It was less than two years ago when New York Mets manager Terry Collins wrestled with the quandary of whether to send Matt Harvey out to start the ninth inning in Game 5 of the World Series with the team leading 2-0. Collins remembers the conversation that he had with Harvey in the dugout.
“I told him that was enough,” Collins said. “And he just came over and said, ‘I want this game. I want it bad. You've got to leave me in.’ I said, ‘Matt, you've got us exactly where we wanted to get you.’
“He said, ‘I want this game in the worst way.’ So obviously, I let my heart get in the way of my gut. I love my players. And I trust them. And so I said, 'Go get 'em out.'"
Harvey gave up a walk and an RBI double before being pulled from the game, and the Royals went on to win the game and the championship with five runs in the top of the 12th inning.
The context around Harvey has changed dramatically since then, but the Mets will soon have another decision with the pitcher. Since that World Series game, Harvey had surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, missed a lot of 2016 and has been out the past two months with a stress injury to his right scapula. Harvey’s average fastball velocity in 2015 was 95.9 mph, the highest of his career; and this year, his fastball averaged 93.9, the lowest of his career.
He will be eligible for arbitration this winter and then free agency in the fall of 2018, and there is zero expectation within the industry that he will sign with the Mets after that. So as Harvey works his way back for a handful of starts at the end of this season, the Mets have options.
They could simply bring him back and plan to plug him into the rotation at the outset of next season, assuming -- like executives of other teams will assume -- that the carrot of free agency will compel him through a winter of work.
They could look to deal him this fall, for what would inevitably be less than an ideal return. Because of Harvey’s recent injury history and two ugly seasons of results, no team would be willing to pay sticker price on the right-hander’s potential; they’d be looking for a bargain, a buy-low gamble. Or they have the option of simply non-tendering him -- easily the most unlikely scenario.
But the Mets know Harvey better than any other team. They know the condition of his arm, they know his work ethic, they know if he has made adjustments to his off-field habits after failing to show up for a game earlier this year and they know his level of confidence. An important question the Mets should ask as they do their roster evaluations at the end of the season is: Do they believe that Harvey is more likely than not to rebound?
If the answer is yes, then their choice is easier than Collins' was in the 2015 World Series: You stick with him. You let Harvey pitch, and if he is pitching well and the Mets flounder, you flip him for prospects before the July 31 trade deadline next season.
But if the folks who run the Mets’ baseball operation department don’t think Harvey will bounce back, then it would seem foolhardy to sign up for another year of him. If they believe he won’t be right physically, if they believe he could be more of a distraction than a help or if they believe that he’s likely to provide more of the same on the mound, they should move on.
Over 2016 and 2017, Harvey has allowed 97 runs and compiled 130 strikeouts in 163 innings. I asked some evaluators and agents this week: If Harvey didn’t throw another pitch this season, what could he get as a free agent on a one-year deal? Most of the projections were in the area of $10 million, with some as high as $12 million, with incentive clauses based on games started. That’s more than what he’ll make with the Mets through his last round of arbitration, so he continues to be seen in the industry as a source of potential.
But the Mets will have their own unique projection on what Harvey will do, and they should act accordingly.
Terry Collins' future: The Dodgers will try to finish off a sweep of the Mets on Sunday Night Baseball (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), with Hyun-Jin Ryu lined up to start against left-hander Steven Matz. According to Fangraphs, the Mets’ playoff chances stand at less than 1 percent, and increasingly, there are questions about the future of Collins, whose contract is set to expire at the end of the season.
That his situation remains unresolved is just one indication that there doesn’t seem to be a clamoring within the Mets organization to retain Collins, and it may well be that -- after seven years of managing the Mets -- he’s ready to move on to something else. Nobody has said anything out loud, one way or the other.
With the trade deadline now in the past and the team increasingly focused on preparing Amed Rosario and others for next season, it would behoove the Mets’ brain trust to arrange a sit-down with Collins and work out a graceful resolution. At 68 years old, Collins -- a baseball lifer -- might prefer to get to the finish line of the season. Or, if the Mets don’t intend to bring back Collins, maybe they could offer him the opportunity to go home for the final weeks of the season. With this much service with the Mets, he should be given the right to choose, and to answer questions directly and honestly about what his future will be beyond the last game of this season.
Darvish tip is a cover: The talk of Yu Darvish tipping pitches in his last start with the Rangers was immediately perceived in other front offices to be a disinformation campaign coming out of the Texas organization. Rival evaluators thought this was just an effort to provide cover for what was an ugly outing at a time when the asking price for him was really high.
The Dodgers dug even deeper on the pitch-tipping theory, reaching out to peers with the Marlins, and were told the Miami hitters -- who rarely see Darvish -- had nothing on the right-hander. Rather, Darvish just had a bad game.
He was a whole lot better on Friday night, dominating the Mets for seven innings in his first start with the Dodgers.
Standout statistics: Through Saturday's games, 53 hitters had achieved 20 or more homers this season, with another third of the year to play. In the entire 2014 season, only 57 batters hit 20 or more homers.
The pitchout was once a weapon deployed with some regularity, but through the apparent reconsideration of the act of intentionally giving away any advantage in the ball-strike count, it has become an endangered species.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts mentioned the lost statistical advantage against the hitter in intentionally throwing a pitch out of the strike zone as a deterrent from calling for a pitchout. The difference between a subsequent 1-0 count, rather than an 0-1 count, Roberts said, is often not worth the gamble of a pitchout.
And Roberts -- who generated his fair share of pitchouts in his time as a renowned base-stealer -- speculated that this might be a sign of a deeper issue: that there are fewer true base-stealers than in the past.
"The probability of a guy stealing, and stealing at a high efficiency rate, has dropped," said Roberts. "For us -- for me -- to call for a pitch out, I just don’t see the value in sacrificing a pitch."
Dodgers' changes for new additions: The Dodgers tried to get Zach Britton from the Orioles, but as those efforts fell short on the last day, L.A. added a couple of lefties -- Tony Watson from the Pirates and Tony Cingrani from the Reds -- with ideas in mind to help the performance of both. With Watson, the Dodgers dug into the sequencing of pitches Watson used in Pittsburgh and believe he could be aided by an alteration. The Dodgers noted that Cingrani’s arm angle with the Reds had dropped about six inches, and in addition to restoring that, they want Cingrani to use his slider more often early in the ball-strike count and pitch in the upper half of his strike zone with his fastball, which has some deception for hitters because of its relatively high rate of spin.
Contreras providing power: The Chicago Cubs' surge after the All-Star break has been built, partly, on the production of Willson Contreras' batting in the cleanup spot. In 27 games in that spot, he’s hitting .324, with 11 homers, 33 RBIs and an OPS of about 1.100.
"I felt among all candidates that he and [Anthony] Rizzo have the best ability to drive in runs," Cubs manager Joe Maddon explained. "Rizzo needed protection while [Ben Zobrist] was out or hitting leadoff."
Contreras, Maddon noted, "was making hard contact, and I also knew he would not change his mindset. More than anticipated."
Baseball Tonight Podcast
Trade deadline: right after the last deals before the trade deadline, we held a roundtable about all the moves that had been made – Keith Law, Tim Kurkjian, Karl Ravech and Jerry Crasnick.
Friday: The Fireball Express of Ravech and Paul Hembekides, about the shifting AL Cy Young race, and Paul Goldschmidt; Tim Keown, on Manny Machado and the Orioles’ chances of re-signing him; Steve Gelbs of SNY on Amed Rosario, Dom Smith, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey.
Thursday: Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich describes the work behind the team’s moves for Pat Neshek and Jonathan Lucroy; Jessica Mendoza, on the future of Justin Verlander; and Boog Sciambi on the Orioles and David Price.
Wednesday: Twins vice president Derek Falvey, on the team’s roller-coaster ride leading up to the trade deadline, and the progress of Jose Berrios and Miguel Sano; Tim Kurkjian on Max Scherzer, and Austin Jackson’s catch; and John Fisher of ESPN Stats & Information breaks down new Dodger Yu Darvish.
Tuesday: Following the trade deadline, conversations with Yankees GM Brian Cashman and Washington GM Mike Rizzo; Keith Law on the Orioles; Sarah Langs plays the Numbers Game.
Monday: Giants manager Bruce Bochy, on the art of running a bullpen and what he learned from future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman; Todd Radom’s uniform and logo quiz; and Jerry Crasnick breaks down the Cubs’ deal for Justin Wilson and Alex Avila.
And today will be better than yesterday.