The KC Royals gave Matt Harvey a chance in 2020, but they shouldn’t bring him back.
If veteran baseball writer Jeffrey Flanagan is correct, the KC Royals may be in the process of making an utterly inexplicable decision destined to end in failure.
Flanagan is mlb.com’s supremely capable Kansas City beat writer. Readers can bank on what he says; his record of accuracy is why Royals fans should worry about what he reported Wednesday.
Kansas City, according to Flanagan, is interested in re-signing Matt Harvey. Yes, that Matt Harvey, the pitcher who hasn’t had a winning season since 2015 when he almost pitched the Mets past Kansas City in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series before the Royals came from behind and won the contest and with it the Series. Yes, the same Matt Harvey who last won as many games as he lost in 2018.
And yes, the same Matt Harvey who KC general manager Dayton Moore picked up off the scrap heap, signed to a minor league deal, and brought back to the majors in 2020, only to realize nothing on the investment
There are no kind words with which to describe Harvey’s season, no way or reason to sugar coat how disappointing it was.
Harvey was once a superb pitcher—he went 9-5 with a 2.27 ERA, led the majors in FIP (2.01) and HR9 (0.4) and made the National League All-Star team in 2013 and, after sitting out 2014 rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery, had his best major league campaign the following season. His 13-8, 2.71 ERA effort was instrumental to the Mets’ run to the World Series.
But the plague of other injuries contributed to four subsequent subpar seasons for Harvey. He struggled to a combined 19-31 record with four teams, including a distressing 3-5, 7.09 campaign with the Angels in 2019.
The Royals signed Harvey to a minor league deal four days after the 2020 season began, then called him up from their alternate training site in August. He started the second game of an Aug. 19 doubleheader against the Reds and, for a couple of innings, looked like the Harvey of 2013 and ’15. He struck out three and gave up a hit and a walk through the first two frames.
The good ended, though, after he struck out Cincinnati’s leadoff man and retired the second hitter to begin the third. Harvey gave up a single, then back-to-back home runs to Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez, to turn a scoreless tie into a 3-0 Reds’ lead. He walked Mike Moustakas before getting the final out and took the eventual 5-0 loss.
Manager Mike Matheny gave him another start six days later but nothing changed. Harvey lasted 2.2 innings and surrendered four runs on five hits. Six more days passed before Cleveland hammered him in his next start: the Indians battered him for five runs, three homers and four other hits, and chased him with one out in the second.
Harvey pitched four more times (three in relief), giving up 11 hits and three runs in 4.2 innings. Only once, in a two-thirds of an inning stint against the White Sox, did he not give up at least one run. He finished his 0-3, 11.57 ERA season on the Injured List with a lat strain.
Because the KC Royals, like other clubs, released so little information about individual training site performances, almost nothing is known about how Harvey fared at T-Bones Stadium. Perhaps he pitched well enough against his predominantly minor league teammates to warrant a call-up, or maybe the Royals just wanted to see him face big league hitters. Once he made it to KC, though, only his all to brief scoreless effort against Chicago was encouraging. And that’s not much.
It’s time for the KC Royals to move on from Matt Harvey.
There is little, if any, reason for the Royals to pursue Harvey, now a free agent, for next season. They experimented a bit in 2020 with the “opener” concept but, having been shelled early in three of his four starts, Harvey doesn’t appear well-suited for the role. A spot in the rotation is out of the question—it’s time to round out the starting five with another reliable veteran, not one struggling to regain a form he hasn’t displayed for five years.
What about the bullpen? That, too, would be ill-advised considering the impressive depth of the Royals’ resurgent relief corps.
And he’s lost at least a couple of miles per hour off most of his pitches since his best year of 2015.
There’s no reason to question Flanagan’s assessment that the Royals remain interested in Harvey (after all, they’re drawn to such reclamation projects), but there’s every reason to question the club’s judgment. Harvey did nothing to justify coming back, there really isn’t a place for him on the roster, and the Royals simply don’t need him. The experiment failed.
And bringing Harvey back, even on a whim, makes no financial sense. The precise impact of a season without paying customers isn’t quite known, but it must be horrendous, especially for a small market franchise like the KC Royals. Why not save, for more pressing needs, even the small amount it would take to sign Harvey? Why not save it in case the 2021 season opens with the gates again locked and the club needs every penny it can find?
Pursuing Harvey should be a non-starter.
Matt Harvey had his chance with the KC Royals. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out.