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Giants could consider the ‘Dark Knight’ as Cueto undergoes TJ

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San Francisco Giants pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) removes his cap after Giants manager Bruce Bochy (15) takes the baseball from him during a pitching change in the seventh inning as the Miami Marlins face the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on Friday, July 9, 2017.

The Giants announced Wednesday that Johnny Cueto will undergo Tommy John surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right arm.

The Giants promoted Chris Stratton from Triple-A Sacramento last week and it’s likely he will slide into Cueto’s spot in the rotation for now, but that does not preclude a waiver deal for a low-key rental arm in the next couple weeks, and one guy the Giants could consider is Matt Harvey.

Dr. Neal ElAttrache will perform Cueto’s surgery in Los Angeles Thursday at the Kerlin Jobe Clinic, and the right-hander will miss the remainder of the 2018 season and all or most of the 2019 season as he begins a rehab and recovery process that can last anywhere from 12 to 18 months.

Stratton (8-6, 5.14 ERA) was among the trio of young pitchers who stepped up admirably when San Francisco’s top three starters went down to injury early this season. But in the three starts leading up to the point when the Giants had to make a move to open up a spot for Cueto, Stratton allowed 28 hits including three homers, two triples and six doubles, and had a combined ERA of 8.62. When stacked up next to Dereck Rodríguez and Andy Suárez at that point, he was deemed the weakest link and was dispatched to Triple-A in early July.

Stratton had mixed results during his cooling off period in Sacramento, and in a 1-1/3 inning relief appearance against Milwaukee after being recalled last week he consecutively allowed a double, single and homer.

In the days leading up to the non-waiver deadline Tuesday, Giants CEO Larry Baer ran a somewhat convincing PR campaign for the idea that not only does the team have no intention of selling, but that they’re heading into the dog days with an eye toward competing for a spot in October:

“We’re not really walking in the room scratching our heads with buyer versus seller. We want to improve the team and we want drive to get there at the end of September to be a playoff team and go from there. That’s what we’re gonna do.” 

So despite obvious trade chips like Andrew McCutchenWill Smith and Tony Watson, who could potentially fetch handsome returns to kick off a rebuild, and even with the knowledge at least 24 hours in advance of the deadline that Cueto was finished for the season, the Giants were indeed the only team to stand pat this year.  

But the oft-used shorthand “trade deadline” is a misnomer, as evidenced by the blockbuster Justin Verlander trade last summer that landed August 31, just in time for the Astros to still play Verlander in October. The Giants can, and likely will, still make a waiver deal of some sort. They’ve made it abundantly clear that they still hope to play limbo with the luxury tax, but depending on how the Giants and Stratton perform in the coming days, they may consider bartering for a rental for the back-end of the rotation. Or, alternatively, and contrary to Baer’s insistence, start selling off parts.

But focusing on the former option for now, a veteran arm like Harvey (5-6, 5.13 ERA) who went unclaimed at the non-waiver deadline could fit the bill.

Harvey, formerly a beloved fixture in New York, was unceremoniously dumped by the Mets after he was DFA’d May 4 of this season and refused to take a minor league assignment. The Giants were linked to Harvey at the time, ironically this would’ve been right after the news that Cueto might need Tommy John came to light in the first instance, but it was the Reds who swooped in and picked Harvey up in a swap for catcher Devin Mesoraco .

The 29-year-old righty’s career with the Mets was nothing if not mercurial. He broke out in New York in 2012, and started the All-Star Game at Citi Field in 2013 when he became known far and wide as the “Dark Knight.” That year he came in fourth in Cy Young voting, finishing out the season with a 2.27 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP. But Harvey fell to Tommy John surgery at the end of that season and missed all of 2014.

He returned in time to help the Mets on their road to the post-season in 2015, winning NL Comeback Player of the Year and going 13-8 with a 2.71 ERA. But there were concerns with his off-field behavior — the Dark Knight is alleged to have a taste for partying — including missing a pre-game NLDS workout ostensibly due to a hangover.

More feathers were ruffled when, earlier that year, his agent Scott Boras suggested Harvey abstain from October to protect his post-TJ arm from overuse. He did ultimately pitch, but many in New York’s large media market blamed him for the team’s eventual defeat, because in Game 5 of the World Series the Mets were down three games to one and he lobbied manager Terry Collins to pitch into the ninth with a 2-0 lead. They eventually lost after he allowed a walk and a double to get the Royals on the board, before finally being hooked.

The following year marked the beginning of the end between Harvey and the Mets when his velocity dropped and he got off to an abysmal start. After struggling with numbness in his fingertips and other nebulous symptoms, he was finally diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome mid-2016 season.

After having surgery to treat the injury, his recovery was bumpy and he failed to return to form. He pitched 92-2/3 innings in 2017 and allowed 21 home runs and 47 walks, finishing the season with a sky-high 6.70 ERA. Relations between Harvey and the Mets continued a downward spiral during this time, culminating in his May 2018 trade to Cincinnati.

But the Reds have managed a neat trick, treating Harvey as a fixer-upper, and many projected they would flip him at this year’s deadline. His velocity is back — he’s averaging 95-miles-per-hour on his fastball for the first time in over a year — and his ERA has dropped nearly two full runs since leaving New York despite calling the bandbox that is the Great American Ballpark home for the last three months. 

His WHIP has dropped from 1.556 to 1.290 and aside from a July 22 shellacking he took from the Pirates, allowing eight runs on eight hits and four homers, he’s had a relatively even-keeled season since leaving the Big Apple. He’s lasted five or more innings in 10 of his 13 starts in a Reds uniform and allowed two or fewer runs in eight of those starts. Signs also seem to indicate that Harvey has stayed out of trouble off the field with the Reds, which, granted, is probably a lot easier to do in Cincinnati than it is in Queens. 

For the Giants, acquiring Harvey might not be the solution to all of their problems, but as it stands there’s a Cueto-sized hole in their rotation, and a strong chance that, either figuratively or literally, Samardzija will not be coming back, either. If they can get Harvey for a reasonable price in a waiver deal, it could be a roll of the dice worth taking.

Up Next

The Giants (55-54) begin a four-game series against the division-leading Diamondbacks (60-49) Thursday in Arizona. Aces Madison Bumgarner (3-4, 3.06 ERA) and Zack Greinke (12-5, 2.96 ERA) will toe the rubber in the series opener.


Julie Parker is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @insidethepark3r on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.

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