They say “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. And the MLB layoff due to COVID definitely made Kansas City sports fans feel more optimistic about the Royals’ chances in the AL Central during a shortened 60-game season. What if the Royals got hot out of the gate ala 2003? What if they could just go .500 over the 60-game span? What if the rotation and bullpen could just be good enough to tread water, and the offense led by Whit-Mondi-Soler-Dozer-Salvy-Gordo could pave the way to success?
If you head on to Sports Book Review, it’s easy to see why one would think the Royals might convince baseball people that they are worthy of a playoff spot this year. After all, a 60-game season works better in their favor than a 162-one, especially now in an expanded playoff format).
However, after the Royals 0-3 stretch in exhibition play against the Houston Astros and St. Louis Cardinals, Royals fans got a sobering reminder: this season is still going to be rough, whether it’s 162 games or 60.
And if that wasn’t sobering enough, in addition to the Royals announcing their 30-man roster on Opening Day, Jon Heyman reported this subtle hot stove bomb early this afternoon that nobody outside of Kansas City really cared about:
That’s right. “Batman” Matt Harvey, formerly of the Los Angeles Angels, Cincinnati Reds, and most importantly to Royals fans, the New York Mets. The same Matt Harvey who dominated the Royals in Game 5 of the World Series for 8 innings, only to recklessly force himself into the ninth, and witness the Mets blow the lead and eventually the game to Kansas City in the clinching World Series contest that gave the Royals their first World Series championship since 1985, and their second World Series championship in club history.
And yes, that exact Matt Harvey who has struggled to stay healthy and effective since 2015, with his most recent campaign being a 12-start season with the Angels in which he posted a 7.09 ERA and minus-0.3 WAR in 59.2 IP.
Matt “F’n” Harvey will be a Royal. And unfortunately, the signing is more of an indicator of the Royals desperation for pitching help than a sign that Harvey is working his way back to being that 2015 self that commanded the attention of the New York baseball world.
And hence, that should worry Royals fans as we prepare for Opening Day on Friday against the Indians.
The Royals pitching in every sense of the word right now is a mess. Brad Keller and Jakob Junis are on the IL after losing time in Summer Camp due to COVID, and thus, they aren’t quite a 100 percent yet when it comes to joining the rotation. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Royals MLB.com writer Jeff Flanagan posted this about bullpen pitchers on the 30-man today:
While Danny Duffy is already penciled in as the Opening Day starter, the rest of the rotation is a huge question mark, with only Mike Montgomery, the projected four starter, seemingly ready to go in the projected rotation by Opening Day. And thus, it is not surprising that the Royals decided to not only name Brady Singer to the Opening Day 30-man roster, but also as the starter for Game 2 against the Indians on Saturday:
While Singer being named to the rotation is well-deserved (he has performed the best of any starting pitcher not on the 40-man roster this Spring and Summer), it has not been a bed of roses for the Royals pitching staff. During the past three games, the Royals pitching staff struggled with walks and giving up the long ball, as they gave up 27 runs, 19 walks, and 8 home runs over the three-game span. The Royals pitching staff was going to be a concern entering Spring Training in February. However, the Royals struggles this Summer Camp, not just from their rotation, but their bullpen as well, is a red flag that should be concerning not just for Moore and manager Mike Matheny, but the entire Royals fanbase as well. Yes, the Royals have a better chance over 60 games than 162, but everything has to go right too.
Lousy pitching. A bunch of strikeouts at the plate. And the loss of Hunter Dozier to COVID are not exactly signs that point to a “lucky” 2020 in the time of COVID. If anything, it should be a reminder that the Royals are in a clear rebuild, and need to prepare for the worst, especially if COVID continues to affect the roster as much as it has so far in Kansas City the past couple of weeks.
So how does Matt Harvey fit into this Royals roster in 2020? Well…Harvey and the Royals are a match made in heaven as of this moment: the Royals need pitching help desperately, and Harvey had no suitors in Major League Baseball up to this point, with the KBO in South Korea seemingly a realistic option over a month ago. And even then, there were question marks if Harvey and his stuff could transition to Korea, as profiled in an article on Fangraphs by Jay Jaffe. Here’s what Jaffe said in the piece:
Per ESPN’s Dan Mullen, “the average KBO fastball velocity this season sits at 88.6 mph compared to the 93.1 mph average in MLB last season,” and so even in his diminished state, Harvey possesses what would be considered exceptional heat for the league. Still, if he intends to go to South Korea with an eye towards boosting his stock for a major league return in 2021, it seems likely that he’d have to do more than overpower KBO hitters with stuff that no longer plays in the States. Barring a rebound in velocity, he’ll need a more full-scale reinvention — perhaps the addition of a cut fastball or another pitch, or ways to generate better movement with his existing arsenal.“Matt Harvey Faces Obstacles to a KBO Stint” by Jay Jaffe; Fangraphs.com
On the surface, it looks like the Harvey deal shouldn’t generate much excitement for Royals fans, especially considering his rough short season in Orange County a year ago. That being said, Harvey did post a 4.50 ERA, 4.33 FIP, 3.96 K/BB ratio and 1.7 WAR with the Reds in 2018. The fact that he posted those numbers with a non-competitive team in a tough division (Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers, and Pirates) and in a hitter-friendly ballpark does give some hope. Maybe Harvey won’t be that fringe Cy Young candidate he was in New York, but the Royals would take a 4.20-4.60 ERA pitcher who could give them some quality starts out of the rotation.
Because after all, the Royals can’t depend on much in the rotation outside of Keller and Duffy, and even then, Duffy and Keller have their share of flaws as starting pitchers as well.
The Harvey signing is a classic low-risk, high-reward signing by Moore. If Harvey succeeds, then the Royals will get a boost in the rotation at a discounted price who could perhaps fetch some trade value in the market in 2021 if he does well (Flanagan says that Harvey will be signed through 2021). Moore has had success with these kinds of starting pitcher deals recently as well. Jeremy Guthrie in 2012, Ervin Santana in 2013, Jason Vargas in 2014, Edinson Volquez in 2015 and Homer Bailey in 2019 came to the Royals with their fair share of flaws, and yet they ended up having decent campaigns with the Royals during their first (or only) seasons. Safe to say, at this point in the year, Moore probably has done his homework on Harvey, and he may feel confident that he can replicate the success of those former Royals starting pitchers who came to Kansas City on a flier, but ended up surprising and enthralling the Royals fanbase.
It will be interesting to see when Harvey will make his Royals debut. He certainly strike a chord with Royals fans who will remember the Mets’ collapse in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series. That being said, despite his polarizing reputation in Kansas City, Harvey serves a need that the Royals have at this moment which is in the rotation. Yes, Singer will make his debut from the “Core Four“, but Jackson Kowar struggled against the Astros in exhibition play, and it seems unlikely that Daniel Lynch or Kris Bubic is ready right now. And thus, with options like Jorge Lopez, Glenn Sparkman, and Foster Griffin to round out the end of the rotation, it’s not surprising that Moore would reach out to a veteran like Harvey, even if he may not have much value beyond next season.
Royals fans should welcome Harvey to Kansas City with open arms. In all likelihood, he probably could be a Homer Bailey-like acquisition. Bailey came to the Royals after a horrid 2018 with the Reds, and not only did he have a decent campaign in Kansas City, but he also netted the Royals some return in a mid-season trade.
If the Royals can see something similar to Bailey with Harvey in 2020 or 2021, it will be a win not just for the Royals in terms of getting short term impact with potential long term value (via a trade), but for Harvey as well in terms of rekindling his MLB pitching career.
After all, I’m sure Harvey prefers pitching in Kansas City over Korea…as of now, anyways.
I wonder what his thoughts will be on KC BBQ…