When Matt Harvey was traded from the New York Mets to the Cincinnati Reds in May, his career was in ruins. Once the toast of New York and one of the best pitchers in the league, injuries and off-field incidents had reduced him to a shadow of his former self. He was dropped to the bullpen early this season and then designated for assignment a few weeks later after finding no form as a reliever.
But after being traded to the Reds for Devin Mesoraco, a funny thing happened. The change of scenery did him good, and he started pitching better. Now, he's played well enough that the rebuilding Reds look like they'll be able to flip him to a contender for some prospects.
One team in the mix for such a move is the Washington Nationals. According to MLB Insider Jon Heyman, the Nats have had discussions with the Reds for both Harvey and closer Raisel Iglesias—the latter of whom they would reportedly look to convert into a starter.
But would Harvey be a good buy for the Nationals? Or should they look to solutions elsewhere?
Pick up the pieces
Harvey's improvement with the Reds has been nothing short of remarkable.
What's most impressive is the physical improvement Harvey has made since the move to Great American Ballpark. His velocity has been inching its way up since the trade—not to peak Dark Knight levels, but certainly to a point that has allowed him to pitch better than he did as a Met the last two years.
In 10 starts since he was traded, Harvey has a 4-3 record and 3.86 ERA. His K/9 rate has stayed exactly the same (6.7), but he's given himself a major boost by cutting his BB/9 from 3.0 to 2.0. Walks have been a problem for Harvey in his career—only in his two best seasons, 2013 and 2015, did he finish with a BB/9 of less than 2.0—but with diminished stuff striking out fewer hitters, Harvey needs improved control to limit self-inflicted wounds. If he keeps improving in this area, he could certainly help a team that needs some middle-of-the-rotation help in a playoff run.
Do the Nats bite?
But would an improved Harvey make for a good trade target for the Nationals? That depends.
Specifically, it depends on Stephen Strasburg. The Nats' second ace threw a bullpen session last week. There is still no concrete timetable for his return, but the fact that that session was relatively unplanned—he was only supposed to play catch but threw a low-effort 25 pitches in the bullpen when he came out of that game of catch feeling good—may mean that he could return in the relatively near future.
If he returns soon, Harvey won't be needed. He wouldn't be a demonstrative upgrade over Jeremy Hellickson, who seems to have recovered some of the form he had two years ago in Philadelphia and is pitching to a surprising 2.63 ERA over 10 starts. Trading for Harvey simply wouldn't be needed. Iglesias, maybe, to further bolster an already excellent bullpen, but not Harvey.
If, on the other hand, Strasburg ends up staying out for longer, a Harvey deal would be viable. He would be an upgrade over Erick Fedde, who has come up short since filling the Strasburg-sized hole in Dave Martinez's rotation. Whether he would crack the playoff rotation once Strasburg returns late is to be determined, but he could be useful during the first part of the stretch run if the ace ends up out until September.
Harvey isn't so hot a commodity that the Nationals need to race to clinch a move. Unless a desperate team like the Seattle Mariners start sniffing around, they can afford to wait until they have a better idea of how long Strasburg will be out before pulling the trigger. If he's back soon, a move for Harvey would be redundant. But if something goes wrong, he'd be a viable third or fourth starter for the Nats as they try to climb past the resurgent Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East.