As part of our ongoing MLBTR Mailbag series, we’ve decided to begin branching off frequent topics of interest and expanding upon them at greater length than we’d normally spend in one post that answers four to six separate questions. This will be the first of several such posts to follow in the new format, and you can submit questions for consideration here via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why would the Mets not non-tender Matt Harvey? Are 7.00-ERA pitchers with upside really that hard to find? Or is there an emotional/attachment thing going on? — Josh M.
Josh isn’t the only person with this sentiment — especially based on the comments in the wake of GM Sandy Alderson’s suggestion that the Mets will indeed tender a contract to Harvey this winter.
The frustration that Mets fans feel with the performance of the former “Dark Knight” and Harvey’s own frustration (which he’s voiced on multiple occasions) are understandable. To borrow from Harvey’s own blunt self-evaluation, he’s been “terrible all the way around” in 2017 — his first season back from surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome last summer. That operation was the second major surgery in Harvey’s career, as he also had Tommy John surgery following the 2013 campaign.
The attrition rate following TOS surgery seems to be greater than after Tommy John surgery, and Harvey is one of the only pitchers in recent memory to have both operations in such close proximity. Viewed through that lens, this season’s 6.60 ERA through 88 2/3 innings perhaps shouldn’t be all that surprising. Harvey has been working with diminished velocity (though it’s been trending up lately) and has posted career-worst K/9 (6.5) and BB/9 (4.5) marks while averaging 2.03 HR/9. It has not, to put it mildly, been a very good season.
That said, it’s been just two years since Harvey came back from TJS to throw 189 1/3 innings in the regular season with a 2.71 ERA, 8.9 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and a 46 percent ground-ball rate. Harvey further rose to the occasion with 26 2/3 innings of 3.04 ERA ball in the postseason (though Mets fans will forever debate Terry Collins’ decision to leave him in for the ninth inning of a Game 5 against the Royals). Simply put, from 2012-15, Harvey was one of the best young pitchers on the planet. Even his 2016 season, which ended with a disappointing 4.86 ERA and his eventual TOS procedure, featured solid K/BB numbers and a 3.47 FIP.
To the greater point here, it is indeed possible to find passable arms at bargain one-year rates in free agency. However, Harvey is in for at best a modest raise on this season’s $5.125MM salary. Looking back over the past few offseasons, the free agent starters that have signed one-year deals worth less than $6MM include: Clayton Richard, Jhoulys Chacin, Jered Weaver, Trevor Cahill, Tommy Milone, Jesse Chavez, Mat Latos, Tim Lincecum (mid-season in 2016), Henderson Alvarez, Brandon Beachy, Bud Norris and Aaron Harang. Weaver was 34 when he signed his deal (and retired partway through the 2017 season). One could argue that Lincecum or perhaps Beachy carried significant upside, but both were returning from serious injuries, were older than Harvey and were further removed from success than Harvey is now.
Last offseason, Derek Holland signed a one-year, $6MM contract with the White Sox after throwing a combined 203 innings from 2013-16. With all due respect to Holland, his upside isn’t on par with that of Harvey. Meanwhile, Tyson Ross also signed for one year and $6MM after undergoing his own TOS surgery. If Ross was able to find $6MM on the heels of a season he spent entirely on the DL — his lone appearance in 2016 came on Opening Day — that should be an indication that paying a younger Harvey at a roughly comparable rate isn’t exactly an overpay by market standards.
Moreover, if the 2017 season proved anything, it’s that the Mets need to stockpile as many reasonably priced arms and rotation depth options as possible. With injuries to Harvey, Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard, Seth Lugo, Zack Wheeler and Robert Gsellman impacting the staff at various points throughout the season, it doesn’t seem prudent to be cutting ties with a fairly inexpensive young arm. If anything, the Mets will probably aim to bring in some low-cost veterans on minor league deals that could be stashed at Triple-A and emerge as big league options in 2018 should their injury issues persist.