Strasburg deal could hold key to Harvey's future

May 13th, 2016

The pitcher most impacted by Stephen Strasburg's newly inked, industry-rocking seven-year, $175 million contract is …

Stephen Strasburg. Duh.

But the guy I'd argue is next on that list is Matt Harvey, who makes his eighth start of the season Friday night in Colorado.

These two have a lot in common -- a division, a position, a surgical scar and maybe even an aura only an ace can command. So at the risk of attaching another sportswriter-driven narrative to a guy who, as a function of being a big fish in a big market, is probably tired of such things, it's only natural that when one signs a mega-deal, thoughts begin to turn to the other.

Strasburg's new deal potentially impacts Harvey in two different but distinct ways:

1. His trade value.

2. His (eventual) free-agent value.

Of course, Harvey has to hold up his end of the bargain, too. And to date in this 2016 season, he has not done so.

Harvey enters his first start in the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field lugging around a disappointing 4.50 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP. Compare Harvey of 2016 to Harvey of '15, and he's giving up three more hits per nine, walking one more batter per nine and striking out one less batter per nine. Most alarming of all, perhaps, is that his average velocity is down nearly two full ticks from where it was this time last year.

There could be mechanical issues associated with Harvey's subpar performance, and in his last outing against the Padres, the average fastball velocity (96.5 mph) was back in the range we're accustomed to seeing. So while the issue of Harvey's 216 regular season and postseason innings pitched last year after missing all of '14 following Tommy John surgery is a pressing one, it's not necessarily one that will dog him all year.

We'll see, in other words, and Coors will be quite a test of Harvey's current condition.

But if you don't mind, let's operate under the premise that Harvey is really, really good at baseball and pitching, specifically.

Let's take the bold step of assuming that there are people in this industry who put more emphasis on the totality of his body of work and his stuff than on this seven-start sample.

For a Mets team with an embarrassment of riches in the rotation, both now and (thanks to the looming return of Zack Wheeler and the steady ascendance of prospect Gabriel Ynoa, among others) in the not-too-distant future, the temptation to entertain trade offers for Harvey next offseason will be strong. There were executives from other clubs who felt that way even before Strasburg signed that surprising deal with the Nats.

Strasburg signs 7-year, $175 million extension

It makes sense. Of the Mets' elite young starters, Harvey is the closest to free agency (he's eligible after 2018 ... as are a ton of stars, and given the state of pitcher paychecks in today's game, there's just no way the Mets -- or any team, for that matter -- can keep all of these guys over the long haul.

Because of the barren free-agent pool Strasburg left behind, that discourse is ratcheted up a notch.

If Mat Latos and Rich Hill can stabilize their strong starts, they're in line for a richly rewarding offseason. Teams looking to blow some bucks on an impact arm might be left trying to talk themselves into Andrew Cashner.

When teams can't spend money on quality upgrades, they start parting with prospects. The market could be ripe for a Sonny Gray swap, but, given the competitive state of the A's right now, that trade could very well happen before season's end (though Gray is struggling so far). The Indians and Rays are two clubs with a wealth of controllable starting pitching, but they are also small-market clubs who, knowing full well the exorbitant and inefficient costs of free-agent pitching, might ultimately decide to keep and build around those assets. The Marlins have never been shy about wheeling and dealing before, but they view themselves in a window of contention and Jose Fernandez is by far their most tried and true pitching commodity.

So don't be shocked if you hear Harvey's name bandied about -- with more than the usual amount of meat on the bone.

Strasburg just made him an even more valuable piece of trade currency for a Mets team with the starting depth to justify such a move. The trick, of course, will be matching up with a club that can offer Major League-ready talent. The trade market always operates more easily when it's a contender in contact with a rebuilder and vice versa.

Anyway, no matter where Harvey is pitching by the end of 2018, he knows full well that Strasburg just upped the ante for aces in the Tommy John alumni club. Jordan Zimmermann cracked the door open into the nine-figure realm, and Strasburg busted it down completely. There is very little question that, assuming health, Strasburg could have been a $200 million man in the weak offseason class that looms ahead.

Maybe Harvey will find himself in $200 million terrain, and maybe he'll have to go somewhere else to claim it. At the risk of projecting and making bold assumptions at a time when Strasburg just went against all assumptions, Harvey has never presented the picture of a guy totally committed to the idea of spending his entire career with one club. Strasburg isn't and never was comfortable with hype and attention, so, in retrospect, it makes sense that he wouldn't want to go through the free-agent circus and be touted as some team's savior. Harvey, on the other hand, has always given the impression that he relishes the limelight (though not always the microphones and headlines attached with it), and the expectation all along is that he'll be happy to entertain the highest bids when they come along.

But if Harvey and the Mets do eventually decide they want to lock arms for the long haul, well, now they've got a roadmap to follow, thanks to their division rivals. When $175 million is seen as a starting point in discussions, that's one dynamic discussion.

For now, the more pressing matter at hand is Harvey's performance, not his paycheck. Before Harvey can worry about the latter, he has to ace the former, and his next test comes Friday night at Coors.