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?

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today

ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.