He Should Pitch in the Playoffs

Maybe we should have named him Ernie. After all, Ernie Davis is dead and therefore unlikely to disgrace himself. Ernie and my dog share a hometown, providing a natural connection. Plus Ernie is a good name for a dog. We went with Harvey instead, as in Mets pitcher Matt Harvey. I knew some of the risks. Jerry Seinfeld named his dog Jose only to have Jose Reyes sign with another team. A trade, another injury, or poor performance could have made my choice unfortunate. I didn’t expect this.

Harvey—the pitcher, not the dog—started last night. (More on that in a subsequent post.) How many more times he will pitch this season is unknown. Mets fans grabbed their blue and orange pitchforks last week when Harvey’s agent, Scott Boras, announced that his client would be adhering to a 180 innings limit this season, his first since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2013. At the time, he was at 166 innings. That meant Harvey would have two more starts—instead of four or five—in the regular season and none in the playoffs the first-place Mets hoped to be a part of.

Harvey spoke to the media on Saturday and did little to quell the outrage. He was crushed by reporters, former players, and fans on social media. The next day, he took to The Players’ Tribune website and posted an entry titled “I Will Pitch in the Playoffs.”

“I am communicating with my agent, my doctor, Sandy and the entire Mets organization,” Harvey writes. “I can assure everyone that we’re all on the same page.” Uhh, not exactly, Matt. In fact, a lack of consensus is the reason this became a story. Boras, who represents Bryce Harper, Prince Fielder, and Troy Tulowitzki, among many other high-profile stars, also represented Alex Rodriguez for most of his career. He thought it was a good idea to announce Rodriguez’s decision in 2007 to opt-out of his Yankees during the World Series. Rodriguez subsequently dumped Boras and negotiated with the Yankees directly. Harvey should consider doing the same.

He should also make good on his blog post title. Sure, it’s easy for me to demand that Harvey pitch. It’s not my arm and it’s not my future money. The 26-year-old is still getting the league minimum and while he’s arbitration eligible next season, he won’t see a huge payday until he hits free agency in 2019.* That’s clearly what Boras is thinking about. It’s what he was thinking about when another of his clients, Stephen Strasburg, was shut down in 2012 when the Nationals were in nearly the same spot as the Mets are this year. I criticized the decision at the time and again in hindsight.

*I mean this in relative baseball terms and am in no way devaluing the $600,000 minimum salary or $5-$7 million he’ll get in arbitration next year.

My thoughts regarding Strasburg, and now Harvey, boil down to this: The window of opportunity for a dominant pitcher in particular and a team in general is unknown, so that window should never be lowered voluntarily. What made the Harvey backlash different from Strasburg’s is that it was directed at the player instead of the team. The Mets want Harvey to continue to pitch. Harvey and/or his agent are not as certain.

And what’s their end game? Money, obviously, and that’s fine. But the logic doesn’t hold up. If Harvey is unwilling to compete because he wants to preserve his health in order to get a big contract down the road, what incentive would a team have to sign him knowing that he only cares about money? Once he gets a big contract, why would he continue to compete?

Perhaps Harvey and Boras eventually came to the same conclusion, hence the blog post. Or maybe the social media backlash forced their hand (Mets manager Terry Collins said this was a possibility).* Of course, Harvey should have known this reaction was inevitable.

*Do we live in a crazy world or what? It’s now impossible for anyone to be tone deaf to public perception, especially in sports. If you do something that fans disagree with, you are going to find out quickly. Harvey didn’t have to wait to return to Citi Field to see signs with his face that read, “I’ll Be Here for Playoffs. Will You?” He just had to log on to Twitter and see what had to be thousands of nasty comments.

I am not mad at Harvey and I hope he remains a Met for his entire career. Unlike many other fans, I’m not panicking about his innings limit until he is actually shut down. I believe the Mets will continue to do what they’ve done all season—skip a start here, deploy a six-man rotation there—to protect Harvey and the other young pitchers.* I believe that he will pitch in the playoffs, as he says.

*And let’s not forget that we’re all just assuming any of this is preventing injuries. We—and that includes Scott Boras—still don’t know why certain pitchers need Tommy John and others don’t, nor do we understand the best post-surgery regimen. The Mets, infamous for mishandling injuries, have been more than cautious with Harvey this season. Remember, he supposedly wanted to return last September but the Mets didn’t let him.

Even months ago, several people “jokingly” suggested I change my dog’s name to Matz or Thor or, more recently, Yoenis. For now, at least, I don’t regret my choice.

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