In 2014, just months after the Royals made him a first-round pick, left-handed pitcher Brandon Finnegan climbed the ranks rapidly and made his MLB debut on September 6th at Yankee Stadium. Striking out Jacoby Ellsbury on a wicked changeup, the announcers marveled at the 21-year olds arsenal and execution. “My goodness, he’s pitching like he has been here a long time.” one of them said. That fall, he became the first pitcher to appear in both a College World Series and the Major League World Series in the same year.
Pretty soon, Finnegan was on the brightest of stages, first working 2 ⅓ innings of work during extra frames in the 2014 American League Wild Card game. By the summer of 2015, he was shipped off with pitcher John Lamb and Cody Reed to Cincinnati for Johnny Cueto. Although he had a relatively short run in Kansas City, many fans were somber about his departure even in the midst of yet a second World Series push.
From the minute he stepped foot in the Reds clubhouse, staff and personnel envisioned him as a top-of-the-rotation starter. Uncorking a mid-90’s fastball on the regular and posting a 2.59 ERA, 3.84 FIP, and 0.9 home runs per nine while in his time wearing a Kansas City uniform, Finnegan was labeled as the prize prospect of the blockbuster deal. His potential alone positioned him to start instantly, collecting four starts in 23 ⅔ innings of work during his first half of the season with the Reds.
In 2016, he appeared and started in all 31 games, presenting a 3.98 ERA in 172 innings with 145 strikeouts to 84 walks. The following season was shortened due to a handful of shoulder injuries that sidelined him twice. He was only able to muster four starts in 13 innings, ultimately resulting in a major set back for the struggling Reds.
Last season, his production came apart at the seams. Finnegan was demoted to Triple-A Louisville after throwing just 20 2⁄3 innings in five starts and eventually began throwing out of the bullpen. To no avail, the left-hander turned in another poor season statistically with career worsts in ERA (7.40) and WHIP (2.032), as well as career lows in strikeout-to-walk ratio (0.93) and strikeouts-per-nine (6.1).
After getting shelled during spring training this past month, allowing 11 earned runs in five innings, the Reds designated Finnegan for assignment on Thursday afternoon. If not claimed by any other club, he will presumably return to Louisville and serve as depth for Cincinnati in the minors. The Royals nearly blew a five-run advantage in the bottom of the ninth on Opening Day and was forced to use four pitchers to record the final three out. Could Royals place a claim on their old friend?
With no true assigned roles and the possibility of numerous roster moves between now and the end of April, it could make sense to take a flier in hopes to revive the career of a reliever turned starter. The reality is, even after showing glimpses and flashes of excellence as a top two starter in Cincinnati, the pieces to the puzzle never quite fit aside from his 2016 season. However, his numbers out of the bullpen at the Major League level, although minimal, could be something to work with again.
His ERA for his career out of the pen sits at 2.38, and his strikeout numbers are above-average at 9.3 per-nine with a 2.33 SO/W ratio. It should be noted these stats only stretch over 34 innings-all with the Royals-but hitters have only sported a .183 average off Finnegan in relief. With two outs and runners in scoring position, he holds batters to a .160 average and in high leverage, .227.
Based off the moves Dayton Moore has fulfilled in the offseason, a waiver claim on a potential relief pitcher at no cost fits the identical mold of a player to take a chance on. Kansas City could choose to cut bait with Chris Ellis and send him back to the Cardinals if he struggled mightily early on, replacing him on the 25-man roster with Finnegan.
On the other hand, the Royals could assign him to the minor leagues in hopes of getting his feet wet in the bullpen again and eventually becoming consistent enough to find a spot out of the pen in Kansas City. If the near-debacle on Openin Day was any indication of what’s in store for the Royals relief arms, a reunion with a fan favorite in that minuscule amount of time could create more positivity than harm.