On why the Mets are to blame for the Matt Harvey crisis

Matt Harvey will pitch for the Mets Tuesday, and again in the regular season if they need him, and on into the postseason. Harvey defused the crisis created last weekend as if he were working out of a first-and-third, none-out situation, using Derek Jeter’s Players Tribune Monday to deliver his high, hard one.

” …there has never been a doubt in my mind: I will pitch in the playoffs. I will be healthy, active and ready to go,” wrote Harvey, and millions of Mets fans and New York columnists tempered their outrage, waiting for the next egregious offense.

Harvey is the Mets pitcher who dominated in 2013, missed 2014 because of Tommy John surgery and returned almost as good in 2015. Monday’s proclamation was a changeup from two days previous, when Harvey said he was focused on Tuesday and only Tuesday.

Harvey has pitched 166.1 innings entering Tuesday’s game, 12 less than his career high, 13.2 or 23.2 less than his advisable limit, depending whether you believe Scott Boras, Harvey’s agent, who says it’s 180 innings, or Mets manager Terry Collins, who advocated 190 during spring training.

Given those two options, it’s unfortunate there’s not a third (there is actually, but more on that later).

Boras was blamed for creating the crisis, which isn’t fair, because he only revealed it. The blame should go to the Mets, who have been in first place for a month and comfortably so (given the Mets’ 2007 collapse, granted that’s a relative term) for more than three weeks, but have done little to ration Harvey’s innings. It’s the Mets’ job — not Boras’ — to manage Harvey according to the limits recommended by his doctors. It’s Boras’ job to advocate for his client, and that’s what he’s done.

Harvey is pitching for $614,000 this year, and missed last year for $606,000. The $1.2 million he’s been paid the last two years is a lot of money to most of us, but it’s change on the sidewalk compared to what Harvey will command as a free agent, if he’s healthy.

That’s why Boras spoke up, as he should. It matters not that his interest isn’t altruistic, because it’s just as legitimate. Whatever the limit Dr. James Andrews advised for Harvey, it wasn’t arbitrary and it isn’t flexible, and any doctor who has a pitcher ignore it has a fool for a patient. Even if he’s a macho one.

The outcry when Harvey ducked the issue Saturday was deafening. Harvey got more support from the Mets’ pre-trades offense than he did from the public. The New York Post’s Mike Vaccaro called Harvey a “phony,” and the Daily News’ Mike Lupica said Harvey looks like a “hypocrite.” Away from print it was harsher.

“Boras doesn’t know what’s best for his client and the client doesn’t know and Dr. James Andrews doesn’t,” wrote Lupica. “God knows. Harvey might pitch as long as Bartolo Colon with his surgically-repaired right elbow, or he might flame out young the way Kerry Wood and Mark Prior did once with the Chicago Cubs.”

Lupica is right — to a point. Nobody knows who’s going to get polio either, but we take vaccines to prevent the likelihood of it. The most sure way to keep Harvey from a career like Wood’s or Prior’s is to listen to the experts — at least the ones not sitting at a keypad.

Lupica’s outburst was in the great tradition of New York sports columnists like Dick Young, who once took Tom Seaver to task and helped drive his trade to the Reds. At least Lupica had the good taste not to mention Harvey’s family, as Young did Seaver’s wife.

The height of ridiculousness, though, was Dwight Gooden weighing in with a tweet: “Can’t believe what I’m hearing. I couldn’t imagine me or Ron Darling agent would even think about taking the ball from us come crunch time. I would expect Matt being the ace to come out & say he’s pitching if they make the playoffs & moving forward he wants the ball every 5th day here on out as long as he’s feeling good ….lets remember stressful innings r more important than innings counts not even going to mention my innings as a 18yr 19yr 20yr”

Using Dwight Gooden as a sounding board to further your career is akin to asking Scott Walker how to celebrate Labor Day. How would they know? 

Because why wouldn’t Harvey want to take advice from a guy who had Hall of Fame talent, but only a Hall of Very Good career, much of it by his own choices? Or from a retired pitcher who thinks his heavy workload — 276.2 innings as a 20-year-old in 1985 — is an attribute and not a precursor to injury? Or why does it even matter if you’ve climbed Macho Mountain?

Like chicken hawks who want to fight a war to the last drop of someone else’s blood, there’s a whole lot of courageous fans who want Matt Harvey to pitch until the last fiber of his ligament is frayed.

GM Sandy Alderson, in Lupica’s column (it was so Mets friendly you wonder why they still have a public relations department when Lupica will apparently do it for free), said, “The plan last winter was 185 innings plus the playoffs. Let’s shoot for 185 and see where we are at the end of the regular season and make a decision then about the playoffs depending on the condition of the player. That was before we went to spring training.”

Maybe that was Alderson’s understanding, but it hardly seems likely Andrews would be so imprecise. Set the bar at 185, and every time the Mets advance a round set it higher, like the bar on a pole vault?

Madison Bumgarner pitched 52.2 innings in the postseason last year. Is that the “plus the playoffs” Alderson is suggesting?

Alderson said, “We’ve been trying to exercise caution for two years,” and maybe with Harvey they have. But tell it to Zack Wheeler, whom the Mets kept running out there last September for 100-pitch outings despite a touchy elbow. Alderson’s response to Wheeler’s season-ending injury sounded less sympathetic: “If it blows out, it blows out. The alternative is that you manage somebody to the point where he’s not useful to you.”

And you still think Boras is paranoid? Apply that logic to Harvey: “If you blow $200 million, you blow $200 million.”

Three years ago the Washington Nationals, unlike the Mets, took the decision away from Stephen Strasburg, and ended his season at 159.1 innings. That was a Nationals team not as deep in pitching as these Mets — Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler were the fourth and fifth starters, and each started in the NLDS (Jackson was down 4-0 after two; Detwiler left tied 1-1 after six) — and the Nats lost in five.

But it’s in part due to their priorities that they signed Max Scherzer, another Boras client, in the last offseason. The Cubs will probably win the World Series before Boras ever delivers a big free agent to the Mets, and given that Jake Arrieta and Kris Byrant are Boras clients, it will be probably be with their help.

Say what you want about Boras and hyperbole, but does anyone believe the Cubs farmed Bryant for the first two weeks this season for baseball reasons, as Cubs man in charge Theo Epstein suggested, or — by delaying his free agency for a year — monetary ones, as Boras hinted? Then think again about whether Alderson or Boras is more credible.

“As an athlete, when your surgeon explains to you the risks of exceeding a certain number of innings, it can be alarming,” wrote Harvey Monday.

It should be. In Harvey’s case, there are about 200 million reasons to be alarmed.

Harvey is 26, and he surely understands the risk and can make the decision. But he shouldn’t have to make it under duress, as the Mets forced him to. And he also should know he’ll get a lot more sympathy than compensation if something goes wrong.

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