Matt Harvey used to be a golden god for the Mets. In 2012, he was a rookie sensation. In 2013, he was a full-blown ace. Even after his Tommy John surgery, he came back strong in 2015, striking out nearly a batter per inning and posting a 140 ERA+. He was the future of the Mets. He was their present. He was Batman played by Joe Namath, and the city loved him.
Matt Harvey is currently a mess. Since the start of 2016, he’s pitched 212 innings with a 5.93 ERA. His strikeout rate has dropped. His walks have spiked. He’s allowed 35 homers in this stretch, and his fastball has gone from an average of 95.9 mph in his last good season to 92.6 mph this year.
Apparently the Giants are one of the teams that might think they can fix him. Or, at the very least, extract some sort of value from him. They’re interested in Matt Harvey, and you’re right to be exciteconcerned.
Mostly concerned, though.
There really isn’t a great parallel for Harvey in the Brian Sabean & Friends Era. Jason Schmidt was Harvey’s age when he was acquired and weaponized shortly after, but his arm was never in question. Dustin Hermanson might work, albeit on a much smaller scale, and Brad Penny definitely works, though he was a couple of years older than Harvey is now. The Giants aren’t known for their reclamation projects, but just because they couldn’t get Dontrelle Willis and Ricky Romero back to form, it doesn’t have to say anything about the organization. You can’t add up individual struggles and form a rock-solid consensus about an entire franchise.
Hmm, I guess Ryan Vogelsong counts, but it’s never a good idea to compare him to anyone.
There’s no evidence of a golden touch, in other words. The Giants might think there’s a way to unlock Harvey’s latent potential with a mechanical tweak or by changing how he approaches hitters, and if he’s free or close to it, I would encourage them to chase those dreams.
They haven’t been able to turn Derek Holland into anything more than a minor-league free agent, though, and other than Chris Stratton’s improved curveball, there isn’t any strong evidence that the Giants are effective at turning pitchers into something they weren’t already. Jeff Samardzija has done a great impression of Jeff Samardzija since he’s been here. Johnny Cueto has been the same pitcher he was with the Reds and Royals, albeit a little older, with more ups and downs. Matt Moore was confounding when he arrived, and he is still confounding to this day. This isn’t to say the Giants are doing anything wrong with these pitchers; it’s that if you’re looking for a team that’s reinvented pitchers, it’s not the Giants.
Still, if we’re talking “free Matt Harvey,” hey, free Matt Harvey. The risk would be low, and the reward would be high, right? That’s how you take chances and improve your baseball team for little money.
I wouldn’t categorize the risk as low, though. Financially, sure, but not from an on-field perspective. If Harvey continued to stink, he would be harming the Giants’ ability to win baseball games, and they’ll likely need every last win if they’re going to play past 162 games. How many games would the Giants have to put up with Harvey if he remained awful? Five starts? Twenty relief appearances? A pitcher can do a lot of damage to postseason hopes in that time.
This kind of on-field risk would almost be acceptable if there were a longer-term goal, and considering that Harvey isn’t even 30 yet, I can almost see it. Except he’s also a free agent at the end of the year, so any improvement would need to be almost immediate. This isn’t like Sam Dyson, where the reward would be realized throughout his arbitration years. For Harvey to make sense for the Giants, he would have to pitch well right away.
The last time Harvey was good, the Giants had just traded for Mike Leake and Norichika Aoki was the starting left fielder.
This is all before you get to why Harvey is available. The Mets wanted him to work on things in Triple-A, and he refused, so they decided that they would be a better baseball team entirely with him on another team. Right before he was designated for assignment, Sandy Alderson gave one of the most withering comments I can remember a GM making:
Asked if he's upset about a Page Six report that had Matt Harvey out partying in Los Angeles the night before pitching in San Diego, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said:— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) May 1, 2018
"Usually I get upset if a report is unexpected. So I guess the short answer is no."
An understated part of this exchange is that Harvey deemed it necessary to part in Los Angeles before a game in San Diego. That takes effort! Alderson, a former Marine, probably wanted to unscrew Harvey’s head like a bottlecap and throw it into the ocean, but he exercised restraint and merely designated him for assignment.
So if you want to look at the Giants’ record with pitchers in need of a tweak or rebuild, that’s one thing. But I’m going to guess that most of those pitchers wanted to be fixed. I’m not sure that’s the case with Harvey. He might have had a come-to-Mazzone moment when the Mets punted him off the roster, sure, but the Giants shouldn’t gamble actual wins and losses on that chance.
Listen, I’m the idiot who thought there wasn’t any risk with Pablo Sandoval coming back, and now the Giants are going to miss out on Casey Mize, who could almost certainly help them win major league games in 2018. The unintended consequences bit ‘em. But the point is that I’m a sucker for reclamation projects. Look at all these youneverknow words about Josh Johnson. Give me your tired arms, your busted shoulders, your crumbling careers yearning to continue, the wretched refuse of the waiver wire. I’m a sucker for it!
Just don’t give me Matt Harvey in 2018. After the season, sure, we can talk. For right now, it’s more important for the Giants to win every game they possibly can. Pretty sure that Harvey hasn’t been helping like that for a long time, now.