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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2018 — No. 25: Matt Harvey’s weird year

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We’re a few short days away from 2019 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2018. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

A few short years ago Matt Harvey was considered the top young pitcher in the game. His stuff was wicked. His swagger, undeniable. Then came injury, then postseason near-heroics, then controversy and more injury and more controversy. During the 2017-18 offseason, the Mets were engaged in half-hearted trade talks with various clubs for their former ace, but nothing came of it. Harvey and the Mets began the 2018 season with both parties likely realizing they weren’t long for one another.

Harvey, surprisingly, hit spring training in decent physical shape, which began talk of a possible Harvey Renaissance. At times in February, March and in his first start in early April he looked alright too. Maybe The Dark Knight was back to his old form?

Nah. In a string of three starts in mid-April he allowed 14 runs on 25 hits in 16 innings. By late April, manager Mickey Calloway would not commit to Harvey taking his next turn in the rotation. And, in fact, he would not start for the Mets again. He would make four more appearances in a Mets uniform after April 19, all in relief. He fared poorly in the role and fared even more poorly in the clubhouse and in the press.

A report emerged that, on the night before his second-to-last appearance as a Met, in San Diego, he was seen partying into the wee hours in Los Angeles. He refused to answer questions from the press, which angered teammates who then had to answer for him. He also refused a minor league assignment by the Mets, which led to the team designating him for assignment in early May. Somehow, four days later, a team actually gave up a major league player in a trade for Harvey. The team was the Cincinnati Reds, who sent Devin Mesoraco to New York for him.

Most people assumed that Harvey would fare poorly in Cincinnati. The town is not exactly party central and a baseball player is not likely to find himself a media star there absent some on-field heroics. That’s not exactly Harvey’s style, so many figured he’d take his trade to Cincinnati as an exile and sulk his way out of the league. More significantly, Great American Ballpark is not a pitcher-friendly park, and given Harvey’s limited stuff, it was expected he’d be shelled back to the Stone Age in a Reds uniform.

Then a funny thing happened: Harvey got better.

No, he did not transform himself back into an ace, but he was a useful pitcher in Cincinnati, starting 24 games, striking out more batters per nine innings than he had since the Mets pennant-winning season in 2015 and, most importantly, staying out of trouble. Indeed, there were several occasions over the summer when I’d look at a Reds box score, see that Harvey put up at least a serviceable line and think to myself, “oh yeah, him.” He kinda disappeared from the press which, given how he had been appearing in the press, was probably a good thing.

More importantly, Harvey would routinely give the Reds 5-6 innings when some of their other starters got got knocked out in three, seemingly every game. Were they always good innings? Nah. But he was a pitcher again and not a sideshow. When the dust settled on 2018, Harvey had pitched 155 innings in 32 games. It was an honest year’s work, all the more impressive given how stormy things were for him in late April and early May.

Less than two weeks ago, Harvey parlayed his bounce back 2018 into a nice deal with the Angels. They’ll pay him $11 million in 2019 and will, presumably, slot him in the rotation from Day 1 in spring training. He now has the chance to put up a full season in a lower key media environment in a division in which he’ll face two rebuilding teams and one team in a super pitcher-friendly park on several occasions. If the Angels can hide Harvey from the Astros and if he stays healthy, he might make himself even more money next winter.

But that’s the thing with Harvey: you never really know, do ya?

Report: Mets sign Brad Brach to one-year, $850,000 contract

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The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports that the Mets and free agent reliever Brad Brach have agreed on a one-year deal worth $850,000. The contract includes a player option for the 2021 season with a base salary of $1.25 million and additional performance incentives.

Brach, 33, signed as a free agent with the Cubs this past February. After posting an ugly 6.13 ERA over 39 2/3 innings, the Cubs released him in early August. The Mets picked him up shortly thereafter. Brach’s performance improved, limiting opposing hitters to six runs on 15 hits and three walks with 15 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings through the end of the season.

While Brach will add some much-needed depth to the Mets’ bullpen, his walk rate has been going in the wrong direction for the last three seasons. It went from eight percent in 2016 to 9.5, 9.7, and 12.8 percent from 2017-19. Needless to say the Mets are hoping that trend starts heading in the other direction next season.