After Matt Harvey's latest disaster, what options do Mets have?
Matt Harvey is staying in the rotation—for now. Despite being hit hard for the third straight outing in Tuesday night's loss to the Nationals, Harvey will make his next start on Monday afternoon against the White Sox. The decision was reached after Harvey met with manager Terry Collins, pitching coach Dan Warthen and assistant general manager John Ricco on Wednesday morning in Washington.
"I'm not giving up on him," Collins told reporters after Wednesday morning's 10-minute meeting. In the immediate aftermath of Harvey's start, Collins had said, "We've got to think not just what's best for Matt, but what's best for us moving forward. There's a lot of things to consider, and that's why we're not going to make any rash judgments tonight. We're going to sleep on it, and talk about it tomorrow."
Harvey himself had ducked reporters after the game, a move that didn't win him any points with the media or his teammates, who were left to offer their own theories for his woes. Five days after the worst start of his big league career—a 2 2/3-inning stint in which he was pounded for nine runs (six earned) and booed as he left the Citi Field mound—the 27-year-old righty held the Nationals scoreless for the first three innings, working around two hits and a walk, but then fell apart. With one out in the fourth, he served up back-to-back solo homers to Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon, then found deeper trouble in the fifth. After Ben Revere hit a leadoff double, took third on a Jayson Werth single and scored on a Bryce Harper sacrifice fly, former teammate Daniel Murphy clubbed a two-run homer off Harvey, just as he did last Thursday in New York.
Harvey was done after the fifth and has now allowed 27 hits and 19 runs (16 earned) in 13 1/3 innings over his last three starts, pushing his already-gaudy 4.50 ERA to 6.08; he's made just three quality starts in 10 turns. As I noted last Friday, his velocity has been down, his release point has changed, and he's been hit especially hard when pitching out of the stretch and in his third time through the order, trends that held true on Thursday save for an early spike in his velocity.
Keeping Harvey on turn for Monday's start against the White Sox—a team he one-hit back in 2013, albeit with an entirely different lineup—gives the 27-year-old righty at least one more shot at making his case to stay in the rotation for the longer term. But it may only delay taking a course of action that's less comfortable for both the player and the team, and arguably, it's going to be seen as enabling the behavior that not only led Harvey to skirt the media on Tuesday night but also has already angered people within the Mets' hierarchy. According to the Bergen Record's Bob Klapisch, "Members of the organization have complained bitterly about Harvey’s demeanor in recent weeks, as he’s routinely ignored their guidance and advice during his slump."
What follows here is a quick rundown of the Mets' options if they return to this crossroads next week.
1. Skip his turn
With a scheduled day off this Thursday, the Mets could have brought back Wednesday afternoon's starter, Steven Matz, on four days rest on Monday against the White Sox, but they would still have needed a spot starter—likely Logan Verrett, who's taken three turns this year—the next day in order to keep the rest of the rotation on turn. Otherwise, scheduled Friday starter Jacob deGrom would have only three days of rest before Tuesday's start against the White Sox. The team has another scheduled day off next Thursday (June 2) and could use Matz on four days rest the following Sunday against the Marlins, which would be Harvey’s next turn. They would still need Verrett or another starter to take the ball at some point soon to avoid using Noah Syndergaard on three days rest on Tuesday, June 7 against the Pirates.
If the Mets do skip Harvey, they could potentially use him in a long relief spot rather than play shorthanded, though Harvey has never made an appearance out of the bullpen during his professional career. He's never carried an ERA above 6.00 before, either—he had never been above 4.00 in his big league career prior to this season—and pitching the middle or late innings of a blowout, with less pressure, might allow him room to experiment a bit. Then again, a sudden change in between-appearances routines is probably not the best prescription for a struggling starter.
2. Send him to the minors
In theory, the Mets could option Harvey to the minors to work out the kinks, but the number of ways this could backfire are numerous. For one thing, the team's Triple A affiliate is in Las Vegas—not only a bad place to send a pitcher whose appetite for the nightlife has drawn criticism in the past, but also a hellish place to send any pitcher. Vegas' Cashman Field is considered one of the worst ballparks in Triple A due to the arid desert climate, which bakes the infield and speeds up ground balls, and to the high altitude (about 2,000 feet, higher than any major league park except Coors Field), which gives fly balls greater hang time and distance. The Las Vegas 51s and their opponents are averaging 5.75 runs per game at Cashman and 5.36 runs per game overall, as the Pacific Coast League has other hitters' havens as well. In other words, it's a very bad place for a hurler who's been roughed up for 1.4 homers per nine and a .378 batting average on balls in play.
What's more, such a move would humiliate and risk alienating one of the team's biggest stars. It would also certainly draw comment from agent Scott Boras, who illustrated his willingness to do battle with the Mets via the media on behalf of his client last year, when Harvey's workload in his first year back from Tommy John surgery threatened to overshadow the team's first postseason appearance since 2006. Harvey finished the season with 216 innings (189 2/3 regular season, 26 1/3 postseason), the most ever by a pitcher in his first full season back from the surgery. Banishing him to the minors despite his struggles may also not sit well with his teammates, as it could be seen as showing a lack of loyalty toward a player who emptied the tank last year, risking his own health and future payday. Then again, Harvey's stock within the clubhouse likely isn't at an all-time high right now.
3. Send him to the disabled list
If you were going to place a bet on any of these outcomes, a DL stint is by far the most likely. Once upon a time, putting a player on the 15-day DL invited scrutiny as to whether a player was legitimately injured, but as concerns about pitcher health and workloads have mounted within the industry, it's become more acceptable to stash a player—and particularly a pitcher—there for even minor complaints. The Mets wouldn't even have to pretend that Harvey suffered a strain, sprain or inflammation of one joint or another, though it's almost a guarantee that a doctor looking for such a malady in any pitcher could find something along those lines. The team could simply cite arm fatigue, as it did last August with Bobby Parnell; given Harvey's heavy 2015 workload and shortened off-season, it may actually be the most accurate diagnosis.
Such a move would have several advantages for the Mets. It would allow them to add another pitcher to the roster to keep the staff at full strength and avoid putting Harvey into an unfamiliar relief situation, even a low-stakes one. It would open up the possibility of his making a minor league rehab start, and if Las Vegas or the PCL in general isn't desirable due to the hitter-friendly environment and the cross-country travel, the team could choose Class A Port St. Lucie, where its spring training facility is located, or Double A Binghamton, which is only about 200 miles away and would thus require the least amount of travel. A DL move would also give Harvey some cover, as well as some time to mend what is no doubt a battered psyche.
4. Trade him
While this would sate the bloodlust of the angriest contingent of Mets followers and media, it's simply impractical. Harvey's value is at an all-time low point, and there's no reason to accept a pennies-on-the-dollar return for such a high-upside talent who even in the throes of a dreadful slump can touch 98 mph with his fastball. Mets ownership and general manager Sandy Alderson aren't going to travel this route at this time. If they trade Harvey at any point before he reaches free agency following the 2018 season, it will come when his stock is much, much higher and can bring back considerable talent in return.
Harvey's current situation offers no easy answers either for the pitcher or the team, but for the moment, everybody’s staying the course. Still, don’t be surprised if this decision tree is revisited in five days. The Mets, who have lost seven of their last 12 going into Wednesday's series finale against Washington and have slipped out of first place in the NL East, can’t afford to let this situation erode their chances much further.