My, how things have changed.
When the Philadelphia Phillies’ Roy Halladay met with Matt Harvey to discuss the young ace’s elbow injury on Wednesday, we were once again reminded just how much the National League East landscape has changed.
An aging, downwardly trending Phillies franchise was set to begin a three game series with the the New York Mets this week—an organization apparently heading in the opposite direction.
That is, or so it seemed until harrowing Harvey news sent shockwaves across a fanbase and all of baseball.
Speculation, by fans and analysts alike, is predictably running amok.
What does this mean for Zack Wheeler—the team’s other young flamethrower who is already beginning to demonstrate his ace potential? Should the Mets’ recent bevy of injuries to starting pitchers affect his handling?
What of a highly anticipated 2014 season and beyond? Will promises to spend this offseason still be heeded?
The cataclysmic Harvey news is of little consequence to the 2013 Mets who are far removed from any sort of playoff race, but it does yield some crucial questions in regards to the team moving forward.
No more than seven years after Jimmy Rollins ignited a captivating war of words has a once-blossoming rivalry—perpetuated just as much on the field as it was by the naturally occurring contempt felt between two prominent, rival-cities—met its precipitory denouement.
Long gone are the days of the two franchises exchanging verbal jabs. Rather than fearing one of the most dominant pitchers of his era, the Mets are actually looking to Halladay—who even referred to Harvey as “the guy I would start [an organization] with” per Jim Baumbach of Newsday—for hope.
Injury , Tommy John Surgery and Protecting Zack Wheeler
Similar to Harvey, Halladay flirted with elbow surgery throughout the 2006 season. He credits a strict workout regimen for his ability to dodge surgery and maintain his accustomed dominance.
As for whether or not Harvey will be so lucky—only time will tell. It will be a couple of weeks before swelling goes down enough to determine the severity of Harvey’s injury and, most importantly, if Tommy John surgery is avoidable altogether.
In an exhaustive study, Bleacher Report’s Will Carroll found that 124—or about one-third of all MLB pitchers in 2013—have undergone Tommy John surgery. Many of them have returned with their transplanted ligaments performing at a level similar to that established prior to ever going under the knife.
Look no further than teammate Jennry Mejia for a more intimate case of encouragement. After bouncing around the Mets’ system for a while, Mejia rebounded from Tommy John surgery this year stronger, and an even more successful pitcher than he was prior to undergoing the constantly advancing procedure.
There is no reason to believe a talented pitcher won’t be able to reestablish his form post-surgery. Especially somebody as young, competitive and dedicated to his craft as Matt Harvey.
Despite injuries to starting pitchers Harvey, Mejia and Jeremy Hefner this past month, the plan for Wheeler will not change. In fact, it reinforced it. Through his 105 pitch effort Monday night, Wheeler has totaled 145 innings this year.
Manager Terry Collins addressed innings-restrictions with the NY Daily News Kristie Ackert following the game.
“Obviously after what happened [with Harvey] earlier today, we’re sticking with it.”
Fairly or unfairly, some posit that the Mets’ staff deserves much of the blame for Harvey’s elbow. Did his mechanics suggest anything? Did the team fail to respond to signs of a tiring Harvey like his falling average fastball velocity? Was this preventable?
It’s difficult to say. But the Mets would do well to err on the side of caution—and that includes the players as well. Should a player feel any pain or discomfort, the brass must be able to rely on the transparency of their athletes and waste no time in shutting someone down for the remainder of this immaterial season.
Wheeler will pitch up to 180 innings in 2013 and be restricted to a pitch count somewhere close to 100 per start, consistent with the organization’s season-long approach.
Plans Affected for 2014
With payroll flexibility and an abundance of key decisions to be made, the 2014 offseason already promised to be just as unpredictable as it will be interesting.
If there was one particular organizational strength entering 2014, it was strong starting pitching. The development of position players lagged behind, but it was of little concern. The team could just use the surplus of pitching they had assembled to alleviate offensive holes.
The injury bug has likely done more than just deprive the Mets of a Cy Young-caliber pitcher for up to a year. Losing Harvey and other pitchers to surgery is certain to affect the team’s offseason strategy as well.
What was once thought to be a dependable 2014 rotation, is now mired in uncertainty. Talented arms at the minor league level have become the first line of defense—rather than a surplus—for a rotation decimated by injuries. Certain assets are nowhere near as expendable as previously thought.
Does this pave the way for another offseason without spending?
In an interview with ESPN Radio, Sandy Alderson assured fans that Harvey’s injury will not alter the team’s future plans.
“All teams have contingencies for these types of setbacks, and so do we.”
With the exception of third base and catcher, Alderson and the Mets need to improve at virtually every position in order to eventually contend.
Alderson has always preached shrewd decision-making in free agency. Given some appealing options and even more roster holes to fill than formerly anticipated, an injury does not justify standing financially pat another offseason.
Put bluntly by Mike Vaccaro of the NY Post—”it had better not.”