Esposito: Good Night to the Dark Knight

In what was described by Mets GM Sandy Alderson as the “end of an era,” he announced prior to the Friday night series opener against the Rockies that Matt Harvey had refused an assignment to the minor leagues and would be declared “designated for assignment” on Saturday morning.

It was not a totally shocking move, as Harvey has been suffering through a miserable beginning to his 2018 season, and even after being banished to the bullpen, his appearances in relief have been even more dreadful.

At the pre-game presser, Alderson’s announcement came across with a sense of awkwardness, a sadness almost as if he were discussing a death in the family. His responses were filled with hesitations, a lot of ums, and more than a few moments to clear his throat.

“Previously, in the abstract,” Alderson ever so slowly explained, “Mickey (Callaway) went to great lengths to explain why we felt that the bullpen route wasn’t going to work and why we thought that he would really benefit from time at our minor league complex.

“We did not ask Matt to agree on the spot, but to think about it and talk to his agent (Scott Boras) and he has taken that time and decided against the assignment. I didn’t think he would have accepted the assignment but we thought with the proper understanding and why we were asking, he might consider it…pragmatism, realism, far outweighed other considerations.”

Mets broadcaster Howie Rose asked Alderson if this was perhaps one of the most emotional decisions he has had to make in his tenure with the club.

“I’ve tried not to let emotions (enter) decision making,” Alderson admitted, “but empathy is part of making decisions.

“I like Matt, in spite of all the stuff that has gone on, and certainly because of a lot of the stuff that has gone on, he’s a vulnerable human being, and kind of leaves himself open to those who know him, trust, at least. We’re going to miss him in many, many ways.”

Doesn’t that sound like he died? No, Matt Harvey is very much alive and ready for the next chapter in his career. He just didn’t want to hang out with the showgirls of Las Vegas (are you sure about that, Matt?), or endure the quiet solitude of sleepy Port St. Lucie while trying to get his mojo back.

Alderson qualified Harvey’s lack of success to his various injuries that curtailed his progress.

“Matt has been a cornerstone of my tenure here, (with) tremendous accomplishments. (It’s) very unfortunate, (a) difficult conclusion, not really of his making, (having) gone through two serious career-threatening injuries with lengthy rehabilitations. He made every effort to return to the championship level he exhibited over the years.”

In October of 2013, the big righthander (a first round draft choice by the Mets in 2010, the seventh pick overall) endured Tommy John surgery and the subsequent rehab. In July of ‘16, the now 29-year-old hurler was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, and unfortunately, other pitchers who have had similar surgeries never quite respond with much success afterward either. And then last June, Harvey was placed on the DL with a stress injury to the scapula bone in his right shoulder.

It’s been quite a descent for the Connecticut native who was so dominant in 2013 that he was named the starter in the All-Star game at Citi Field. Tossed two scoreless innings and struck out three, by the way, in that celebrated extravaganza.

Harvey was told Friday afternoon of the decision. He made a brief visit to his locker then left without speaking to any reporters. Well, you’d be upset, too, if you were basically being told, “you’re fired.”

He wasn’t, really, just being told you can’t keep giving up runs on the major league levels every time you face an opponent. Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland tried to use examples of pitchers who have gone to the minors to get themselves straight, including Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, but Harvey had a bug in his ear telling him he’s still a great starter, and don’t let them tell you otherwise.

That bug’s name is Scott Boras.

In a text to members of the media, Boras defended his client’s decision. Pay attention to the pronoun: “We feel Matt is a starter (who) needs to work on four pitches. In the bullpen, a pitcher tends to focus on two pitches to get back to the rotation.”

Boras already has other plans for his client.

“Very pleased (Harvey) is healthy and with more than needed MLB velo. We have a lot of clay to work with to build the starter sculpture.”

One group is very upset by this decision – headline writers! They’ve had a field day for the past five or six years with plays on Harvey’s Dark Knight nickname. No more Batman references in New York. Even his demotion to relief pitcher was met with the headline, “The Pen-Guin.”

Yes, the accumulation of injuries and rehab time must have had some affect on his performances in recent years. It’s only natural. So to say Harvey has been his own worst enemy comes with a caveat. Perhaps one of those surgeries should have been on his ego, and his psyche, as some of his off-field exploits have been fodder for headlines and questionable optics.

But more importantly, when on the mound of late, he’s been bad news.

In four starts this year, Harvey pitched to an 0-2 record, 6.00 ERA, yielding 26 hits in 21 innings, 14 earned runs, four home runs, four bases on balls, 17 strikeouts, and a 1.429 WHIP.

You sure that wasn’t Bob Hendley out there pitching, who also once wore number 33 on the mound for the Mets?

And after being dispatched to the bullpen, Harvey failed there as well. In four mop-up appearances, he wears a bloated 10.50 ERA, with seven hits ans seven earned runs in six innings pitched, two home runs, five bases on balls, three strikeouts, and a fat 2.00 WHIP. Yeesh!

You sure that wasn’t Doug Sisk out there in relief? His last two appearances resulted in a 15.00 ERA and 2.33 WHIP.

It’s a sad ending to what could have been a great Mets career. He had the panache, the chutzpa, and the charisma to ride this city that never sleeps into super stardom. And for a while, he was as important to this organization as any player who has ever worn the uniform.

The entire Mets career now reads, in parts of six seasons: 34-37, 109 games, 104 starts, 639.1 innings pitched, 612 Ks, 1.19 WHIP (shows you how good that was before his recent downfall), and a 3.66 ERA.

Interestingly, he’s had just two seasons with a winning record – 2013 (9-5, 2.27 ERA), and ‘15 (13-8, 2.71).

So what’s next? By being DFA’d, the Mets have seven days to try and trade him or he will be released. So the Dark Knight Era will be gone from Gotham by next Saturday.

Will any other team make a deal for him?

“My guess is there are people out there willing to take a shot,” said Alderson.

“Perhaps a change of scenery will help. I certainly hope so. We felt that it was worth trying ourselves.”

As of Friday, the Mets had played about 17% of their season. With Harvey on the books for about $5,625,000 this year, that leaves still about $4,668,750 to be issued, so depending upon which day or to to which team chooses to make a trade, they’d be on the hook for about that. Unless of course, the Mets kick in a portion, a large portion of that sum.

If they wait for Harvey to be released, they would be liable for about 80% of the major league minimum, again depending upon the day he is signed by someone. This year, the minimum is $545,000, so they would only have to pay out about $436,00.

Not bad for a pitcher who, if he ever regains that 2013 form, could one day again become an ace.

Or if he doesn’t, all of baseball may have seen the last of the dominant matt Harvey.

Interestingly, for just about any team that trades for him or signs him as a free agent, they will likely ask him to go to the minors for a start or two, maybe longer to assess his progress. Won’t that be ironic.

Here’s one possible landing spot, the Texas Rangers. Dan Warthen is down there now, and maybe he convinces his new bosses he can fix him, or get him back to somewhere close to 2013. Maybe.

And then there’s the matter that he becomes a free agent at the end of the season. There was a time everyone speculated how many millions he would be making. Now there’s a question he’ll even be offered a contract, any contract.

Good luck and good night, Dark Knight.

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