Let’s play a game, shall we? I’m going to show you the stat lines of two MLB pitchers, and you tell me which is the more valuable. Let me remind you: This is only an exhibition. This is not a competition. Please, no wagering.
You may have already guessed, especially if you read the headline above, that Pitcher A is Matt Harvey. You know what? Pitcher B is Matt Harvey as well. It was a trick question! This is a fun game, right?
The top line above shows Harvey’s statistics from 2017 and 2018 as a member of the New York Metropolitans. The bottom line is his performance since coming over to the Reds in the early May trade for catcher Devin Mesoraco.
At the time, the conventional wisdom was that Harvey was a lottery ticket. If he were to show any flashes of his previous brilliance, he might bring more in a trade deadline deal than Mesoraco—a backup catcher in Cincinnati—would have. So far, so good.
Indeed, the trade keeps looking better and better for the Reds. Over his last three starts—against three of the best teams in the National League—Harvey is 3-0 with a 1.47 ERA, and if it weren’t for an untimely rain delay on Sunday, he might have pitched a complete game (he was cruising, having allowed just two hits on 68 pitches in 5.2 innings) against the NL Central’s top team.
Harvey will likely make four more starts before the July 31 trade deadline, and it’s appearing ever more likely that Cincinnati management will be able to deal him for a useful player or three. But with Harvey pitching so well, should the Reds actually look to trade him?
Here’s a typical comment, taken from Redleg Nation: The Reds need pitching. I don’t understand the urge to trade Harvey that most of you have. Sure he will be expensive, but if the Reds can’t afford him then we are doomed to many many years of last place finishes. Building a winner with prospects is a fantasy.
Or this one, from Twitter: How about this scenario: Harvey continues on his current tear. Credits the Reds for turning him around. Agrees to 3-yr $35 million.
Believe me, I understand the sentiment. I told you two weeks ago, right here in the digital pages of Cincinnati Magazine, that the Reds need to go out and acquire two starting pitchers before next April if management wants to convince me they’re serious about competing sooner rather than later. The lineup is looking good, the bullpen is hitting its stride—all they need are a couple of reliable pitchers to give this club a chance at being .500 or better in 2019.
The Reds definitely need pitching, and at some point owner Bob Castellini is going to have to open the checkbook and pay for a pitcher (or two). But not Matt Harvey. Let me be clear: Cincinnati should not even entertain the notion of signing Harvey to a contract extension.
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement surrounding the Reds these days. They’re playing legitimately fun baseball, hitting grand slams and beating up on good teams. And I’m as happy about Harvey’s mini-renaissance as anyone. Overall, he’s been pretty good in a Cincinnati uniform, and he was nothing short of dominant last weekend against the Brew Crew, tossing a perfect game into the fifth inning. His velocity is up, he’s healthy, and he’s confident.
Sure, the Reds need pitching, but signing Harvey would be far too risky for a team on the cusp of finally ending the (never-ending) rebuilding process. The Reds need to find pitchers who are young-ish, guys who can be contributors for the next four years or so. Harvey will be 30 next season, with a well-documented history of injuries. It would be managerial malpractice for the Reds to sign any similar pitcher on the wrong side of 30 to a multi-year contract, unless it’s a Clayton Kershaw/Max Scherzer-type talent.
Also, let’s not get caught up in the hype. Harvey has certainly been better than expected since joining the Reds, but we’re still just talking about 10 games of improved performance. In the two-plus seasons and 39 starts before this recent run, Harvey was 9-19 with a 5.93 ERA. Is Castellini going to bet millions and millions of his dollars on a long-term contract for a pitcher who has had surgery on both his elbow and his shoulder and who was designated for assignment just six weeks ago?
That would be the height of folly. At least Homer Bailey had the good sense to wait until after he signed a big contract to begin having arm problems. Handing out a three- or four-year deal to a 30-year-old under these circumstances is not a smart way of doing business for a club like the Reds. Or any club, for that manner, except for one with more money than brains.
Really, from my perspective, there are no good arguments for the Reds exploring a contract extension with Harvey for anything longer than one year. They have to sell him at the trade deadline for whatever they can get. If he keeps pitching like he has been, they might actually be able to get a decent return on almost no investment. That’s good business, and the Reds should be applauded for it.
Don’t misunderstand me, however: Saying that the Reds should deal Harvey at the end of the month does not mean that the Reds should be “sellers.” Those days had better be behind us. It’s time to stop rebuilding and start winning, as I’ve said repeatedly. Director of Baseball Ops Dick Williams and GM Nick Krall should be actively seeking to improve the big league roster, both at the trade deadline and throughout the off-season.
Matt Harvey is the only player on the Cincinnati roster who will be a free agent at season’s end. He’s not going to be on the next good Reds team; even if he pitched well the rest of the season, he’ll be prohibitively expensive on the free agent market. Not because the Reds can’t afford him—Castellini assuredly can afford to pay for a pitcher, if he wishes—but because no team should dump a ton of money at the feet of an oft-injured 30-year-old like Harvey.
Let’s just enjoy the fact that it’s looking increasingly possible that the Reds will be able to cash in this lottery ticket. Even if they don’t get a massive jackpot in return, it will be way better than what they would have gotten for their backup catcher.
In a season like this one, we have to enjoy the small victories.
Chad Dotson is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, and the founder of Redleg Nation. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available now in bookstores and online.