Just two years ago, Matt Harvey was on top of the world. Despite Tommy John surgery in 2014, he looked like his old self in '15, posting a 2.71 ERA and 188 strikeouts in 189 1/3 innings. He had helped the Mets win their first pennant in 15 years as part of the game's best young rotation and briefly staved off elimination in Game 5 of the World Series (only to lose it in the ninth). He was 26 years old and in the prime of his career, and a big payday was on the horizon; after the 2018 season, he would enter the free-agent market as arguably its best available pitcher, ready to command a contract worth $100 million or more.
Fast forward to today, though, and all the optimism surrounding Harvey is gone. After struggling in the first half and then missing the back half of the 2016 season due to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, Harvey has spent most of '17 either on the disabled list with arm troubles or on the mound getting his brains beaten in. His ERA on the season is an appalling 6.59. Since returning from the disabled list at the beginning of September after missing two months due to a stress fracture in his shoulder, he's been torched for a 13.19 ERA in 14 1/3 innings. On Monday night in Miami, he was lit up for seven runs on 12 hits (including this majestic home run by Giancarlo Stanton) in just four innings in an eventual 13–1 defeat. In the start before that in Chicago, he was tagged for five runs in 3 1/3 frames in a 17–5 loss.
After his dismal outing against the Cubs, a furious Harvey ripped himself in his post-game comments, telling reporters, "It was terrible. I have to be better and that's about it ... It's extremely frustrating." But after his shellacking at the hands of the Marlins last night, a more resigned Harvey sounded like he was simply ready for a long offseason as far away from baseball as humanly possible:
“There is nothing to say,” Harvey said. “It’s terrible, not fun, there is no reason for questions [from reporters], there are no answers. You are going to write what you are going to write, anyway. Obviously it’s deserved, so whatever you want to write, but there is nothing to say.”
Harvey's time in New York has never felt anything short of a saga, one full of highs, lows, and idiotic interludes by both team and player. Pessimistic Mets fans (read: all Mets fans) will tell you that a result like this was practically destined for this eternally star-crossed franchise. While the doom and gloom of the Flushing faithful may feel overblown at times, it's not like anyone should be surprised that Harvey is reaching a breaking point. After all, this is a player who suffered a serious arm injury, was subsequently asked to push himself through 200-plus innings the year after elbow surgery, then suffered an even more serious arm injury as a result. The prospects of a full recovery from the second injury are decidedly slim, and now Harvey is one of the worst pitchers in baseball.
But that doesn't make what's happened to Harvey any less sad or any less ruinous for the Mets, who two seasons ago were the envy of every general manager in baseball for their cost-controlled super rotation that is now in pieces. Harvey is broken; Steven Matz seems completely unable to stay healthy; Noah Syndergaard has missed most of the season with an arm injury of his own. Only Jacob deGrom remains standing and still productive, but his terrific 2017 was all for naught as the Mets careen toward 90-plus losses. Worse, he's now one year closer to free agency (which arrives after the 2020 season) and about to get decidedly more expensive through arbitration, barring a multi-year extension worked out this offseason—and that seems unlikely for a franchise that isn't exactly flush with cash or eager to spend what little it seemingly has.
As for Harvey's future in Queens, it feels very tenuous. The 28-year-old (he turns 29 in March) is due a raise in arbitration this winter in what will be his final team-controlled season with the Mets, and while he'll likely only get a slight bump from the $5.125 million he's making this year, the always-cost-conscious Mets may decide that any amount is too much for a pitcher who looks as bad as Harvey has. Getting something in return for him is a non-starter: His trade value will be close to zero coming off such a dismal year and with free agency looming after 2018. And even if he bounces back next season, all that means is that he'll be more likely to depart than to stick around. New York's front office will likely spend their money on locking up deGrom and Syndergaard long-term rather than investing in the decline phase of a 30-year-old with a history of arm problems. And as for Harvey, if 2018 follows the same path as '17, he'll find himself with no suitors and a bleak outlook.
There's no new lesson to be learned from Harvey's collapse, only a reinforcement of the age-old truism that pitchers break, and sometimes they break especially bad. You can look at his decline as another portion of the Mets' World Series window, seemingly wide open after their championship run, inching ever closer to fully shut. You can look at it as bad luck, or you can blame the Mets' medical malfeasance, or you can blame Harvey himself. But there's no possible way to look at Harvey last night, laboring in the Miami heat and getting tattooed by a bad Marlins team, and not feel like those heady October days of 2015 were a lifetime ago.