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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Destined for the Knife

Matt Harvey was bad. The rest of the Mets weren’t much better.

Say this for the soon-to-be-extinct 2017 Mets: when things aren’t going to go well they sure don’t tease you about it. Monday’s 13-1 drubbing was the 18th time they’ve given up at least 10 runs this year — and the fourth time in the last eighth games. When they’re gonna lose, they lose big.

Some of this isn’t worth talking about. Tommy Milone is a fill-in whom it would be pointless to excoriate; rather than blame a ham-and-egger for being what he is, you ask what went wrong to get him so many innings. (Short answer: everything.) Hansel Robles has had a ghastly year, but he’s also a hard-throwing young middle reliever, and middle relief is a spaghetti-at-the-wall affair even in good years.

(Before we move on, it would be wrong not to mention that Giancarlo Stanton hit a ball so hard I wondered if it might knock Loria’s horrific Pachinko machine down. It didn’t, but keep trying, good sir.)

As for Harvey, well. The story has changed in disturbingly rapid fashion from “Can he be what he once was?” to “Can he reinvent himself as a finesse guy?” to “Will the Mets tender him a contract?”

(Spoiler: they will. But hold that thought.)

One thing is for certain: barring some miracle turnaround, when Harvey does leave the team the knives will be out. He’s had too many run-ins with management, too many self-inflicted controversies, too many “one Met said” quotes and too many gossip-page late nights to avoid the kind of day-after-the-transaction story that the New York sports press loves, the one in which an ex-player’s feuds and sins are hauled out of notebooks and hotel-bar sessions and dropped on the page as if they’d always been common knowledge. Total up the number of people Harvey has alienated, his continuing ability to attract clicks and light up phones, his nocturnal habits and the Mets’ penchant for backstabbing players they’ve shed and Farewell Matt Day could set a new standard for ugliness.

But we can be weary of that another day. For now, the Mets have a 2018 rotation to put together. Not so long ago an optimist would have written it in ink; now it’s all pencil and cross-outs and question marks.

Given his misfortunes and potentially diminished ceiling, Harvey might not be the biggest of those question marks. Zack Wheeler‘s 2017 season never really got on track before it fell off it and Steven Matz‘s entire career has been shadowed by misfortune and mismanagement. But he’ll be the loudest and most divisive one — he always has been.

Harvey’s late nights will get the pixels, but what really ought to be discussed is thoracic outlet syndrome. (You can get a head start here and here.) It wasn’t so long ago that we’d basically never heard of it; now we’re learning it’s a killer of pitchers.

That’s only overstating it a little, but only a little. The list of pitchers who’ve had surgery to fix thoracic outlet syndrome is growing; the list of pitchers who’ve come back from it successfully remains stubbornly small. That may not be true forever, but it is today. Your success stories include Matt Harrison, sort of. Chris Young, sort of. Jaime Garcia, sort of. Not exactly like contemplating life after Tommy John, is it?

The hopeful case for Harvey does exist, and it looks like this: Harvey is younger than most pitchers who have gone under the knife for TOS; the surgery to repair it has robbed many pitchers of their location; and the time needed to restore that fine control has often been more than a season. Harvey’s velocity has been all over the place, but the top end isn’t gone; he may keep healing and look like more like the electric pitcher we remember next spring.

The less-than-hopeful case is that Harvey will look like what he is now: a pitcher who can’t reach back for 97 or 98 when he needs it, whose location is a mess more often than not, and who has the additional burden of being a born and bred fireballer instead of a Madduxian trickster. And if that’s the case, the Mets have to ask seriously whether they’re better off paying, say, Chris Flexen the minimum rather than whatever bump Harvey will get in arbitration.

But that’s a 2018 question. It’s dumb to make decisions out of vengeance, whether we’re talking baseball or anything else. There’s no reason for the Mets not to let Harvey’s contract go to arbitration and see how things stand in spring training; if he still looks terrible, they can cut him loose and be on the hook for just a small part of that salary. With every pitcher not named Jacob deGrom a giant question mark, of course they’ll do that.

We never thought it would get this far, but that’s baseball. It’s beautiful and thrilling and ridiculous and cruel. You hope for the former but often endure the latter.

12 comments to Destined for the Knife

  • Will in Central NJ

    Regarding Matt Harvey: is it too early to invoke the Sports Illustrated cover jinx?

  • 9th string OF

    Yeesh. FA market for SPs is pretty bleak. I think it would be great if they could bring in a #1 or #2 and shift everyone back one notch, but I don’t think there’s anyone out there on the market, and the Mets have nothing to trade with.

    I for one haven’t given up on Harvey. I think he probably listened to too many people during his brief heyday and now is stuck not knowing what to do. It looks like his stuff is coming back, but he’s caked in rust, which is why I’m glad they’re pitching him. I think it’ll click at some point, probably right before he elects free agency.

    In the meantime, 2018 is pretty questionable. If Sandy doesn’t leave (I doubt he will), he’ll probably bring in Geren or Scott to manage as they will also do his bidding to the letter, and they will make half-hearted attempts to bring in a 3B and a CF. At the end, they’ll end up bringing in a middling middle relief pitcher and say “we can always get a _____ (bat, SP, RP) at the deadline if we need to.

    So the rotation will stay the same with the same questions, perhaps an extra SP “innings eater”, same questions for Flores, Rivera, Lagares and Nimmo, and starting positions for Smith and Rosario. Not too hopeful…

  • Gil

    I feel bad for Harvey. He’s shot. The game eats a lot of guys.

  • The starting pitching market has what appear to be some very solid options. It’s leading off with Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish. Considering the team’s, ahem, frugality, keep right on looking. There are a few with opt-outs like Johnny Cueto and Masahiro Tanaka. Ditto. Then there are the projects like Michael Pineda. Pass.

    However, as you go further down the list there are two pitchers definitely worth considering — Lance Lynn of the Cardinals and Alex Cobb of the Rays. The 30 year old Lynn has posted ERAs of 2.74, 3.03 and 3.09 the last three years and is currently earning $7.5 million. Cobb turned in two consecutive sub 3.00 seasons before missing time due to surgery. He’s bounced back this year to a 2.3 WAR although the 3.63 ERA indicates some rust is still there. He’s 29 and currently earns $4.2 million.

  • LeClerc

    Meanwhile, Aoki continues to rake.

    • Eric

      Aoki at bat is the return of Daniel Murphy, Mets version. He has a consistent track record. If Aoki was 5-10 years younger, especially with his old speed, bringing him back as a solid 4th outfielder would be a no-brainer. As is, he’s making a good case to be brought back.

  • Eric

    If Harvey had won WS game 5, even if he had the same 9th inning but his teammates had picked him up, instead, and even if the Royals had defeated deGrom in game 6, the soap opera stuff would have been swept aside.

    I don’t mind Harvey’s bad results, unless they indicate he’s behind schedule for a normal recovery for a MLB pitcher from TOS surgery, which as far as I know, isn’t the case. The Mets aren’t contending and Harvey’s essentially pitching through extended rehab right now, but against MLB hitters. The priority should be to leave Harvey out for his planned schedule of pitches, even if he’s beat up like he was last night.

    Wheeler’s struggle to make it back from his TJ surgery makes me appreciate more that Harvey came back strong from his TJ surgery for the 2015 WS run. I have no reason to believe he isn’t working just as hard to come back from his TOS surgery, especially with his free agency on the line.

  • Left Coast Jerry

    Just wondering if there’s some hidden meaning in the fact that Harvey started the first game after the hurricane in both Houston and Miami.

  • greensleeves

    Thank you, Mr. Fry. faithandfearinflushing is the last refuge for those of us who packed it in some weeks ago and would rather read your recaps than quake at the sight of the half baked bunch who continue to trot out nightly.

    The last two months have been a monumental cringe fest with little cause for hope in the near term.

    Harvey appears to be toast…I don’t know enough about locker room scuttlebutt to say it’s karmic, but you rightly point out a fairly sizeable contingent who won’t shed a tear when he exits. That he’s still young may be his only salvation. I can’t see that happening here.

    Save DeGrom, has there ever been so promising a starting rotation that self destructed this quickly? Yeesh.

  • footballhead

    Speaking of pitching; the current ERA for this Mets team is 28th in the league (out of 30), at 5.02…..The 1962 Mets (which has been the benchmark of horrible pitching); coming in last out of 20 teams, had an ERA of 5.04. The difference was that everyone knew that the original staff would be bad.

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