Offseason signings of broken pitchers is something the KC Royals do. Two winters ago, they brought back Greg Holland, their former star closer, and also signed Trevor Rosenthal, KC manager Mike Matheny’s closer for a time in St. Louis, when both were once-premiere relievers beset more recently by injuries and ineffectiveness. And last winter, the club took a chance on Wade Davis.
So well did Rosenthal and Holland work out that Rosenthal immediately became the Royals’ closer and a main trade deadline attraction—KC sent him to San Diego for Edward Olivares and Dylan Coleman—and Holland assumed his old closer role when Rosenthal departed. The Davis deal, though, all but failed because he couldn’t shake his injury bug and wasn’t consistently good when healthy.
Now, courtesy of the Cincinnati Reds, the Royals may have another reclamation project candidate.
Yes, the very same Brandon Finnegan whose meteoric one-season rise from first round Kansas City draft pick to the World Series in 2014 made him a darling of KC fans hungry for new heroes. The Cincinnati organization recently released Finnegan, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2018.
The apparent end of his Cincinnati tenure isn’t surprising. Finnegan came to the Reds in mid-2015, their chief return in the trade deadline deal that sent Johnny Cueto to Kansas City and a World Series title. Cincinnati also received John Lamb and Cody Reed, but Finnegan was the team’s primary target.
And with good reason. The Royals made Finnegan their top draft pick just the year before, a season in which he helped Texas Christian University into the College World Series, signed with Kansas City, became a reliever, then pitched five times at High-A Wilmington and eight at Double-A Northwest Arkansas before the Royals decided his allowing only four runs in 27 innings justified rushing him to the big leagues.
Undaunted by hitting center stage so quickly, Finnegan posted a 1.29 ERA in seven games, made Kansas City’s postseason rosters, and worked five playoff games and two in the Series.
Despite his fast start, Kansas City assigned him to Northwest Arkansas to begin the 2015 campaign. A late April recall was the first of four round trips he’d make between Kauffman Stadium and the minors before the Cueto trade; Finnegan pitched well when with the Royals, going 3-0 with a 2.96 ERA in 14 relief appearances. Only a three-run, one-inning outing against Toronto in mid-July seriously tainted his record.
The Royals’ desire to land Cueto, however, outweighed their interest in keeping Finnegan.
Things deteriorated for Brandon Finnegan after the KC Royals traded him.
Becoming the only pitcher ever to pitch in the World Series and College World Series in the same year remains Finnegan’s most significant claim to fame, a circumstance unforetold by his talent, potential, and first few months in the majors. Subsequent events simply haven’t been kind to him.
The Reds made Finnegan a starter again, first in the minors and then in a September call-up to Cincinnati. He was good in his first and final Reds’ starts of the season, winning both and surrendering just two runs over 11 innings, but giving up nine runs in 10 innings caused him to lose the other two.
Finnegan’s 10 victories in 2016 were the second-best for last place Cincinnati, but he suffered from an excessive 4.4 BB/9. Shoulder issues nagged him throughout 2017 and limited him to four major league and three minor league starts.
A horrible start to 2018—he was 0-3 with a 7.40 ERA by May 6—triggered Finnegan’s demotion to Triple-A, where he spent the rest of the season and struggled to 2-10 with an ugly 7.05 ERA, by far the worst record of his professional career.
The lefthander spent 2019 in Double-A (1-0, 6.60) and last season in Triple-A (4-3, 5.53) battling his control. He walked 10 in 15 innings in 2019 and 36 in 55.1 in 2021. His major and minor league career BB/9s leave much to be desired: 4.63 in the bigs, 4.95 on the farm.
The organization released Finnegan Nov. 18. Once a can’t-miss prospect sitting atop the baseball world, he now looks for work in a market rendered uncertain by an almost certain lockout.
Should the KC Royals make Brandon Finnegan their latest reclamation project?
Kansas City should leave few stones unturned in seeking pitchers to plug the holes in its rotation and bullpen (especially the rotation). Is Finnegan someone the club should seriously consider?
Probably not. Unlike Rosenthal, Holland and Davis, all of whom enjoyed sustained and meaningful success, Finnegan’s best moments remain confined to 2014, 2015 and 2016, seasons too remote to provide promise of him reclaiming bygone form.
For whatever reason or reasons, Finnegan long ago lost that which made him so good in college and the earliest stages of a now-soured professional career. Little in his performance since 2016 suggests he has much to offer any club, including the KC Royals.
Signing Finnegan is, of course, a low-risk proposition because he can’t reasonably demand, much less expect, a big contract. But last season’s minor league contraction left fewer spots for players of any position, and the Royals shouldn’t hand one of those spots to, or expend resources on, Finnegan when more promising pitchers need the work.
New free agent Brandon Finnegan generated some good memories for KC Royals fans. But the club doesn’t need to bring him back.