Here are two pitchers, both roughly the same age, both having made exactly 104 starts with the teams they came up with in the Major Leagues five years ago:PITCHER A: 104 starts, 639 innings, 34-37, 3.43 ERA, 8.6 K/9, 105 ERA+, one All-Star appearance, one World Series (lost)PITCHER B: 104
Here are two pitchers, both roughly the same age, both having made exactly 104 starts with the teams they came up with in the Major Leagues five years ago:
PITCHER A: 104 starts, 639 innings, 34-37, 3.43 ERA, 8.6 K/9, 105 ERA+, one All-Star appearance, one World Series (lost)
PITCHER B: 104 starts, 587 1/3 innings, 38-33, 3.82 ERA, 10.5 K/9, 113 ERA+, one All-Star appearance, one World Series (lost)
These two are pretty much the same guy, right? There are variations here or there, but on the whole, through their first 104 Major League starts, they have produced roughly the same results. Thus, you would think that we, as fans and observers, would react to them in roughly the same way. They'd have similar public statures, be talked about in similar terms and have similar Q scores. They'd have made the same impact on the world.
The first player is new Reds pitcher Matt Harvey. The second is the Indians' Danny Salazar. People have been fighting in the Wikipedia page notes of Harvey's page every day for three weeks; no one has touched Salazar's since March.
Harvey's personality has been dissected and analyzed by every amateur general manager and armchair psychologist this side of Poughkeepsie; I bet you couldn't tell me a single biographical detail about Salazar. Every time Harvey so much as coughs there is a related segment on "MLB Tonight." Be honest, you didn't even realize Salazar hasn't pitched yet this year, did you?
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The difference between the two men, of course, has nothing do with what they do on the mound as much as the city that inhabits the team for which they've pitched. Salazar spent those 104 starts in Cleveland. Harvey spent them in New York. And now that the 104 starts of Harvey-New York drama is finally over, with him making his second start with Cincinnati on Wednesday night in San Francisco, it's worth asking: Is Harvey's life better because his career started in New York, or is it worse? Would he have been happier if he had pitched for Cleveland?
First thing out of the way: Harvey obviously had opportunities with the Mets he probably wouldn't have had with the Indians. He likely wouldn't have been New York Bureau Chief of the Players Tribune in Cleveland. He wouldn't have had the commercial opportunities he did in New York, and there likely wouldn't have been thousands of fans wearing Dark Knight masks in Progressive Field. And Jimmy Fallon doesn't tend to ask a lot of Indians players to be on his show.
So there are obviously upsides. But boy, are there a lot of downsides.
Any time you go on a date, Page Six adds the poor girl to a slideshow; having a drink on vacation gets you in the tabloids; the local beat reporters call you a "prima donna" and "all about himself." If you take a night off from the media, it turns into a week-long sports radio apocalypse. Every single move you make is spotlighted, showcased and ridiculed. And you don't even get any more money for it!
Harvey has made $17 million in his career to date, which is roughly what any pitcher under team control would have made up to this point (he has made $7 million more than Salazar, but only because he entered MLB a year earlier, and thus, has more service time). Harvey is not like a late-career free agent who had the option of going to any team in baseball and chose the Mets: He played for New York because that's the team that drafted him. Harvey could not have completely understood what he was getting into.
Everything Harvey did, essentially from the time the Mets drafted him until the time they traded him, became massive news, both good and bad. Sure, Harvey didn't make it easier on himself; Jacob deGrom, say, has generally been able to avoid the tart tongues of Page Six and the New York Daily News.
Of course, deGrom has mostly been able to stay healthy, unlike Harvey, and all told, unlike most pitchers. In Cleveland, when you're great for a while, like Harvey was, and then have to undergo thoracic outlet surgery, there's an understanding it's an unpredictable injury that requires considerable time to rehabilitate. In New York, if you're still struggling a year later, it's because you're not tough enough, or you're rude to reporters, or you got too cocky. You are more brand, or plotline, than person.
It makes one wonder, in a baseball world where most salaries are roughly the same and almost every team can afford to spend money on players, why anyone would choose New York as the place to play? The upsides are obvious, not least of which you're likely on a team that is winning, or at least trying to. However, do you think Harvey is appreciably happier than Salazar is right now? Do you think the fact that an entirely massive region of the country thinks he's entitled simply because the team that drafted him is entirely lost on him, or anyone else, for that matter?
Giancarlo Stanton chose to accept a trade to the Yankees this offseason, and I hope it works out for him. But man, his contract is massive, and is there anywhere else on the planet where Stanton would have been booed multiple times this season? You get the positives and the negatives in New York, but those negatives are extremely negative. It's a tough racket.
If there's a model for Harvey moving forward, it's probably former All-Star A.J. Burnett. Burnett was much derided by Yankees fans and the media for his five-year, $82 million contract -- though Burnett, unlike Harvey, at least got to sign the big contract and then win a World Series -- and the Yankees actually traded him to the Pirates three seasons in. Away from the glare, he instantly improved, dropping nearly two runs from his ERA and helping lead Pittsburgh to its first postseason appearance in more than 20 years.
Cincinnati could be a positive place for Harvey, a situation where he can work his way back to his previous form -- after an extremely serious surgery -- in peace, without every start a referendum on his status as a human being and social icon. Harvey will be a free agent after the season, and he can build up his value in a place where the temperature is lower. Come this fall, he'll be able to, for the first time in his career, choose where he wants to pitch. I bet I know where he doesn't go.
Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.