery, he was left off the roster in the playoffs. He traveled with the team throughout the postseason, but was never active while the Rangers went to their first World Series.
"That moment of being left off the roster was a tough, tough month for me, a tough offseason," he said. "I finally grew up as a person and a man. Mentally things started turning around for me, I started having more confidence in myself, success coming around. I started seeing another level come out of me. Hopefully, I can continue to go from that and get better."
Harrison has a career record of 48-30 with a 4.08 ERA in 126 games over the past five years, all with Texas.
His deal calls for a $1 million signing bonus and salaries of $5 million this year, $8 million in 2014 and $13 million in each of the following three seasons. The agreement includes a $13.25 million team option for 2018 with a $2 million buyout, and the option would become guaranteed if Harrison has 600 innings pitched or more from 2015-17, including at least 200 in 2017. The option price would increase by $250,000 each time he reaches 200 innings in the first five years, up to $15.75 million. That would increase the value of the deal to $68.75 million over six seasons.
Harrison's agreement, negotiated by agents Sam and Seth Levinson, got finalized two days after he had filed for salary arbitration, and also after he turned down an opportunity to pitch for the United States in the World Baseball Classic.
Feliz, the 24-year-old former closer who was moved to the rotation last spring, is recovering from Tommy John surgery to repair a tear in his right elbow and likely will be sidelined until at least this summer. He was 3-1 with a 3.16 ERA in eight games last season, including seven starts, before going on the disabled list in May.
David Murphy, expected to be the everyday left fielder, also filed for salary arbitration this week. General manager Jon Daniels said the Rangers felt they were close enough to think a deal would be reached, even if not completed, before they are required to exchange proposed salaries Friday.
With Harrison under contract, the Rangers have three of their starting pitchers signed for at least four more seasons with another under control for at least that long.
Japanese ace Yu Darvish last year signed a $56 million, six-year deal with the Rangers and then won 16 games as a major league rookie. There are provisions in his contract that could allow the 26-year-old righty to become a free agent after the 2016 season.
Texas has 26-year-old left-hander Derek Holland under contract through at least 2016, with club options for two more years after that. Holland is planning to pitch in the WBC this spring.
Alexi Ogando, who won 13 games as a starter and was an All-Star in 2011, is returning to the rotation this spring. The 29-year-old is under Rangers control for at least four more seasons, including his arbitration-eligible years.
"Those are four solid pitchers who are in their prime who will be part of the Texas Rangers family for the foreseeable future," Levine said. "We'll take our chances if we're going to build around that core of men that we'll be able to compete for championships in the American League for this time and in the future."