Mets "Big 5" Aug 19, 2018; Williamsport, PA, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz (32) starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard (34) starting pitcher Jacob deGrom (48) and starting pitcher Zack Wheeler (45) watch the game with little league players from team Mid Atlantic during the second inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

This time was going to be different. No, it had to be different.

The New York Mets, a franchise known for its pitching, had flirted with building a team around its starting rotation before. A huge reason for the franchise’s first and only two World Series championships was because of a trio of starters. There was Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Jon Matlack in 1969. And then in 1986, there was Dwight “Doc” Gooden, Ron Darling, and Sid Fernandez.

Then there was Bill Pulpisher, Jason Irsinghausen, and Paul Wilson in 1995. This trio of pitchers, otherwise known as “Generation K,” drew comparisons to the two trios mentioned above. But truly, the only thing they had in common was they all played for the New York Mets. Unfortunately, “Generation K” turned out to be one of the biggest busts in franchise history, with all three players eventually succumbing to pitching-related injuries within a year. 

So when the Mets spent the early portion of the last decade trying their hand again at another generation of young phenom pitchers, it was originally met with skepticism. But this time around, it was five pitchers and not three. And each guy had something to him. Every time one of these young guys took the mound, the Mets had a chance to win.

The team had drafted Matt Harvey and Steven Matz while trading for Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler. deGrom was never supposed to be the pitcher he came to be. The former ninth-round pick wasn’t a highly-regarded prospect and the Mets originally planned to use him in relief. But, everything happens for a reason and deGrom carved out his own path to become one of the greatest pitchers this game has ever seen. More on that in just a bit.

The Mets had come a long way from having a rotation compiled of Mike Pelfrey, Jon Niese, R.A. Dickey, Chris Young, and Chris Capuano.

Not exactly adept with the same financial resources that they are now, the Mets’ front office — led by Sandy Alderson — had to get creative in terms of building a competitive roster. So, instead of doling out big contracts, they built up their farm system and developed their eventual starting rotation through the team’s minor-league development.

It’s 2023, and for better or worse, none of these pitchers are any longer with the Mets organization. In total, the “Big 5” had a total of two full rotation turns. It was supposed to be so much more than that, but injuries never allowed the Mets to realize that vision. Those who fell in love with the notion that this was a starting rotation of pitchers that could’ve ruled the world of Major League Baseball, were eventually rudely awakened.

As we look at where these five pitchers’ careers are now nearly a decade later, let this serve as a cautionary tale.

Matt Harvey

The “Dark Knight” retired from professional baseball last month. The seventh overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, Harvey was phenomenal in a Mets uniform, until he wasn’t. When Harvey took the mound in his first two seasons, it was an event. “Happy Harvey Day” became must-see TV. He was able to give a tortured fan base something to grab onto. That was until his second season was cut short when he required Tommy John surgery.

Harvey returned to the mound in 2015 and picked up where he left off. He reached new heights, throwing a total of 216 innings for the eventual National League champions— the most ever by a pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery. He was three outs away from forcing a Game 6 in the 2015 World Series, carrying the Mets on his back before the other shoe eventually dropped. 

That was the last time Matt Harvey was Matt Harvey. He had a very poor 2016 season and later had to undergo Thoracic Outlet Surgery. He was never quite the same pitcher and the Mets designated him for assignment before trading him to the Cincinnati Reds.

Harvey tried so hard to recapture that “Dark Knight” persona, while also battling his own demons. He would pitch for the Reds, Los Angeles Angels, Kansas City Royals, and Baltimore Orioles before his career prematurely ended. Harvey testified that he had provided the late Tyler Skaggs with Percocet pills and was later suspended 60 games for “participating in the distribution of prohibited Drugs of Abuse in violation of Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.”

His reputation as a hardcore partier preceded him, as he later acknowledged that he used cocaine while pitching for the Mets. His lifestyle and immaturity eventually caught up to him, and while the injuries are probably more responsible for his downfall, Harvey was a broken man trying to cling on to that success. He unraveled and was never the same player that captured the hearts of Mets fans.

If you watched him pitch in 2013, the fact that he would be out of baseball nearly a decade later is unconscionable. But unfortunately, his demise was a product of his own doing. He’ll always be known for what could’ve been.

Noah Syndergaard

Harvey is the only pitcher of the five that’s no longer in the league, but he isn’t the only one who has failed to recapture past success.

After putting together a 3.32 ERA over six flamethrowing seasons with the Mets, “Thor” is no longer that same pitcher. Even the Los Angeles Dodgers haven’t been able to fix Syndergaard, who really hasn’t been that pitcher with the “hook from hell” since he underwent Tommy John surgery.

Syndergaard now has a 6.54 ERA over 52 1/3 innings pitched (11 starts) with the Dodgers this season. Before being placed on the injured list with a blister, Syndergaard told the media, “I would give my hypothetical first-born to be the old me again.”

In 2022, Syndergaard put together a 3.94 ERA over 134 2/3 innings pitched, throwing 80 of the innings with the Los Angeles Angels and 54 2/3 of the innings with the Philadelphia Phillies. He averaged 94.5 mph on his fastball velocity and struck out 6.35 batters per nine innings pitched, after annually averaging in the upper 90s (including 99.6 mph in 2017) with the Mets.

This is the same guy who once threw a fastball near the head of Alcides Escobar to set the tone in Game 3 of the 2015 World Series.

“If the Royals have a problem with me throwing inside, they can meet me 60 feet, six inches away.”

Syndergaard is a long cry from being that same pitcher with a brash personality, who wasn’t afraid of anybody or anything. Hopefully, the Dodgers are able to reset a once-promising career, but the likelihood of that happening certainly looks pretty bleak.

Steven Matz

Another pitcher who’s a shell of his former self, Matz was a homegrown, hometown hero, who grew up a Mets fan on Long Island.

The start of his professional career was delayed by two years due to Tommy John surgery, but perhaps that should’ve served as a cautionary tale. Matz battled injuries from 2015-17. He compiled a 4-0 record with a 2.27 ERA in his rookie season and would later make three postseason starts. In 2016, Matz led all rookie pitchers in wins, ERA and strikeouts through the end of May. That’s when team doctors discovered that Matz had a large bone spur in his throwing elbow. He was reassured that he could pitch through the injury without any additional damage to his elbow, but he struggled largely as a result. Unrelated to his bone spur, Matz injured his shoulder and would later be shut down and undergo surgery. 

After being marred by injuries in 2017, Matz returned to start 62 games over the next two seasons and arguably had some of his best moments in a Mets uniform. He largely struggled during the COVID-shortened 2020 season and was later traded to the Toronto Blue Jays.

The left-hander nearly re-signed with the Mets when he became a free agent following the 2021 season, but he opted to spurn his hometown team in favor of a four-year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. Matz has been dreadful in St. Louis and has since been demoted to a bullpen role after going 0-6 with a 5.72 ERA and a .324 batting average against as a starter this season.

Matz is just another pitcher on this list who was unable to replicate the same success he had in past seasons.

Jacob deGrom

We shouldn’t exactly consider this a hot take, especially because deGrom was on track for a Hall of Fame career. deGrom is the greatest pitcher of his generation. You’d be hard-pressed to find a pitcher that opposing batters have feared more. What made deGrom so good is what has seemingly led to his downfall. The durability he had for a large portion of his career is just no longer there.

deGrom is a gamer with terrific pitching intelligence. There’s not a pitcher in the game that can self-correct better than he can, as he would generally make adjustments on the fly while mowing down an opposing team’s lineup. Unfortunately, deGrom’s pursuit of throwing harder than ever at his frame defied science. He was throwing the fastest slider and changeup in Major League Baseball when he didn’t need to be. Surely, it made him unhittable and more dominant than ever, but he was up against the clock and that didn’t bear fruit until the last two seasons; and perhaps now.

When healthy, deGrom is unquestionably one of the game’s best pitchers, but his last two seasons with the Mets led to significant durability concerns. He made just a combined 26 starts in 2021 and 2022. Before undergoing the season-ending procedure, the two-time Cy Young Award winner had a 2.67 ERA over 30 1/3 innings pitched (six starts) with the Rangers this season.

deGrom hasn’t made more than 15 starts in a season since 2019 when he made 32 starts for the Mets.

What the future holds for the star pitcher, who signed a five-year deal worth $185 million with Texas over the offseason, remains uncertain.

Zack Wheeler

Who would’ve ever thunk that Wheeler would be the last one standing?

Wheeler showed flashes of brilliance with the Mets but struggled with consistency and injuries. There were glimpses of this pitcher that’s now with the Philadelphia Phillies in Queens, but he was never truly able to put it all together. The Mets allowed Wheeler to hit the open market because previous ownership was unable to multi-task (extend two players at once). And they also didn’t believe he was capable of what he’s doing now. That lack of foresight is why the team had to hand out record-breaking contracts to Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. Under two separate regimes, the Mets didn’t know what they had in Wheeler. They nearly traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers with Wilmer Flores for Carlos Gomez, but we all known how that turned out.

Wheeler, who was now in his fourth season with the Phillies, has put together some pretty spectacular seasons for the Fightins’. In 2021, he had a 2.78 ERA over 213 1/3 innings (32 starts) and last season, in which he helped the Phillies reached the World Series, Wheeler had a 2.82 ERA over 153 innings (26 starts).

And while Wheeler is 33 years old with a history of arm injuries, he’s shown no signs of slowing down. This season started off with a bit of a World Series hangover, but he took recently took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Detroit Tigers and has gotten his ERA to under 4. Wheeler now has a 3.91 ERA over 76 innings (13 starts).

The Mets are probably still kicking themselves for letting a player of his caliber hit the open market.

[Photo from Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports]

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.