The time had come for the Mets to say goodbye to Matt Harvey
NEW YORK — Matt Harvey was long gone by the time the New York Mets designated him for assignment Friday, so there was no farewell image of a once-great pitcher misting up before the cameras or cleaning out his locker.
The end came three hours before the Mets’ series opener against Colorado, when general manager Sandy Alderson settled in at a news conference and calmly recounted the events of the day.
Alderson looked tired from the strain of a rough week. And he sounded conflicted when he referred to Harvey as “an appealing, likable and vulnerable individual,” and insisted that a part of him is going to miss having Harvey around the team each day.
“I try not to let emotion interfere with decision-making, but empathy is part of making decisions,” Alderson said. “I like Matt, in spite of all the stuff that’s gone on.”
It’s natural to assume the Mets felt a surge of relief upon cutting their ties with Harvey. He has become too high maintenance to justify carrying him — too flawed a pitcher to turn around with a little tinkering here and there — and a refresher course in the bullpen wasn’t about to change the dynamic.
While the pragmatist in Alderson knew it was time for a clean break, the baseball historian in him had to feel a sense of remorse over a once-promising relationship turned to dust. When Harvey arrived in New York in 2012, he embodied the dreams and aspirations of a Mets’ fan base that put its faith in the power of young starting pitching. Think back to the surge of electricity when Harvey struck out 11 batters in 5 1/3 innings in his major league debut, or when he walked into the room as the National League’s starting pitcher in the 2013 All-Star Game at Citi Field. He elicited Tom Seaver comparisons for his drop-and-drive style and Dwight Gooden comps for his ability to make an entire city stop and watch every fifth day.
The four days in between were interesting too. When Harvey wasn’t posing for ESPN The Magazine’s the Body Issue or dating a Russian supermodel, he was sitting on Jimmy Fallon’s couch or roaming the city for hours on end to indulge his fascination for all things New York.
But the reality is, there haven’t been many magical moments for a while now. The last one came in the 2015 World Series, when Harvey talked manager Terry Collins into letting him finish off a potential shutout against the Royals in Game 5. Kansas City rallied, the Mets’ season ended, and Harvey added thoracic outlet syndrome surgery to his list of medical maladies the following season.
All too often the moments have been regrettable, exasperating or downright maddening. Harvey taxed his relationships with his teammates and management to the breaking point with acts of immaturity and an obliviousness to public perception. He tweeted a photo of himself flipping the bird several months after Tommy John surgery, missed a team workout during the 2015 National League Division Series and received a three-game suspension for violating team rules in May 2017. It was always something.
In the end, injuries killed Harvey’s chances of reaching his potential in New York. Harvey is on a short list with Chris Carpenter, Shaun Marcum and Jaime Garcia among pitchers who’ve had an elbow reconstruction and thoracic outlet syndrome over the past decade. Noah Lowry never pitched after TOS in 2009, and Tyson Ross returned in a greatly diminished state.
Harvey’s 92.5 mph fastball velocity is still enough for him to succeed with good command and a plan, but it’s going to take a commitment. The Mets didn’t envision Harvey going to Triple-A Las Vegas, making three or four starts and returning to New York to find a rotation spot waiting for him. They saw mechanical flaws that required the type of top-to-bottom remake that Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay embraced upon going to the low minors to get their careers on the right path. Harvey simply wasn’t willing to take that step.
It was telling Friday when Alderson said that Harvey leaves himself open to people that he knows and “semi-trusts.” If Harvey is going to remake himself in this free-agent walk year, he would rather do it with a clean slate, rather than in a tired environment where all the parties are laden with too much historical baggage.
Wherever Harvey goes from here, he won’t find a much better support system than he had in New York with pitching coach Dave Eiland and manager Mickey Callaway, who had so much success with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and others in his previous tenure with the Cleveland Indians. Callaway disputed the notion that Harvey never bought into giving it a try in the bullpen. And he and Eiland are both taking it personally now that things have failed to work out as hoped.
“We feel like we failed Matt Harvey,” Callaway said. “I think our job is to help every player, and it’s not a good feeling when you can’t.”
Callaway is being too hard on himself. Matt Harvey got hurt, the magic of 2012 and 2013 disappeared, and all parties involved were ready for this union to end. Even if Harvey and Mets management had distinctly different visions for his future, they were in agreement on one thing: The time had come to say goodbye.