The Oakland A’s starting rotation was their biggest question mark last season, and shoring it up is one of their most important tasks this winter. Accordingly, they are “thought to have interest” in free agent pitcher Matt Harvey, reports Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports.
It’s been a whirlwind career for Harvey. He was a top draft pick and an elite prospect, and during his peak he was an All-Star who pitched in the 2015 World Series with the Mets. However, he’s also gone through both Tommy John surgery and thoracic outlet surgery, both of which are major procedures with lengthy recovery times, so his injury history is significant. And he’s packed all of this in before his 30th birthday, which won’t come until next spring.
Most recently, Harvey wore out his welcome with the Mets last summer and was moved to the Reds. Over the final five months of the season, the right-hander held his own as a serviceable starter for Cincinnati. He wasn’t his former ace self but he was at least MLB-caliber, which was still a step up after two mostly lost seasons in 2016-17. His Reds numbers are as follows (doesn’t include eight games with the Mets):
Harvey, 2018 CIN: 4.50 ERA, 128 ip, 111 Ks, 28 BB, 21 HR, 4.33 FIP
There were plenty of flaws in his line, but also some promise. He rarely made it past six innings, and only eight of his 24 starts registered as quality outings, but on the other hand he failed to go five innings only five times and only had a couple disaster days. He also allowed a ton of homers, though it’s worth noting that Cincy’s stadium is a launching pad while the Coliseum has a way of minimizing that particular weakness. His velocity is down a couple ticks from his prime, but he still averaged over 94 mph on his fastball and touched 98.
As for some of his off-field drama in New York, there is progress on that front as well (from August, when the Reds opted not to trade him to Milwaukee):
I’m not sure if this was the deciding factor in the #Reds hanging onto Matt Harvey after the #Brewers claimed him. But word is that owner Bob Castellini “loves” Harvey, who has done a nice job of rehabilitating his image as a teammate in Cincinnati. Harvey is staying put.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) August 24, 2018
The A’s rotation is essentially a blank slate right now. Mike Fiers is eligible for arbitration and his return isn’t guaranteed, and the next three in line (Daniel Mengden, Frankie Montas, Chris Bassitt) weren’t trusted to start games last summer while the team was fighting for a postseason spot. Some of those in-house options will presumably end up being part of the 2019 unit, but surely there will be outside additions as well. Another name in the early rumor mill is Sonny Gray, a former Oakland star whom the Yankees appear interested in trading away.
I haven’t yet formed a strong opinion either way on Harvey, and of course the size of a potential contract would make a huge difference in that analysis. On that front, MLB Trade Rumors predicts 2yr/$22M, while FanGraphs crowdsourced a guess of 2yr/$16M.
However, I will say one thing. This is exactly the guy the A’s usually sign and have great success with. He’s Bartolo Colon, Scott Kazmir, and Rich Hill, a formerly top talent who was previously left for dead due to massive injury issues but then rose from the ashes to regain All-Star form or close to it. The contract estimate is close to what they gave Kazmir several years ago after a similar bounce-back audition, as a reasonable show-me deal that could turn into a bargain if all goes well.
Your belief in Harvey may vary, but conceptually he profiles as one of the best value plays of this winter’s market. If you’re looking for upside opportunity at a discount price, then this could be one place to find it.