I’m not criticizing the Reds, at least not the initial move. It’s possible to disagree with something the Reds do and still believe they made a reasonable decision given the circumstances.
But I never liked the Matt Harvey trade.
When Harvey was traded to the Reds on May 8, he became part of a team with an 8-27 record. Reds starters had posted some of the worst numbers in baseball to that point (it has improved only slightly since), and it looked like the team was much further away from contending than we’d hoped.
Harvey wasn’t billed as the savior; the Reds didn’t consider him as a long-term possibility. Nor should they have with his impending free agency and Scott Boras lurking in the shadows. The Reds clearly traded for Harvey in order to flip him for more young talent.
Harvey was a reclamation project in desperate shape, both on the mound and off it. He would need to show signs of life that had been missing for 2+ seasons as his velocity had dropped, ERA had skyrocketed, and his antics had created a personal PR mess.
The Reds felt they could help Harvey regain some of his magic with mechanical tweaks. If it worked, they would sell him off to a contender looking to upgrade the 5th spot in their rotation down the stretch. It made sense.
But, I wasn’t thrilled about the move. As a struggling organization with a number of young pitchers, the Reds could have used those starts to better evaluate Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed, or Amir Garrett. They could have stretched out Michael Lorenzen in AAA when he got healthy and thrown him out there for a couple months to sink or swim.
I didn’t see how a modest return for Harvey would be more valuable than seeing younger guys with good arms learn at the big league level. I still don’t. For a team that has drafted and traded for plenty of pitching prospects, the Reds certainly could have justified looking for long-term answers internally instead of playing the flip game.
To be fair, the young guys weren’t knocking down the door at the time of the trade. Harvey took Brandon Finnegan’s place, whose arm seems shot after multiple shoulder injuries. Lorenzen was hurt, and both Stephenson and Reed had both walked over 16% of batters in a small sample at AAA. Garrett had already voiced his desire to stay in the bullpen, though his desires shouldn’t come before the needs of the team.
While Finnegan and Garrett have struggled since that time, the other three have had varying levels of success.
To properly evaluate Harvey and his value, the Reds needed to give him enough starts to see how he would adjust to whatever mechanical changes were necessary. He made 14 starts before the trade deadline and acquitted himself pretty well, averaging around 95 MPH on his fastball (up from 93) and posting a 4.44 ERA. His numbers from mid-June until the deadline were even better.
The plan looked like it was coming together, and while I still didn’t agree with trading for Harvey, I was comforted knowing the Reds would get some asset out of the gamble. They could then install a young pitcher into the rotation for two months, at least that’s what I thought I knew.
I KNOW NOTHING!
The trade never happened, not before the deadline anyway (and the Reds reneged on moving Homer Bailey to the bullpen). Harvey has now made 16 starts with the Reds, and each takes one away from a young pitcher that the Reds need to evaluate going into the offseason. They’ve even acquired more options in Matt Wisler and Lucas Sims, though I’m more optimistic about Sims being a starter.
The Reds have gone to a six-man rotation to get a look at Stephenson, but that’s necessary only because Harvey (and Bailey) continue to get the ball every fifth or sixth day. The longer this goes, the less information the Reds will have on long-term candidates when they might want to wheel and deal this winter.
I wouldn’t have traded for Matt Harvey; it was a lottery ticket that would likely pay out $20 instead of millions, but I understood it. However, with Harvey still on the roster in mid-August, the Reds are doing a disservice to their own rebuilding process. If he remains with the team for the rest of the year, he will take over 20 starts from potential long-term answers and that would be a terrible scenario for a team with good, young arms.
I hope the Reds trade him ASAP. If not, acquiring him will go from reasonable to inexplicable.