In 2015, starter Matt Harvey and the Mets nearly reached the pinnacle of greatness, reaching the World Series but ultimately losing it in five games to the Royals. Harvey burst into the scene as a 23-year-old rookie in 2012, making 10 effective second-half starts. He followed that up with an even better sophomore season, finishing fourth in NL Cy Young Award balloting. Sadly, Harvey needed Tommy John surgery on his valuable right elbow, costing him his 2014 season.
The interruption in Harvey’s career, right as it was about to take off, was huge. Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martínez saw tremendous potential in the right-hander, telling Duke Castiglione of Fox 5, “I think that he has more talent than I do, and he has better chances to do better than I did.
2015 was great for the Mets from the very beginning. With Harvey back in the rotation, the club jumped out to a 13-3 start and permanently took control of the NL East in early August. Through August, Harvey put up a 2.48 ERA with 149 strikeouts and 33 walks across 160 innings spanning 24 starts.
Before Harvey made his next start, the first of September as the Mets attempted to maintain their NL East lead, his agent Scott Boras spoke up about an innings limit. Citing Dr. James Andrews, Boras suggested to GM Sandy Alderson that Harvey had a limit of 180 innings including the postseason. Harvey, at the time, was at 160 innings. The Mets and Harvey’s camp bickered publicly. Fans and many in the media turned against Harvey. Nevertheless, Harvey pitched an additional 29 1/3 innings in the month of September, running his innings total to 189 1/3. He was not limited in the postseason, making four starts totaling 26 2/3 innings to bring the sum to 216.
Harvey’s elite pitching and the controversy made him a household name. He appeared on late night talk shows including The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and The Daily Show. Harvey was followed incessantly by New York tabloids, which reported his late-night exploits which would become a problem. The rift between the right-hander and the media continued to widen.
Harvey also experienced further arm issues. After compiling an ugly 4.86 ERA through his first 17 starts of the 2016 season, the Mets shut him down due to thoracic outlet syndrome for which he needed season-ending surgery. Things began to further unravel in 2017. In early May, Harvey was a no-show at Citi Field and the team suspended him three games as a result. Rumors began to swirl as to what the reason could have been. Then-manager Terry Collins was asked by Jared Diamond of The Wall Street Journal if Harvey’s teammates respect him. Rather than respond with an easy “yes,” Collins said, “I can’t answer that. I don’t know.” Teammate José Reyes criticized Harvey publicly, as did former Mets Paul Lo Duca and Bob Ojeda. Ojeda described the relationship between Harvey and the Mets as “toxic.” The New York Post’s gossip page later reported that Harvey didn’t show up to the stadium because he had been out partying until 4 AM the night before.
Not long after that controversy had been forgotten, Harvey was placed on the disabled list (as it was known then) due to a stress fracture in his scapula. He missed the second half of June as well as the entire months of July and August. He returned in September, but had nothing left. Opposing batters took him to the cleaners, pounding out 28 earned runs over 22 1/3 innings.
Following the 2017 season, there were rumors that the Mets would try to trade Harvey for whatever they could get, or they might just non-tender him. Nothing materialized and Harvey began the 2018 season wearing a Mets uniform. It was more of the same, though. After four starts, Harvey had given up 14 runs in 21 innings, so the Mets demoted him to the bullpen, but that didn’t help any. In four relief appearances totaling six innings, Harvey surrendered seven runs.
It was obvious to everyone that Harvey and the Mets needed to part ways. The New York media continued to beat up on him, in part because he at times refused to answer questions. Things were, as Ojeda put it, “toxic.” The Mets tried to send him to the minor leagues, but Harvey – as was his right – refused, so the club designated him for assignment. The Mets finally found a taker in the Reds, swapping him for catcher Devin Mesoraco and cash on May 8 two years ago.
Harvey pitched marginally better in his four and a half months with the Reds, authoring a 4.50 ERA with 111 strikeouts and 28 walks over 128 innings. It was a far cry from the numbers he posted in his mid-20’s, but it was the first time he logged 20-plus starts since that magical and controversial 2015 season.
Mesoraco put up average numbers for the Mets in 2018. The club re-signed him to a minor league deal for the 2019 season, but he didn’t make the Opening Day roster. He opted to retire rather than accept a demotion to Triple-A Syracuse. Harvey, meanwhile, latched on with the Angels on a one-year, $11 million contract, but it became evident he was a shadow of his former self. Over 12 starts with the Angels, Harvey served up 47 earned runs in 59 2/3 innings, good for a 7.09 ERA. The club released him in July, shortly after the All-Star break. The Athletics inked him to a minor league deal weeks later but nothing materialized.
Harvey hasn’t called it quits. He reportedly worked out for the Blue Jays in February before coronavirus shut the league down. He is only 31 years old and while his best days are certainly behind him, there are examples of pitchers having successful careers even with hiccups along the way. That being said, it’s one thing if a pitcher’s troubles are solely linked to injury or mechanical issues; it’s another thing entirely if a player comes with additional baggage like Harvey, so it would be surprising if he ever makes it back to the majors.