The decision to dump Matt Harvey went way beyond baseball for the Mets. This wasn’t strictly business. There was a personal aspect, too, given the history between team and pitcher. How could it be taken any other way?
Other than Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, the Mets’ rotation has been terrible, with at least two vulnerable spots belonging to Zack Wheeler (5.79 ERA) and Steven Matz (4.98). Despite a 16.20 ERA after two starts, Jason Vargas gets a pass for now, because he was just signed to a two-year, $16-million deal and is coming off surgery to repair his right (non-pitching) hand.
Problem is, the Mets were too hasty in demoting Harvey to the bullpen in the first place, and that again points to the personal animus between the two sides. Wheeler or Matz could have been optioned to the minors without their permission, allowing Harvey to be kept around to work through his problems while remaining a starter. By the time the Mets asked Harvey on Friday to go to their minor-league complex, they already knew what the answer would be.
Sandy Alderson, for what it’s worth, suggested that Harvey can regain some of his missing talents.
“I think that’s possible,” Alderson said. “I think we felt that. Our only real option to create a change of scenery was to get him somewhere in our minor-league system. I think there are a lot of issues that come with him and his experience in New York that perhaps a change of scenery will help. But I certainly hope so. We felt that it was worth trying ourselves.”
Only to a certain extent, of course. But if Harvey truly has something left — he’s only 29 — what’s next for him? Or more appropriately, where is next?
The Mets officially designated Harvey for assignment Saturday, so they either can trade him in a week or he will become a free agent May 12.
A trade appears unlikely. Harvey is owed roughly $4.46 million for the remainder of this season, and the way teams have been tight-fisted with cash lately, he won’t be considered a wise investment, not with a 6.00 ERA and .849 OPS in four starts. A smarter plan would be to scoop him up as a free agent, with the new team responsible for the $545,000 minimum and the Mets remaining on the hook for that prorated part of his $5.63-million salary for 2018. Harvey is attractive at that bargain rate.
“I can’t really speculate on how complicated it would be to make a trade,” Alderson said. “My guess is that there are people out there who are willing to take a shot on Matt Harvey. We’ll see.”
So who are those people? During the DFA period, teams don’t tend to tip their hand as they wait out the process. But Alderson is correct in saying someone would take the risk on him as a reclamation project, even after the Mets jumped ship.
Here’s a look at a few potential suitors for the pitcher formerly known as the Dark Knight.
1. YANKEES. Doc, Darryl and the Dark Knight? It doesn’t happen very often, but the Yankees do have a history of going the reclamation route with a few Flushing icons, and Harvey no doubt would enjoy thumbing his nose from the Bronx. The Yankees don’t have great rotation depth in the minor leagues, and with Jordan Montgomery (elbow) expected to be out for possibly two months, next-man-up Domingo German thins it even further, necessitating Justus Sheffield’s promotion to Triple-A Scranton. Makes a lot of sense as long as Harvey stays on his best behavior.
2. RANGERS. Texas, at 13-21, seems to be going nowhere fast. But giving Harvey a chance to fix himself under the tutelage of his former guru, Dan Warthen — now the assistant pitching coach for the Rangers — could make him an attractive trade chip as the deadline approaches.
Maybe that’s a stretch, but the Rangers currently have 44-year-old Bartolo Colon in the rotation, and he has a 5.03 ERA in the three starts since his no-hit bid against the Astros on April 15.
3. DIAMONDBACKS. Harvey made his MLB debut at Chase Field in 2012, so there are a few good memories for him in the desert. Plus, the D-backs have developed some glaring holes in the rotation, with Robbie Ray on the disabled list with an oblique strain and Taijuan Walker already lost for the season because of Tommy John surgery.
4. GIANTS. Another contending team dealing with rotation issues, and pitcher-friendly AT&T Park would help keep Harvey’s poorly spotted fastballs inside the fences.
Madison Bumgarner has been on the disabled list since spring training with a broken hand and has only begun playing catch, meaning he could be at least another month away from a return. Johnny Cueto’s season could be in jeopardy as he awaits further tests on an ailing right elbow that might require surgery.
5. MARLINS. Why not? The low-cost Harvey has a potentially high upside for an attendance-starved franchise that might get a few extra customers through the turnstiles based on his Mets pedigree alone. The Marlins are drawing a little more than 11,000 per game, so it couldn’t hurt. Also, CEO Derek Jeter has shown affection for Harvey in the past, if you count making him the NYC bureau chief of The Players’ Tribune. The two attractions for Harvey: South Beach and maybe getting a few shots at the Mets.
6. ANGELS. Harvey has an affinity for SoCal, as his recent Page Six foray into Beverly Hills illustrated during the Mets’ last road trip to San Diego, and it’s also the backyard of his agent, Scott Boras, who has a field box right behind home plate. The Angels went to a six-man rotation to accommodate two-way threat Shohei Ohtani, but they also are hurting for pitchers to fill those spots, with four of those starting arms already on the disabled list.
7. PADRES. San Diego is the next-best thing to Los Angeles in terms of proximity. The Padres feature a cavernous ballpark and a continuing rebuild, both of which would be suitable for Harvey as he tries to regain his lost confidence. San Diego’s rotation ranks 28th in the majors with a 5.39 ERA, so Harvey’s flaws would hardly stick out.
8. WHITE SOX. As long as Harvey isn’t overly concerned about having a chance at meaningful games this September, the 9-21 White Sox would make for a soft landing spot and might be willing to roll the dice with him. And if Harvey is looking to be off the radar for a bit after getting stressed out in the Citi spotlight, the quieter South Side should grant him that relief.
9. ORIOLES. On the surface, it would appear as though the always rotation-challenged Orioles could use whatever help possible. Even after signing Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb during the offseason, Baltimore has a starting ERA of 5.75 that is the worst in baseball, and Harvey would be a cheap addition. Sticking Harvey in cozy Camden Yards, however, likely would be a nightmare.