MLB.com Columnist

Marty Noble

If Cespedes bolts, Mets should trade Harvey

If Cespedes bolts, Mets should trade Harvey

NEW YORK -- This is, first and foremost, premature, so it hardly is germane to what's happening with the Mets these days, and what has happened to them since they left Atlanta eight days ago. This is filled with and fueled by conjecture. It is unscientific and liable to prompt double takes, shock and anger, not to mention hostile e-mails.

Here goes: If the Mets are unable to satisfy the contract demands of free agent Yoenis Cespedes come the offseason, and they determine that they need a bat to offset the effects of his absence and the possible departure of Daniel Murphy, and they need to deal a starting pitcher to import the necessary bat, if that not-unlikely scenario comes to pass, then the pitcher to trade is Matt Harvey.

Sounds like heresy, no question. Sounds as foolish as trading Tom Seaver and, six years later, leaving him unprotected. Or as unwise as pushing Jose Reyes to second base to accommodate Kazuo Matsui at shortstop. Or as silly as essentially shoving Justin Turner out the door because he didn't fit the advanced analytics profile the Mets favor. Or as imprudent as yanking Harvey after five nearly perfect innings and merely 77 pitches against the Yankees.

The Mets have been there and done all that.

Moving Harvey would seem doorknob dumb on the surface. Dealing him certainly could bite them in the derriere someday in these Interleague times. Or, worse, he could become an October opponent. But why borrow hypothetical trouble?

Instead, swallow hard and read on: Informal polling of 19 folks who frequent the fifth floor at Citi Field -- that is, members of the print and electronic media, scouts, official scorers and the occasional visiting exec -- supports the supposition presented herein. The vote was 14-5, and two among the five found merit in the proposed maneuver.

If the Mets do re-sign Cespedes, then perish the thought and purge the image of the row of dominos that ends the Flushing reign of the Dark Knight. But the Mets' history of player procurement, since the signing of Johan Santana before the 2008 season, says the club is nine-figure shy. (Extending David Wright's contract doesn't count.) And if Cespedes is seeking six or merely five years, $100 million or more is bound to appear on his price tag, no matter how happy and comfortable he's been here since Aug. 1.

So, what is there to do if he is unsatisfied, looks elsewhere, sets a record for exit velocity and bolts? Won't substaintal remodeling become necessary if the batting order reverts to the nine-man meekness that existed earlier this summer?

The 2015 free agent class has no talent comparable to Cespedes, and those who are close -- Nelson Cruz, Chris Davis and Jason Heyward -- aren't coming cheaply either. Trading one of the prized starters may turn out to be the most effective means by which the Mets can retool.

All of which brings it back to the righthanded pitcher who will turn 27 before he throws an in-season pitch in 2016.

Harvey is a horse, even when he's reined in as he was on Sunday night against the Yankees. His five innings, one hit, one walk and seven strikeouts are not lost in the postmortems of the unbecoming 11-2 loss the Mets suffered because their 'pen leaked and their defense ruptured. He has accomplished things that are unmatched in the 90 years that preceded his arrival. He almost has reached the point at which fans in parks outside Queens will gather as they have for Fernando Valenzuela, Dwight Gooden, Mark Fidrych and Clayton Kershaw. He is a compelling figure.

But the Knight does carry some baggage -- baggage the Mets recognize and hardly appreciate. And he's not Joe McEwing-popular in the clubhouse, not that he needs to be.

The innings-limit debate he and/or agent Scott Boras initiated earlier this month tainted his image and offended some co-workers and veterans of the game, who long for the days of Robin Roberts, Ferguson Jenkins and Bob Gibson -- who never considered the fifth inning or even the eighth an appropriate point to untie their spikes.

Incidentally, Sunday was the 54th anniversary of Sandy Koufax pitching 13 innings and throwing 205 pitches in one game. He pitched in relief four days later, started on Sept. 27 and won three Cy Young Awards in the five years that followed before his retirement at age 30.

Just saying.

If the Mets choose to look far enough down the road, they might see the image of Boras seeking two times the gross national product of China for his client -- especially if Harvey matches his promise before qualifying for free agent eligiblity. So they might lose him then. And salary arbitration could be dangerous territory for the Mets until then.

Really, the issues that have involved Harvey thus far have been tempests in teaspoons. But neither Jacob deGrom nor Noah Syndergaard has been involved in anything negative since Syndergaard's leave-the-dugout misdemeanor in Spring Training. DeGrom had stretches this season during which he was the Mets' most effective and reliable starter. Syndergaard's ceiling is too high to see. Steven Matz seems to be the real deal. And Zack Wheeler ... well, we'll see.

But no matter how well any of them pitch, a need for run support exists. As the Mets learned in 2015 BC (before Cespedes), games can't be won by 0-0 scores. Runs are necessary. And the most effective means of acquiring a productive bat may involve trading one of the family jewels, even the most sparkling one.

Dealing Harvey probably would be immeasurably unpopular, and no one is saying that he should be dealt. But if a need for offense does develop, trading the Knight might be the most prudent move the Mets could make. Harvey would bring more in return than any other talent on the roster.

Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.