David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
BOSTON - Sandy Alderson sounded as relieved as a general manager could possibly be Friday upon hearing that his franchise pitcher, Matt Harvey, finally decided to have Tommy John surgery.
Not exactly a dream scenario, we know. But once it was revealed that Harvey suffered a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament, the clock began ticking on that elbow, and the Mets much preferred to take their medicine now rather than at an unspecified date in the future.
The hard part was getting Harvey to swallow it, and Alderson admitted Friday he was uncomfortable nudging his ace toward the operating room. Ultimately, the decision to have surgery is Harvey's alone, and it's not one to be taken lightly -- especially for someone whose career is riding on the outcome.
What Harvey eventually realized -- helped by the passage of time and perhaps a little coaxing by his agent, Scott Boras -- is that all the parties involved would be better off dealing with this now. From Harvey's perspective, he's only 24, and with the usual 12-to-15- month rehab schedule, he should be back putting up numbers again in 2015 -- in time for his first shot at arbitration in 2016.
For the Mets, losing Harvey for any length of time is a crushing blow. But after absorbing the initial shock in August, they already were moving ahead with the idea of not having him for 2014 anyway.
What worried them was stretching this whole thing out, letting Harvey try the non-surgical route and then discovering he needed the procedure midway through next season, further messing with Alderson's plan to deliver a contending team to Flushing.
It's not as though Alderson was doing cartwheels Friday. Putting Harvey on the shelf seriously derails the 2014 blueprint he's been crafting since taking over the job. But for a team with plenty of things on their offseason to-do list, getting Harvey squared away allows Alderson to proceed with a degree of certainty he didn't have earlier this week.
"Based on the conversations that I had with both of the doctors, I felt this would be the right decision," Alderson said Friday during a conference call. "In that sense, I'm happy that Matt has reached the same conclusion."
Keep in mind, this was not your typical boss-employee dynamic at work here. Despite Alderson's educated opinion, derived from what the doctors told him, it's not as if the GM could lean on Harvey to take this course to recovery. Harvey is the best thing to happen to the Mets since David Wright, and with a player of that stature, the team's decision-makers have to grant him a wide berth.
We're talking about a potential Cy Young winner here, a guy the Mets must keep happy. So if Harvey wanted to put off the surgery, for however long, Alderson really had no choice but to sit around with his fingers crossed.
At it turned out, Harvey never even got to the throwing part of his rehab before opting to set up a surgery date with Dr. James Andrews, one of the best in the business.
While there are no guarantees with any type of operation, the only thing Harvey and the Mets knew for sure is that he was going to need the surgery sooner or later. At his age, and in his condition, Harvey should be an ideal candidate to return at the same elite level he reached this season, when he finished with a 2.27 ERA and 191 strikeouts in 1781/3 innings.
"I'm an optimist," Alderson said. "I think we're confident that he'll come back successfully.''
Kudos to Alderson for keeping a positive outlook. That's been difficult to do in recent years for anyone associated with the Mets, from the front office to the most diehard fans.
Harvey became a beacon of hope for the rebuilding club and its downtrodden fan base this year, only to see his season extinguished before September. By further delaying what many considered inevitable, Harvey almost made it feel worse.
At least that part is over. And once the surgery is finished, we can all go back to charting Harvey's progress and crossing off the days until he's back on the mound at Citi Field.
It's going to be a while. But if you're an optimist like Alderson, think of it this way: Thanks to Friday's decision, when Harvey does return, it will be for much longer than it might have been.