The New York Mets designated Matt Harvey for assignment on Friday. This announcement generated shock waves throughout baseball, and for good reason. Harvey was the next big thing several years ago, one of the headliners of a Mets rotation that reached the World Series earlier than it should have in 2015. Harvey was even better before that, a frontrunner for the 2013 NL Cy Young award before a UCL injury struck him down late in the year. Detroit Tigers fans will remember his duel with eventual AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer that year, when Harvey came up on the losing end of a 3-0 scoreline.
That Harvey might be no more. though. Harvey missed all of 2014 with Tommy John surgery, but came back into form with a strong 2015 season. Since then, however, he hasn’t been the same pitcher. He has a 5.93 ERA in 212 1⁄3 innings over the past few years, and has dealt with several injuries in the meantime. The worst of those was thoracic outlet surgery, which he underwent in 2016 following a rough season of declining velocity and persistent symptoms in his right arm. He has only thrown 119 2⁄3 major league innings since then, and that once-prodigious velocity has fallen off a cliff.
This alone should be Reason No. 1 for the Tigers not to pursue Harvey now. Thoracic outlet surgery is nearly undefeated — only 20 or so pitchers had undergone the surgery since Harvey had it, and he’s one of the more successful cases — and his performance since then offers little reason for optimism. Couple his rough stats with the fact that he’s a free agent after the 2018 season, and there’s little upside for this Tigers team to acquire him.
But should they? I wouldn’t be opposed. Harvey’s upside is practically nil at this point. The Mets are reportedly willing to eat part of Harvey’s remaining salary (about $4.5 million) to move him, presumably in hopes of acquiring a prospect for his services. They don’t seem too interested in outrighting him to their Triple-A affiliate, which happens to be in Las Vegas.
And that brings us to Harvey’s supposed off-field issues. The 29-year-old righthander has reportedly been moody and uncooperative this year, but we haven’t heard much scuttlebutt from him in years prior. This smells like the Mets spinning things in their favor — and throwing Harvey under the bus — in order to make themselves look like the guilty party. I would imagine that Harvey’s “problems” are wildly over-reported, partly thanks to a over-stimulated New York media market.
But the on-field stuff? I’m not beating down anyone’s door to get him. Harvey’s velocity is way down, and he hasn’t looked anything like the pitcher that mowed through MLB lineups in 2013 and 2015. Could he still have something left in the tank? Sure. Atlanta’s Mike Foltynewicz underwent the same surgery in 2015, and is averaging over 95 miles per hour this season. It’s possible for a pitcher to come back. However, Foltynewicz never suffered the same drastic velocity drop that Harvey did, and was three years younger than Harvey when he had the surgery (yes, even in your 20s, those few years count).
I wouldn’t be mad if the Tigers acquired Harvey for a minimal cost. If they want to claim him now and see what happens? I’m all for it. So long as they don’t give up actual prospects for a rental with a long history of arm trouble — even a young one with (basically) a Cy Young pedigree — I can’t complain.