With the first game of the Reds-Royals series postponed on Tuesday due to COVID concerns, the Royals made the announcement that they would be calling up pitcher Matt Harvey to start the second game of their slated doubleheader on Wednesday. I have talked about Harvey before on this blog, but this call up certainly comes quicker than expected, especially considering he signed in July, and has not really spent a whole lot of time in the Royals organization (or any Major League organization for that matter). While the Royals needed to fill a spot in the rotation with Jakob Junis heading to the IL once again, it is interesting that Dayton Moore decided to go with Harvey rather than one of their top pitching prospects like Daniel Lynch or Jackson Kowar for the open starting spot.
After all, Brady Singer and Kris Bubic have made their debuts this season (to varying levels of success), and it seems like calling up top pitching prospects has been a big trend in the division, especially after the Tigers called up Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal this week.
While Lynch and Kowar are getting valuable development and coaching at their alternate site at T-Bones stadium in Kansas City, Kansas, nothing can replicate game-action against opposing teams and hitters. And thus, one wonders if Lynch and Kowar could have benefited from a call up, much like Singer and Bubic, to get some game action in a year where no Minor League Baseball is being played.
That being said, while not seeing Lynch or Kowar is disappointing, Moore’s prudence with the two, and likewise aggressiveness with Harvey, makes sense in the overall picture for the Royals this year. Let’s take a look at what Harvey offers the Royals, and why Moore and the Royals decided to pause with Lynch and Kowar joining their fellow prospect brethren in Kansas City as of now.
The Royals will not be getting the “New York Mets” version of Matt Harvey. While Royals fans will remember him from his days as the Mets’ ace and 2015 World Series Game 5 starter, it has been a bit of a free fall for Harvey since that fateful Game 5 in Queens, New York. Harvey has struggled with injury and effectiveness since 2016, as he pitched less than a 100 innings in 2016 and 2017 with the Mets before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds after 27 innings in 2018. While Harvey did bounce back somewhat in Cincinnati, posting a 4.50 ERA in 128 innings of work, he struggled immensely after signing with the Angels in 2019 for $11 million. Harvey only made 12 appearances and pitched 59.2 innings, and in that limited span, he posted a 7.09 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. And hence, it’s no surprise that Harvey was not only released, but has not appeared for a Major League club since being let go last July.
Moore did not sign Harvey this Summer to be a long-term solution for this Royals club. With Singer and Bubic already in the rotation, Lynch and Kowar waiting in KCK, and 2020 first-round selection Asa Lacy joining the alternate site recently, the organization is flush with pitching talent (and that is not including international talent like Carlos Hernandez and Yefri Del Rosario). However, Harvey is plain and simply a low-risk reclamation project that Moore is probably hoping to deal, if not by the August 31st deadline, then this off-season at the latest.
The Harvey signing is akin to a contractor buying a low-cost house, flipping it, and putting it on the market to sell at a higher value. While Harvey is currently on a one-year, Minor League deal (which will probably get boosted with him making the Major League Club), it would not be a surprise to see the Royals extend Harvey’s deal into next year with a raise if he performs well in 2020 and Moore can’t pull of a trade in two weeks. The Royals had success with a low-cost bargain in Homer Bailey last year, who resurrected his career a bit with the Royals at the start of 2019, and generated some return for the Royals when they traded him to Oakland mid-season.
Granted, the Bailey return wasn’t astronomical (Kevin Merrell is not on the Royals’ Top 30 prospect list on Pipeline), but it added much-needed organizational depth for the Royals. And that is what Harvey could produce as well on the market: he could give the Royals farm system a high-upside player, even if it may be a lower-level prospect with considerable flaws. The Royals are a rebuilding club, and when it comes to acquiring talent, finding those bargain-bin prospects who could flash into something with proper development is a strategy the Royals need to follow if they want to continue to strengthen their system and become more competitive again at the Major League level.
The only way though for Harvey to produce any kind of buzz on the market though is to let him pitch in the Majors and show that he’s not the “Angel” version of himself. And that’s why Moore opted for him to replace Junis, especially with many of the Royals’ initial trade pieces souring, such as Ian Kennedy. Kennedy was supposed to be the main chip utilized near the August trade deadline. However, with Kennedy struggling, and coming at a high price, it is unlikely that Kennedy will command anything on the open market. On the other hand, if Harvey can produce over these next two weeks, it may be possible that Moore will be able to flip Harvey for something or better yet, perhaps throw him in as a package with Kennedy, since Harvey comes up at such a bargain of a price.
In addition to the need for Harvey to pitch in order to generate trade noise for him (and perhaps even other players should the Royals try package Harvey with Kennedy or another reliever), the Royals are also being prudent with Lynch and Kowar, two of the other top arms in their system. While Royals fans may be clamoring for their debuts now, especially with the Royals struggling in their most recent series against the Twins, the decision by Moore to hold on to calling them up is most likely a wise one.
Yes, Singer and Bubic have performed decently at the MLB level this year, even if their most recent starts left a little to be desired. Despite their bouts of inconsistency, Singer and Bubic were the two most polished prospects of the four and had perhaps the highest floors of that group as prospects. But on the other hand, their ceiling, from most scouting reports, seems to be lower than Lynch and Kowar, who are said to have the most upside. And thus, it’s not surprising that Moore is pausing with Lynch and Kowar debuting, as they are more volatile as prospects than Singer and Bubic. If Singer and Bubic are struggling to be consistent on a start-to-start basis at the MLB level, and they were considered the more “stable” of prospects of the four, then it could be risky to call up Lynch and Kowar and expose them to MLB pitching and perhaps ruin their confidence and development. Yes, Lynch and Kowar could excel more than Singer and Bubic in the long-run. But, there will be growing pains in the short-term (as is the case for any young pitcher), and it’s possible that Moore does not want to expose them to those growing pains just yet, especially with the Royals still kind of in the playoff race, and with an option like Harvey available in KCK.
And thus, the volatility of Lynch and Kowar probably cooled Moore from calling one of them up after Junis’ injury, especially after Singer and Bubic’s recent struggles in their last starts. However, that is fine. Harvey is the better option for now, and the Royals need him to perform in order for Moore to generate anything for the Royals on the trade market. Yes, Harvey is not the “Batman” he once was in New York, but he’s a name that can generate buzz on a ball club, and despite his overall poor stat line from a year ago, he can produce some good starts, as evidenced below:
The time will come for Lynch and Kowar in Kansas City. By 2021, it is highly likely that the “Core Four” will make up the rotation with Brad Keller (and Danny Duffy either traded or in the bullpen). But for now, though Royals fans may be champing at the bit for that “youthful energy” in the rotation, they should simply enjoy the “veteran” presence of Harvey with the hope that he can produce a player or two on the trade market in the near future.
Because if he does, then it will make “The Dark Knight’s Return” to Kansas City all the more worth it, even if it resulted in a delay to the Major League debut of Lynch or Kowar.