The Orioles settled one of their remaining spring training roster questions on Thursday morning, announcing that Matt Harvey’s contract has been selected by the team. The move puts Harvey onto the 40-man roster, which is now full, and presumably sets up Harvey as one of the starting rotation members to begin the season.
The Athletic’s Dan Connolly reported on Tuesday that Harvey had an approaching opt-out clause in his contract that, if exercised, would leave the Orioles to make a decision about whether to add Harvey or grant his release. We might guess from the timing that Harvey exercised that opt-out and the Orioles chose to keep him around.
Harvey joined Orioles camp on a minor league deal after signing on February 17. He and Félix Hernández made up the contingent of formerly dominant pitchers looking to catch on and revive their careers with the 2021 Orioles.
Hernández has his own opt-out coming on Sunday, according to Connolly, so the Orioles will have another decision to make there. That will be a bit more complicated with Hernández recently shelved with some forearm soreness. Wade LeBlanc also had a coming opt-out in a similar time frame to Harvey’s.
Spring training is not always the perfect environment to assess a player’s performance even in an ordinary year, and this season that’s more true than most. Games have barely been televised. Beat reporters have often been reduced to watching or listening to the same game streams as fans, denied entry due to pandemic precautions limiting the number of seats in the press area. They are not prowling the clubhouse daily to find out what’s going on, instead getting Zoom time with the manager and two or three selected players a day.
All of which is to say that the answer to a question like “How has Harvey looked in spring training?” is a big shrug. He has pitched in three A games where stats are actually tracked, allowing a 5.40 ERA in ten innings. That is such a small sample size it’s barely even worth talking about, even when it’s the only sample we’ve got. It’s enough for the Orioles to put him in the rotation, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything since they don’t have a lot of other choices.
It’s been fascinating and at times bewildering to see some of the things that Harvey has said about why he signed with the Orioles. The former Mets ace, whose last good season was in 2015, has said on different occasions about how he knows he needs to pitch differently than when he was younger, and how he thinks the Orioles analytics operation was the ideal place for him to come and be the best version of himself that he can be right now. We’re sure not in 2018 any more.
Maybe once the regular season rolls around, Harvey will fall apart spectacularly. The odds are generally not in favor of any pitcher who hasn’t been good in six years to suddenly be good again. Since the end of the 2015 season, Harvey has a big league ERA of 5.82 in 87 games, including a 7.09 in 12 games for the Angels in 2019 and 11.57 in seven games for the Royals last year.
Maybe Harvey will beat those odds and won’t fall apart again as an Oriole. I think it will be fun to root for him while we’re waiting to see how it goes. This is a guy who comes in with a nickname, The Dark Knight, already bestowed upon him. We don’t get that every day in Baltimore, especially years deep into the rebuild project. It seems like at every turn he’s said the right things about making adjustments, about offering the insights of a veteran who’s seen some struggles to the younger pitchers around.
With Harvey making the team, that seems to lock in four Orioles rotation spots. John Means, Dean Kremer, and Keegan Akin have all been mostly guaranteed spots, barring a total spring collapse. They seem to be lined up in that order based on their spring throwing days Harvey is now etched onto the list as well.
That leaves a fifth spot - and potentially a sixth spot, if you believe there is meaning in the O’s not having 100% committed to a five-man rotation at this late date - still to be decided from among a group that includes LeBlanc, Hernández, Jorge López, and Bruce Zimmermann.