Matt Harvey: blame and absolution for his Mets Knightfall

MLB, Uncategorized

Matt Harvey Reds

As Matt Harvey prepares to make his first major league start Friday in Los Angeles for a team other than the New York Mets, insiders and outsiders have established their positons in the debate as to where it went wrong for him in New York.

In general, one side says that Harvey gave everything he could for the Mets and went beyond personal interests to help the team in its pennant-winning season of 2015. The other blames Harvey for his downfall, asserting that relentless partying, selfishness and arrogance did him in.

The Mets have taken the high road after designating Harvey for assignment and subsequently trading him to the Cincinnati Reds for Devin Mesoraco, thanking him and lamenting the disappointing end.

Harvey has been mostly silent but cryptic, implying that he holds animus against the Mets.

There will never be a meeting in the middle for Harvey, the Mets or those who provide outside assessments as to how it went wrong. What should be remembered, however, is that things in life are rarely so simple as to say one side is right and other is wrong. Without partaking in ignorant rumor, innuendo, gossip and the admittedly slanted positions of the participants, it’s possible for Harvey to be justified in his complaints about the Mets and for him to have sowed the seeds for his own collapse independent of the organization and its handling of him.

From the time at which he arrived on the scene as a young, handsome, gifted athlete, Harvey played hard on and off the field. The extent of his partying and lifestyle choices negatively impacting his on-field performance is known only to his closest intimates. It’s quite possible that he simply liked meeting women, seeing his name in the front of the newspaper as well as the back, and stoked the fires of his own reputation without engaging in truly self-destructive behavior. It’s also possible that he did allow his off-field interests to interfere with his preparation and performance. Or it could be somewhere in the middle.

The two extremes need not be mutually exclusive.

The same armchair experts who are analyzing his mechanics, making statements about his physical issues like they know better than the doctors for the Mets and for the Boras Corporation, and seek to know the unknowable are simultaneously engaging in pop psychological analysis regarding what’s really going on in his head.

Perhaps Harvey would have been better off on the field had he shunned a few late nights. But for some athletes, there is nothing worse than sitting home alone trapped in one’s own head and playing and replaying insecurities that can grow pervasive should they be allowed to fester. The same statements that it was Harvey’s nightlife that was the problem emanate from an arena that also blames his struggles on Tommy John surgery, thoracic outlet syndrome and whatever else. There’s no way to know because there’s no alternative but speculation.

From the outside, it seems the Mets stretched the limited number of rules that today’s athletes live under as far as they have for anyone going back to the lawless days of the Davey Johnson/Darryl Strawberry/Dwight Gooden/Keith Hernandez underachievers and overindulgers of the 1980s.

Apart from preemptively trading him, what could they do other than put up with him and his act to maximize his marketability and production before his inevitable departure? The departure came sooner than expected and in circumstances few could have predicted. There’s more than enough blame to go around even if it’s uncertain exactly where to place it.

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There are no Dave Duncans to fix a Matt Harvey anymore

MLB, Uncategorized

Duncan

Dave Duncan is still around as a pitching consultant for the Chicago White Sox. At 72, it’s unreasonable to expect him to put forth the time and energy necessary to repeat the wizardry that took unfulfilled talent, the injured, and reclamation projects and make them into Cy Young Award winners, All-Stars and Hall of Famers as he did with Bob Welch, Dave Stewart, Mike Moore, LaMarr Hoyt, Dennis Eckersley, Chris Carpenter, Woody Williams, Adam Wainwright, Kyle Lohse and countless others.

However, that’s exactly what Matt Harvey needs. Yet there’s no one to do it for him.

Harvey, designated for assignment by the New York Mets on Saturday, is having his career trajectory dissected to determine exactly where it all went wrong. You can find these stories everywhere with all its authors thinking they and they alone have found the secret or basking in the glory of their innate lack of knowledge as to why he came undone.

There’s no definitive answer.

Fixing him is a different matter and that endeavor will be tasked to someone who will have theories as to how to move forward. In consultation with Harvey and his agent Scott Boras, a plan will unfurl. Either it will work or it won’t. Judging by the reality that every organization is essentially working from a similar playbook with pitching coaches no longer left to their devices and their individual instruction as was the case in Duncan’s heyday as Tony La Russa’s aide-de-camp, the odds are that it will make little difference in Harvey’s future.

The days of the Mr. Fix-It of Duncan are over as organizations make their plans in conjunction with medical recommendations, technological advances and the ever-growing group of individual handlers that seemingly all players have.

In the days of Duncan polishing his reputation as baseball’s preeminent pitching guru, he was largely left to his own devices and entrusted with overseeing the pitchers without interference from a phalanx of others. Pitchers often ended up with La Russa and Duncan because they had nowhere else to go and had reached the point in their careers where it was either listen to what Duncan had to say and implement it or no longer have a career. Desperation breeds sudden flexibility. Duncan’s reputation and the number of pitchers he could count as notches on his belt certainly gave him credibility with the egomaniacal and selfish entity known as the professional athlete.

Whether it was a mechanical adjustment, changes to the pitcher’s repertoire or a mental reprogramming, Duncan carried a reputation of fixing the heretofore unfixable. That he had the opportunity to do so stemmed from a confluence of events that are no longer in place. Teams will not entrust any investment to a single individual and that investment will likely have an army of advisors who are also seeking and demand input.

There are pitching coaches who are well-regarded in today’s game. Ray Searage is viewed as the modern Mr. Fix-It, but that has stemmed from a crafted narrative. His own results have fluctuated and if there were fallbacks or failures as was the case with Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano, the shifting of blame has been rapid and largely eliminated any positives his relationship with those pitchers created. There’s no credit for the good without blame for the bad.

John Farrell, Tom House, Dave Righetti, Mickey Callaway – all are well-regarded and have had success, but none will ever have the cachet that Duncan had of taking pitchers who were broken remnants of what they were and pasting them back together.

Duncan is still around and in baseball, but the landscape has changed. What worked before won’t work now, mostly because the outside influences for the likes of Matt Harvey won’t let it.

The real issue with Matt Harvey’s partying

MLB, Uncategorized

Matt Harvey Screenshot

Ninety-nine percent of you have no idea what professional athletes are doing with their downtime. 99 percent of the remaining 1 percent who do know keep quiet about it because otherwise they would not be able to do their jobs while serving as daily media members regularly around the players; doing their jobs as teammates, coaches and managers who need the players to contribute; owners who pay and hope to profit from them; and those – gossip columnists, public relations people, agents, handlers, cohorts, greenflies and flunkies – whose main function is to facilitate whatever the client wants.

Some athletes, like the Mets’ Matt Harvey, enjoy the nightlife. Some like playing golf. Others prefer to stay in their hotel room or at the ballpark playing Xbox. Still others bring their families with them everywhere they go and prefer as normal a life as possible given the circumstances.

With the size of their paychecks, their age and that they have so much free time on their hands, it’s unavoidable that players will try and find things to do. There’s nothing wrong with that…until the public perceives it as affecting their performance. Yoenis Cespedes’s golf addiction has been viewed as a negative. When R.A. Dickey told his intriguing life story, his sudden burst of fame and loquaciousness grated on some in the Mets organization. When Gary Gaetti became a born again Christian, his transformation from foul-mouthed team leader to evangelical was portrayed as the cause of a fissure in the Twins clubhouse.

This has gone on forever.

Stoked by a media which bases much of its reporting and response as a reverberation to public reaction, intentionally or not, it feeds the fire. If it’s viewed as a problem, it’s a problem even if it’s not the problem.

Harvey’s nocturnal activities have been under scrutiny since his big league arrival in 2012 when he was a relatively unknown and unhyped former first-round draft pick of the prior Mets front office regime led by Omar Minaya. Handsome, swaggering and incredibly talented, Harvey’s production on the field and his natural magnetism led to him quickly being adopted by the tabloids as an heir apparent to their aging former player of choice, the Yankees’ Derek Jeter. As his stature on the field grew, so too did his nighttime exploits. He was celebrated for it.

And it was irrelevant because he was coming through on the field and showed the potential to be the next on and off-field star, more Joe Namath than Jeter.

Since 2016, his career has plummeted faster than it skyrocketed. Blame is allocated in multiple places with the latest being his penchant for late nights and poor optics. Harvey’s reported trip to Los Angeles to go to a nightclub while the Mets were playing in San Diego is another line in Harvey’s long list of “what are you doing?” moments not because he was partying, but because he’s pitching terribly, has lost his job as a starting pitcher, and is heading toward free agency as a reclamation project rather than a superstar acquisition.

The club shrugged off the trip to L.A. in part because it really doesn’t sound like a big deal and in part because what’s the difference? How much worse can he pitch? It’s difficult to envision his on-field struggles stemming from going out and having a few drinks the night before a game when the game isn’t set to start until the next night. It’s just that he’s not very good right now. If he was, the partying would be “Matt being Matt” circa 2015 and not “Matt parties as his career sinks.”

As organizations seek to turn their clubs into corporate structures with chains-of-command, orders being issued from the top down and carried out without question, the fundamental flaw that can never be excised from their version of an ideal structure is that the key employees – the players – are indispensable and paid multiple millions more than the decision makers.

The owner is not replaceable in a conventional sense because the property belongs to him or her until it is sold and they sign the checks.

Some interchangeable front office person, regardless of how good at the job, can be replaced with few noticing the departure over the long term. There are thousands of them using the same formulas. That goes for Billy Beane, Theo Epstein, Andrew Friedman, Sandy Alderson or anyone else. So there’s nothing they can do about a player choosing to stay out all night because they’re making too much money, have guaranteed contracts and are under no obligation to follow orders…until they cannot perform as they did before. But for five or six pitchers, the vintage 2013 Harvey was not replaceable.

The Mets sound as if they know he’s not part of their long-term future and it’s becoming increasingly evident that their season no longer hinges on him. If he gets to the point where the distractions outweigh any possible usefulness, he’ll be gone before the season is over and they won’t miss him.

This has nothing to do with his off-field life.

The odds are that Harvey’s partying is no worse now than it was when he started the 2013 All-Star Game. It’s a perceived problem because he’s no longer an All-Star; he’s figuratively carrying a mop out to the bullpen every day until he shows he deserves another chance at the starting rotation or he’s trustworthy enough as a reliever to be used in key situations and not when the Mets are far behind or far ahead.

It’s a natural human inclination to be nosy. In a culture in which everything is posted on social media, there’s a blatant or hidden agenda for everything, and failures make for more interesting viewing than successes, Harvey is a sideshow — one that will be canceled when it wears out its welcome. He is largely to blame for the attention he receives not because he makes the wrong decisions – who can say what’s right or wrong? – but because the same people who propped him up and turned him into the Dark Knight, lauding him for his style and female companions, are turning on him. None of it was because they liked or disliked him. It was because he was interesting.

In this Kardashian-infested world where talent is secondary to the ability to grab attention and no one admits to watching or paying attention to any of it simultaneous to knowing every single aspect about their lives, salaciousness sells. The shifting of the Harvey narrative does not emanate from a condescending disapproval of his lifestyle, but from his results on the field. When the Mets say it’s not a big deal, they’re not talking in terms of disciplining him or straightening him out. It’s because it doesn’t matter anymore.

Mets’ Harvey and Matz not used to manager Callaway’s tough love

MLB

Callaway pic

For different reasons, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz had rough days on Wednesday.

One day after his first appearance as a relief pitcher since his demotion from the starting rotation, Harvey was curt nasty with reporters who tried to talk to him.

Later that evening, Matz struggled again allowing 7 runs in 3 1/3 innings. 3 of the runs were unearned, but that stemmed from an error by Matz himself, after which he unraveled. Manager Mickey Callaway was cryptic as to whether Matz would make his next start.

Callaway’s tough love approach to Harvey, Matz, Zack Wheeler and everyone on the Mets roster differs markedly from how Terry Collins handled them.

Most athletes who make it to the highest levels in their respective sports are accustomed to special treatment because they were the best at what they did throughout their lives.

Of course, there are exceptions, but when an athlete is selected at or near the top of the draft as Harvey and Matz were, they are granted privileges that lesser players are not. Their role was never in question; their spot never in jeopardy; they always got the job done because they were better than their competition.

It’s not like that in the big leagues. For too long, the Mets treated these players as if it were.

For all the empty talk from managers and front office people about accountability and roles being based on need and performance, Callaway meant it and is acting on it. He doesn’t care what the players think and if they like it.

Seeing through the “player bullshit” and following through on warnings and/or threats is not easy. At times, Collins appeared reluctant to do it, presumably in part because he did not want to repeat the same mistakes that cost him two big league managing jobs, superglued the “raving maniac” label to his forehead, and kept him from another chance to manage in the majors for a decade. The players took advantage of that. Callaway, turning 43 in May, is under no such constraints. In fact, that may be part of the reason the Mets hired him. If the players don’t perform, the team will find someone who will. Draft status, name recognition and talent have nothing to do with it. It’s a change that needed to be made.

The Mets have 3 viable options with Matt Harvey

MLB

Matt Harvey

Matt Harvey’s mechanics are a mess and his confidence is shot. This sounds like a recurring theme because it is a recurring theme.

After another objectively terrible outing against the Braves in Atlanta – six innings, eight hits, six earned runs – Harvey was defiant to the mere suggestion that he might be headed to the bullpen.

Short of that, it’s a mystery as to what else they can do with him. This is the third consecutive year in which the results are identical despite injury excuses, changes, tweaks, new voices, new training tactics and other attempts to recreate some semblance of what he was from 2012 to 2015. It’s not working. Unlike past years, the Mets have major league arms to replace him and are no longer kowtowing to him and his agent Scott Boras. It’s either produce or…what? That’s the question.

It’s silly to say that Harvey is “done” when he can still hit the mid-90s with his fastball. To say that he’s done with the Mets as an effective and useful pitcher is not. Repairing him will take time and work that the Mets, in their current construction, do not have.

The idea of the minor leagues has been floated, but given Harvey’s veteran status and that his approval would be needed for him to be sent down, that will not happen.

As things stand now, the Mets have three alternatives:

1) Give Harvey another start.

2) Send him to the bullpen.

3) Come up with a phantom injury (hamstring tweak; tired arm), disable him while they figure out where to go next, and save him the embarrassment of a demotion.

One thing is certain: if this team has any serious aspirations for 2018, they can’t keep putting this version of Harvey out on the mound.

This is where the situation grows complicated. In the immediate aftermath of Thursday night’s game, Harvey’s insistence that he’s a starting pitcher sounded more plaintive than confident. With manager Mickey Callaway saying that the club is unsure as to whether Harvey will make his next start, this can quickly spiral into a familiar fight between player and club with the main difference being that Harvey’s leverage is gone. If he reverts to the same diva-like behaviors he exhibited in his heyday – behaviors the Mets had no choice but to grit their teeth and accept – and he refuses a move to the bullpen, won’t go to the minors and is openly challenging the new manager and pitching coach, then they must get him out of the clubhouse.

Harvey and agent Scott Boras are smart enough to realize that this situation goes beyond his remaining time with the Mets. He’s auditioning for a job with another team in 2019. Whereas as recently as 2016, he and Boras were expecting a nine-figure bidding war for his free agent services, he’s now staring into the abyss of a one-year contract rife with incentives or even a minor-league contract. With that being the case, the overwhelming likelihood is that Harvey will publicly backtrack on his “I’m a starter” rhetoric, be a team player and say he’ll do whatever is best for the team.

But what’s best for the team? That’s what they’re trying to figure out and there’s no easy answer…if there is one at all.

The clock is ticking on Matt Harvey

MLB, Uncategorized

Matt Harvey pic

After Matt Harvey’s performance on Saturday night, the clock is ticking on his time in the Mets starting rotation. The days of placating him, giving him rope, hoping and waiting for him to regain what injuries and perhaps self-abuse and age-related decline took from him ended when the club moved on from manager Terry Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen. Mickey Callaway, Dave Eiland and the new staff are taking no prisoners and are not letting sentiment interfere with doing what is best for the team and organization. Should Harvey continue to show the same stuff he has in his first three starts, this does not bode well for him.

Brave fronts and sunny assessments aside, Harvey was serviceable and lucky in his first start against the Phillies, mediocre in his second start against the Nationals, and poor at best in his third start against the Brewers. The same relentlessly positive statements about his first start were said whenever he didn’t get blasted in 2016 and 2017. It’s forced and subjective. Certainly, injuries are a part of that, but he has not been consistently good since 2015. He’s bluffing and trying to get by when a pitcher with his talents never needed to do so. As he approaches 30, learning to survive rather than effortlessly dominate will take time and dedication; two things the Mets do not and should not have regarding their erstwhile marquee star.

Ironically, Harvey’s final glorious moment with the Mets was Game 5 of the 2015 World Series when he convinced Collins to allow him to try and finish the complete game shutout, and was left on the mound as the Royals staged a rally to tie the game. The Mets lost the the World Series that night. Since then, for Harvey, it’s been a plummet with that moment, arguably, the first step off the cliff.

But none of that matters now.

The time for blame and search for explanations as to what happened to the guy who looked like a carbon copy of the mid-1980s Roger Clemens and has degenerated into someone’s 2019 reclamation project is over. The Mets are not blameless in what’s happened to Harvey and pinpointing exactly where he and they went wrong is impossible. However, it is inaccurate to absolve him of any role in the affair simply because he’s gutting his way through as best he can and he maintains that level of competitiveness as his abilities have declined so markedly. The late nights, diva-like behavior, inexcusable tardiness to the park, needless disputes between the club with agent Scott Boras as his frontman, endless tabloid drama that he seemed to foster intentionally – and that’s just the stuff that was reported and became public – were all Harvey. If the club bears any responsibility for it, it’s that they let it pass without telling him enough was enough and they weren’t protecting him, nor were they letting him slide because he was “special.”

Eventually, they did suspend him in May of 2017, but by then, what difference did it make? Suspending him earlier in his career would have been for his own good. Suspending him in 2017 was for the club’s own good because then at least he wouldn’t be pitching – and that’s with his replacement for his scheduled start, journeyman Adam Wilk, getting pummeled by the Marlins.

Fortunately for the Mets and not so much for Harvey, the club does not need to keep putting him out there every fifth day, hoping for a miraculous return to glory. They don’t have to concern themselves with getting something from him at any juncture beyond this season. Most importantly, the Mets are no longer stuck in the “we don’t have anyone else” trap. They do have someone else. In fact, they have two someone elses. Zack Wheeler’s encouraging performance against the Marlins on Wednesday could have been an anomaly, but when comparing his stuff to Harvey’s, Wheeler might be able to get away with missing his spots and being the same scatterarmed entity he’s been for his entire career and still be more trustworthy. Jason Vargas will eventually be ready to pitch and he’s entering the starting rotation, period.

Something’s got to give. Someone’s got to go. If, under Callaway, the Mets are adhering to the meritocracy template that Collins often spoke of but rarely followed through upon, then Harvey will need to become a third multi-inning reliever along with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, help as much as he can, wait for the clock to run out on his time with the Mets when both sides can move on.

With Harvey’s pending free agency and the percentage of Harvey and the Mets remaining together beyond this season comparable to the chances of Jennifer Lopez leaving Alex Rodriguez for Michael Kay – theoretically, it could happen, but it won’t – there is no reason for the Mets to put forth any pretense of fixing or showing reverence to Harvey for what he was three-plus years ago. And if this is what he is, a team with the rising expectations that go along with an 11-2 start cannot waste games with Harvey, whose reputation was built long ago with the club not under any obligation to be beholden to it anymore.

This is Matt Harvey. Accept it and move on.

MLB, Uncategorized

Matt Harvey pic

Matt Harvey is trying to have a life comparable to that of Derek Jeter and Tom Brady sans the on-field production. With his latest foray into the gossip columns occurring simultaneous to his on-field future being in flux, it’s time for the Mets to accept that this is what Harvey is. There won’t be an awakening that he needs to focus primarily on his pitching and making as much money as he possibly can in his rapidly approaching free agency. There won’t be a more subdued off-field lifestyle. And there won’t be a “new” Matt Harvey in any way but as a statement that sounds good.

This is not to imply that he should stay home and watch TV, never leaving the house; but the intentional attempt to get his name and face in the gossip columns was growing tiresome when he was at his peak. Now that he’s trying to regain some semblance of what he lost, it’s growing offensive. The attention he gets from the images kissing models and partying late into the night is not a matter of circumstance. It’s intentional quid pro quo. Someone – whether it was the public relations representatives of Adriana Lima, Harvey or both – contacts the columnists and makes sure that the date will garner the desired attention and buzz. This is a fundamental reality of the trade-off between a famous person and the paparazzi. Harvey, however, does not need this type of attention just now. While spring training is essentially meaningless for a veteran player who is just trying to get in shape for the season, for a player – particularly a pitcher – like Harvey returning from a serious injury and two years away from free agency, it minimally behooves him to just show up, stay out of the limelight, do his work and party without the glare of the flashbulbs and the viral media attention endlessly shared in a hollow attempt to play the rock star when it’s unknown as to whether he can hit the same cords he once did.

Harvey has courted drama and the wrong kind of attention for much of his major-league career. The Mets looked the other way and shrugged because of his excellence on the field and that he was the clear star of their universe, for better or worse. Now, though, he’s their fourth starter behind Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz. Should Zack Wheeler prove himself healthy enough to start, Robert Gsellman replicates his surprising 2016 performance and Seth Lugo shows his workmanlike production, Harvey could find himself behind all of them.

The time for granting him passes, laughing and shrugging is over. He wants to be Jeter, but is turning into Bo Belinsky: someone whose fame is due to off-field pursuits rather than as a natural result of on-field performance. To make matters worse, Syndergaard has taken over as the man about town and is doing so in a more media savvy and salable way for himself and the organization.

Eventually, it gets to a point where the drama is no longer self-created as means to an end, but is just who he is. From the Scott Boras demands for Harvey’s innings limits to missing team workouts to the spate of injuries and talk-talk-talk of how he wants greatness but still pops up in the front of the newspaper rather than the back, the Mets are not motivated to placate Harvey or Boras any longer. Protecting him is not in their best interests because signing him to a long-term contract is not happening. He is not the type of person in whom a long-term, $100 million-plus investment is a wise one and every team that considers him will ask itself the hard question of whether he’s going to take the money and lose interest in being a baseball player. By now, it’s clear that the team that does it won’t be the Mets. With that, they need to wring him out, get what they can from him and move forward. Whether that parting of the ways is achieved through a trade or allowing him to leave as a free agent depends on his performance. Either way, he can be someone else’s distraction. It’s enough already.

What separates Matt Harvey from the “I wouldas”

MLB

Perhaps the most appealing thing about New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey isn’t his dominating stuff and his coolest guy in the room attitude, but that he’s the guy in reality that other guys try to portray themselves to be when there’s limited chance of being called on it. He dates bikini models; he threatens giants (Jon Rauch); he effectively straddles the line between obnoxious arrogance and overwhelming confidence; and he’s a gifted talent.

Tuesday night’s victory over the Philadelphia Phillies was indicative of what Harvey is.

So many use the “I woulda” as an example of what “woulda” happened if “I” was in the area when (insert incident here) happened without any basis of truth. In most cases, the “I wouldas” “woulda” done absolutely nothing. That’s what separates Harvey from the rabble inside and outside of baseball.

Harvey is liked and respected throughout baseball, but he doesn’t let that interfere with him doing his job and adhering to the code of what has to be done independent of personalities. There’s no false bluster or empty threats. Chase Utley didn’t appear to be all that bothered about taking one in the back as clear retaliation for his pitcher, David Buchanan, popping two Mets hitters. No one thinks that Buchanan was intentionally throwing at Wilmer Flores or Michael Cuddyer, but that matters only in a very minimal way. The message was sent not just to the Phillies, but to the rest of baseball and the Mets as well: we’re not taking this crap. Utley gets it because he’s old school and essentially plays the same way Harvey does with little bits of gamesmanship like hard tags, quietly snide comments that only the target hears, and take-out slides. Other players might glare or even charge the mound. If that’s the case, Harvey’s attitude is, “Hey, let’s go.”

For too long, the Mets roster was permeated – or pockmarked – with nice guys; guys who think about consequences too much before acting; guys who don’t realize that the long-term benefits of action sometimes outweigh the short-term sanctions that can result. It’s been an issue for years. In 2000, Mike Piazza was hit in the head by Roger Clemens in a mid-season game against the New York Yankees after Piazza had repeatedly demolished Clemens at the plate. The Mets’ retaliation was Glendon Rusch hitting Tino Martinez in the backside.

The Yankees weren’t sufficiently terrified nor all that impressed after a soft-tossing lefty like Rusch hit Martinez in the one place where hitters would prefer to be hit if they’re going to be hit – his butt.

Manager Bobby Valentine debated whether or not to have the next day’s starter Mike Hampton drill Derek Jeter and ultimately decided against it. In a typical Mets moment of in the intervening years from the “street gang/don’t screw with us or else” years of Keith Hernandez, Ray Knight and Darryl Strawberry, the Mets were viewed as cerebral wimps whose lunch money – and postseason money – was there for the taking from baseball’s bullies like Clemens. That’s a long way from 1986 when Knight punched Eric Davis in the face and invited Dave Parker to step into the the next day with Parker (nicknamed “Cobra” for reasons that had nothing to do with baseball) backing down.

Piazza had every right to attack Roger Clemens for flinging the broken bat handle at him in Game 2 of the 2000 World Series. Few doubt Piazza’s ability to wring Clemens’s neck if it came down to that, but rather than acting instinctively, Piazza weighed the possibility of getting ejected from a World Series game and chose not to fight. In the moment, it’s understandable. In retrospect, would Piazza pounding Clemens have spurred the Mets to win the series? There’s no way to know, but the series couldn’t have gone much worse than the Mets losing in five games.

The Mets have been justifiably viewed as soft. That might be why when there’s a gut-check game – Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS; the last games of the season in 2007 and 2008 against the Florida Marlins – they always lost. Even when they tried to retaliate, it was done in a manner that elicited eye rolls and laughter at the Mets being the Mets. In 2002, when the Mets had the opportunity to finally retaliate against Clemens, Valentine had Shawn Estes – who wasn’t even on the Mets when in 2000 – throw at Clemens. And he missed. When David Wright was beaned by Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants in 2009, Johan Santana tried to retaliate by hitting Pablo Sandoval…and he missed too. Then Sandoval hit a home run. That was the pre-Harvey Mets.

The Mets were laughed at because they deserved to be laughed at. They were considered soft because the evidence showed that they were soft. Teams felt they could be pushed around because they could be pushed around.

Matt Harvey’s not soft; he won’t allow his teammates to be soft; and he won’t be pushed around. The message is clear to the other pitchers like Jacob deGrom as well. This is how you protect the hitters.

Reminiscent of former Mets greats Dwight Gooden, Tom Seaver, and even Nolan Ryan and Jerry Koosman, he’s going to throw at you if it has to be done. In 1985 Gooden threw a high-90s fastball over Montreal Expos pitcher Bill Gullickson’s head after Gullickson threw one over his former Expos battery mate Gary Carter’s head. Carter wasn’t popular with his former Expos teammates and nodded knowingly after the Gullickson pitch. Gooden responded.

In the 1969 stretch run, Koosman drilled Ron Santo after Bill Hands knocked Tommie Agee down. Koosman responded.

Two Mets hitters were hit by pitches. Harvey responded. If teams want to fight over it, he’s ready to do that too. Because he’s not an “I woulda.” He’s an “I would.”

And he did.

Matt Harvey vs. Stephen Strasburg: who’s actually better and why?

MLB

The answer lies not in their stats, but in their swagger.

In 2009, Stephen Strasburg came out of San Diego State University as the consensus number one pick in the nation. The Washington Nationals, at the time, were fortunate in that there was very little brain work that needed to be done to find the player they were going to take with that first overall pick. Comparing and contrasting that with what happened to the Houston Astros with Brady Aiken and it’s not to be disregarded how the appearance of a once-in-a-generation talent can help a club to make the decision. When there is debate as to who the number one pick should be, it’s not only about their performance as their careers move along, but how making the wrong pick can cost people their jobs. Had there been another, less heralded prospect available and the Nationals had felt strongly enough about him to shun Strasburg, then it would have been a big story that could either have exploded in their faces or turned into a massive victory. Looking at the 2009 first round, the Nationals might have chosen to take Dustin Ackley – a bust – first overall. Or they might have fallen in love with a player who’d fallen to number 25, Mike Trout.

With hindsight, whom would they prefer? The answer is simple and it’s Trout.

Obviously any team with a conscientious scouting staff and general manager who’s in tune with the realities of developing players will perform due diligence before making the pick. Factors such as physicality, makeup and ability will dictate that “this is the player we want.” It certainly helps to have that consensus number one sitting there so there’s a built-in excuse if he doesn’t make it: “Anyone else in our position would have picked him too.”

The Nationals were lucky to be in that position two straight years in 2009, the year they selected Strasburg, and 2010 when they took Bryce Harper.

Along with that consensus number one status comes a lot of pressure on both the player and the club. That and the combination of recommendations from supposed experts, formulas and paranoia is what led to the Nationals babying Strasburg to the degree they did. He wound up getting hurt anyway, missed a large chunk of the 2011 season after Tommy John surgery, and, in what is now known as a notorious decision, he was shut down at a prescribed innings limit in 2012 as the Nationals were heading toward the playoffs.

Strasburg acted as if he was upset about the shutdown, but he went along with it through the prodding of his agent/puppeteer Scott Boras as well as the Nationals’ staff. Had he truly demanded that the shutdown not have occurred and demanded to pitch, what could the Nationals have done?

Matt Harvey, on the other hand, was a known prospect but wasn’t as obvious a star. Picked seventh overall in 2010 by the New York Mets former front office regime led by the unfairly maligned and savvy talent evaluator Omar Minaya, Harvey was drafted before recognizable names Chris Sale and Christian Yelich. Even as he made his way through the minors, no one knew he’d develop into a pitcher whose attitude and stuff are comparable to a young Roger Clemens.

Amid all of Strasburg’s obvious talent with a searing fastball, knee-buckling curve and superior changeup, there’s a wishy-washiness to him that indicates a troubling lack of intensity and that he’d be just as happy working as a stockbroker making big corporate bucks as he is being a star athlete. To him, baseball appears to be his job and he’s out to maximize the amount of money he makes from it. His agent, that his free agency is pending after 2016, and that the performance hasn’t lived up to the expectations – in large part because of injury and babying – make him a trade target. He’s allowed the subjugation of his personality and career to his agent and bosses. He lets that agent be the hatchet man and his bosses dictate to him how he’ll be used when a true competitor would stand up for himself in ways that Strasburg has been reluctant and unwilling to do.

To Harvey, baseball is not only his job but a means to be famous and recognized as the best at what he does. There’s an attention-whore aspect to Harvey that is irritating many in the Mets organization and leads to public embarrassments after which the team has to do its best to clean it up, but it’s also a way to make the organization money with the now ubiquitous “Harvey Day” promotional device. While it’s Derek Jeter who Harvey purports to emulate, his behaviors have been compared to Jeter’s nemesis and bizarro counterpart, Alex Rodriguez.

Like Strasburg, Harvey needed Tommy John surgery. Strasburg accepted it as a matter of course in a cold, analytical way. Harvey demanded to try and rehab it without surgery so he could pitch. That’s not just a medical plan of action, but an insightful indicator of what makes the two young stars tick.

It isn’t a matter of “Which one’s better?” but of “Which one would you rather have?” It’s not connected to contracts, agents (both are represented by Boras), age, team control, and ability. It’s about who you want on the mound in a big game. Strasburg had more hype coming out of college, but Harvey has the “it” factor in that he would neither allow himself to be shut down as his team is charging toward the playoffs, nor would he let the glare of the post-season spotlight shock him into terror.

Harvey’s nickname is the “Dark Knight of Gotham” and he’s embraced that nickname. He loves being the center of attention in New York, relishes the love and lust he engenders (on and off the field), and wants heads to turn when he struts by. Strasburg’s nickname is “Stras” and his only apparent interest in darkness is that it be dark enough that no one’s able to see him. He’s allowed himself to be co-opted by his agent and organization and hasn’t fulfilled the promise he showed when he was drafted and everyone knew who he was and what he could be.

This isn’t about stuff, WAR, and draft status. It’s about the individual. Going by those factors, there isn’t one team in baseball – including the Nationals – who wouldn’t pick Harvey over Strasburg.

The Positives and Negatives of Stephen Drew for the Mets

Ballparks, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

The Mets have spent the last three seasons fielding a lien-up rather than a lineup. Since the Bernie Madoff scandal and the conscious decision to rebuild from the bottom up in part due to finances and in part because it was what they needed to do, the Mets haven’t spent significant money on any players. In retrospect, it will be seen as a positive that the team didn’t overpay and give up a draft pick for Michael Bourn or any of the other players Mets fans were demanding they sign for pretense and little benefit on the field.

Now that they’re free of the onerous contracts of Jason Bay and Johan Santana, the Mets have invested some of their available cash to improve the lineup with Chris Young and Curtis Granderson. They bolstered the starting rotation with Bartolo Colon. There’s a public debate as to whether they should sign the still-floating free agent shortstop Stephen Drew. Let’s look at how Drew fits for the Mets.

Cost

Drew’s market is hindered by the relatively few number of teams that need a shortstop and are willing to pay what agent Scott Boras wants. A year ago, Drew signed with the Red Sox for one year and $9.5 million with the intention of replenishing his value for a big-money contract. He replenished his value all right, but the big-money contracts have yet to present themselves. Drew was everything the Red Sox could have asked for. He was solid defensively, hit for pop with 50 extra base hits, and had an OPS of .777 which was close to his career average.

The problem for Drew remaining in Boston as appears to be his preference is that the Red Sox have a ready-made replacement for him at shortstop in young Xander Bogearts. They also have a competent third baseman in Will Middlebrooks. Neither are expensive and both can make up for Drew’s departure if the price isn’t similar – or slightly higher – than what the Red sox paid for him last season. If his price drops, then the Red Sox will gladly take him back, but it won’t be for a multi-year deal and they don’t need him.

The Yankees have already said they’re out on Drew and it’s not because they don’t need him. They do. But they’re tied to keeping Derek Jeter at shortstop and the idea of signing Drew to move him to third base is insulting to the intelligence of anyone who can see the reality that Jeter will not be able to play a competent defensive shortstop at age 40 as he returns from a serious ankle injury.

Drew has few alternatives other than the Mets and Red Sox. The Mets are being coy and the Red Sox are waiting him out. The Mets can get him if they decide they want him. A decision that they want him would mean they have to pay him. A three-year, $30-33 million deal would probably get it done. Are they willing to do that? Can they afford it?

How he fits

Drew is a clear upgrade over Ruben Tejada offensively and defensively. Tejada can play, but he’s never going to hit for the power that Drew does; he’s similar defensively; and he’s got a reputation of being lazy. The main attribute of Tejada for the Mets is that he’s cheap. But with the signings of Granderson and Young and that they’re intending to start the season with the still questionable Juan Lagares and Travis d’Arnaud in center field and catcher respectively, they’re running the risk of having three dead spots in the lineup before the season even begins. With Drew, they’d know what they’re getting and he would at least counteract Lagares and d’Arnaud. Drew is an up-the-middle hitter and his power comes when he pulls the ball. He wouldn’t be hindered by Citi Field and he’d hit his 10 homers and double-digit triples.

No matter how superlative he is defensively, the Mets won’t go through the whole season with Lagares in center field if he doesn’t hit. They’ll simply shift Young to center for more offense. They’re committed to d’Arnaud and he’ll play every day no matter what. If they want to have a chance for respectability and perhaps more, they can’t worry about whether they’re getting the Tejada from 2013 or the Tejada from 2011-2012. And the Tejada from 2011-2012 was serviceable and useful, but not close to what Drew can do.

With Drew, the Mets would be better in 2014 when they’re striving for respectability and in 2015 when Matt Harvey returns and they clearly have designs on contending.

The Mets pitching staff is not one that racks up a lot of strikeouts. The left side of the infield with Drew and David Wright will be excellent. Daniel Murphy is mediocre at best at second base. Lucas Duda is a solid defensive first baseman. With Lagares in center field, they have a Gold Glove candidate. Young can play the position well. They’re better in all facets of the game with Drew, plus they’re getting offense they will not get with Tejada. The difference between 77-85 and also-ran status and 85-77 and bordering on the fringes of contention might be Drew. That makes the signing worthwhile for on-field purposes.

His Drew-ness

The Drew family has long been known for its prodigious baseball talent. They’re the physical prototypes for baseball players. Along with that, they’ve been the prototypes for Boras clients.

J.D. Drew sat out a year rather than sign with the Phillies when he was drafted second overall in 1997. They didn’t meet his contract demands. The Cardinals drafted him fifth overall the next season and he signed. He was an excellent player for the Cardinals, but flummoxed manager Tony LaRussa with his lack of passion and aloofness. He was traded to the Braves for Adam Wainwright as the Braves expected him to be happier closer to his home. He had his career year and left to sign with the Dodgers. He spent two years in Los Angeles, then exercised an opt-out in his contract to go to the Red Sox.

In short, he was never happy with where he was and was constantly looking for the next opportunity. It could have had to do with money or it might have had to do with a wanderlust. Or he could simply have been treating the game as a business and listening to every single word uttered by the Svengali, Boras.

Stephen Drew has many of the same traits as his brother. Both are injury-prone, though Stephen is not hurt to the extent that his brother was; both are supremely talented and never appear happy where they are; both wanted to get paid and might be making decisions detrimental to their careers in listening to every whisper from their agent.

In retrospect, should Stephen have accepted the Red Sox qualifying offer and tried for free agency in another year when it’s pretty much a certainty that the Yankees are going to be looking for a replacement for Jeter and will be free of any financial constraints? Probably. Does he regret not taking it? We’ll never know because the Drews don’t rattle the Boras cage.

If the Mets go hard after Drew, there’s the possibility that they’re being used to get the Red Sox or the famed Boras “mystery team” to ante up and top the offer. For the Mets, while it wouldn’t be catastrophic not to get Drew, it would extinguish much of the good will they did accumulate by signing Granderson and Colon if they pursued him and failed to reel him in.

The conclusion

The Mets should go after Drew and see whether they can get him at a reasonable price. If Boras will take something in the neighborhood of three-years at $30-33 million, the Mets would have a bridge shortstop until former first round draft pick Gavin Cecchini is ready. They’d be better in the short term and definitely have someone who could help them do what the true intention is: contend in 2015. If Boras is being unreasonable or the feeling is that they’re just waiting for the Red Sox to up the offer, the Mets should move on and figure something else out. If that means they’re hoping that Tejada decides he wants to play and shows up early and in shape, so be it.




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