ATLANTA -- Following a six-week flirtation with rehab, Matt Harvey has decided to undergo Tommy John surgery, the Mets announced Friday. Harvey is expected to miss the entire 2014 season.
Harvey announced last month that he would attempt to rehab the partially-torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow rather than undergo surgery, hoping to be ready by Opening Day 2014. But "after further consultation with doctors," the Mets wrote in a release, "Harvey has elected to have surgery." Dr. James Andrews will perform the operation later this month.
"I felt this would be the right decision," general manager Sandy Alderson said, noting that he did not attempt to influence Harvey's decision. "So in that sense, I'm happy that Matt has reached the same conclusion."
Harvey did not return a telephone message seeking comment, and a Mets spokesman said that he does not intend to address his decision until after undergoing surgery.
"I think he took a big hard look at stuff, and certainly like everybody else, wanted to make sure he didn't lose another year of pitching," manager Terry Collins said in a telephone interview. "I'm disappointed. I told a lot of people I would not be surprised if this guy was standing on the mound Opening Day. But now that's obviously not going to happen."
Yet Collins, like Alderson, is at least glad on some level that Harvey opted for surgery. Though the operation will ensure Harvey's absence for the entire 2014 season, it will also all but guarantee his presence in the 2015 rotation -- something that would not have been the case had Harvey continued on his rehab program, putting his ligament at risk of fully tearing anytime.
Alderson estimated that Tommy John surgery not only has an 85-90 percent success rate for pitchers, but that Harvey sits at the top end of that spectrum.
"I'm an optimist," Alderson said. "There's always the possibility that things will not work out. But I think that everyone believes, including the doctors, that he's an excellent candidate for successful surgery. He's young. He's strong. His elbow was stable in spite of the injury, which I think is testimony to the strength that he has in his forearm and his upper arm, and his mechanics are pretty clean. We're hopeful and confident that he will come back successful."
When the Mets initially revealed Harvey's injury in late August, most members of the organization assumed that he would undergo surgery. Mets team physician Dr. David Altchek diagnosed Harvey with a partially-torn UCL, which typically carries a Tommy John sentence. Even the vast majority of pitchers who attempt rehab ultimately undergo surgery, with rare exceptions.
But a second opinion from Dr. Andrews revealed that Harvey's UCL was stable, meaning the partial tear had not loosened the ligament's elasticity. That, in addition to a talk with former Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay, gave Harvey enough optimism to pursue a course of rehab.
The Mets initially announced that the rehab process would take six to eight weeks, at the end of which he would make a final decision regarding surgery. But Harvey never advanced to throwing a baseball, leading Alderson to say earlier this week that he needed "to see some progress" from Harvey.
Nothing tangible, Alderson said, changed in the interim. Harvey did not see another doctor or attempt to throw a baseball. He simply changed his mind.
"This is something that he's been thinking about for a while, and I think that he just came to this conclusion given all of the facts and a longer opportunity to consider them," Alderson said.
For the Mets, the conclusion is that they will play the 2014 season without their ace. Harvey finished this season 9-5 with a 2.27 ERA and 191 strikeouts in 178 1/3 innings, establishing himself as one of the top young starting pitchers in baseball.
Alderson noted earlier this week that Harvey's decision would impact his offseason plans, though not to a transformative extent. The Mets have three returning rotation members in Zack Wheeler, Jon Niese and Dillon Gee, along with a host of young in-house candidates in Jenrry Mejia, Rafael Montero, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. They are also likely to invest in at least one veteran starter to fill out the rotation, though Alderson remained coy on how much he is willing to spend on starting pitching.
At this point, he is waiting for the market to unfold. So the Mets do not know who will be in their rotation in 2014 -- only who won't.
"I think a lot of us were already kind of preparing for this outcome, because we knew this was probably what he was going to choose," Gee said in a telephone interview. "It's tough to lose Matt for a year, but if this is what's best for the organization going forward, and for Matt's career, you've got to respect his decision. I still think we have a great staff. I'm still looking forward to next year."