How do the Mets replace Edwin Díaz?
☘️ Happy St. Patty’s Day!
We’ve had some time to process the Edwin Díaz news. Hopefully the chat provided a cathartic outlet for everyone who joined.
We learned together that the Mets’ closer will be sidelined for up to eight months, or the entire season, depending on how optimistic you are that he can meet the speedier recovery timeline of six months and somehow be in position to pitch in late September.
I made my point yesterday about the World Baseball Classic, and why it particularly stings to lose a star player during a celebration. I know people still have strong feelings about it—send everyone home right now! I will leave that discussion for other outlets (or for the comment section).
“There’s a reason why this team is great. There’s a reason why we brought in the guys we brought in and have the talent that we have,” Justin Verlander told reporters on Thursday. “You go out and do your job on a daily basis. You establish a winning culture, and I don’t see how that changes because we lost Edwin. Obviously, it’s tough. But we still expect to go win.”
⏩ Today, we begin to move on. I will provide some historical context on Díaz’ injury, and offer a look at what the bullpen looks like without him. As always, we will catch you up on the latest news and notes, and provide you some interesting links from other sources.
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⏰ What Edwin Díaz’ recovery might look like
While we have day jobs, we aren’t doctors at Mets Fix. We will trust the timelines passed along by GM Billy Eppler. The general timeline for recovery for surgery on a patellar tendon is about eight months. Díaz went under the knife yesterday. He is expected to begin a rehab program as soon as next week.
At the very least, there are some interesting parallels we can look at in thinking about Díaz path to recovery.
▪️ The most recent and closest comparable is Zach Eflin, a right-hander who had surgery on his right patellar tendon in September 2021 and returned to the mound for the start of the 2022 season (within six months time). He would later be sidelined with a separate knee injury in June of that year (he has battled through knee injuries his entire career), but came back to pitch in a bullpen role during the stretch run.
I was able to dig up two more cases, although they aren’t perfect comparisons since each player had surgery on their planting leg.
▪️ Matt Strahm (lefty) had surgery to repair his right patellar tendon in October 2020. He missed most of the 2021 season, finally returning to form in 2022.
▪️ Garrett Richards (righty) had surgery to repair his left patellar tendon in August 2014. He came back to throw 207 innings in 2015.
Every injury is different. Eppler made it clear that we won’t receive another update on Díaz for a “long time.” Get used to life without him. We probably won’t see him pitch again until 2024.
🏥 Do the Mets have insurance?
World Baseball Classic participants are required to undergo entrance and exit physicals and are insured to protect against injury. There are rare cases when a team waives the insurance requirement, such as with Detroit and Miguel Cabrera. We saw the Dodgers would not waive the insurance requirement for Clayton Kershaw, so he didn’t play.
The Mets actually blocked Starling Marte from playing for the Dominican Republic, as he recovers from surgery on both groins. It’s unclear whether they took the same route as the Dodgers did with Kershaw, or pulled another lever to use his recent injury as grounds to keep him in Port St. Lucie.
“In general, we are not given too many opportunities to stand in the way when a player goes,” Eppler said. “There’s certain criteria that has to be met in order for a player to not go. When we are given that runway, we’ve taken it. We took it with (Starling Marte).”
As for Díaz, assuming the Mets have insurance, they will be reimbursed for the entire time he is sidelined from this injury. The All-Star closer is set to make $17.25 million on his new five-year, $102 million deal. Steve Cohen will have that much more to spend on fancy art, or to apply towards tax payments—despite receiving a large insurance check, the $18.6 million AAV still counts against the luxury tax payroll.
You can learn more about the insurance process here.
You can’t replace Edwin Díaz. He is a unicorn closer, having risen from the ashes of the Jarred Kelenic trade to become one of the most popular relievers in Mets history. More than his ability to close out games, he added an air of confidence to the team that felt reminiscent of old Yankees teams. From his entrance music to his stunning efficiency in the ninth inning, it was impossible not to make Mariano Rivera comparisons.
The Mets can’t replace that. The best they can do is piece together what remains of a bullpen that fortunately already has a few veteran options that can step into a closing role.
I want to think about this differently, though. Instead of thinking about it in terms of replacing Mr. Díaz as a closer, let’s break it down in terms of situation, or leverage.
For those not familiar with the term leverage in baseball lexicon, it is a statistic that measures the importance of a particular event. The score-base-out situation is considered when a reliever enters the game to classify it as high, medium or low leverage. We can use this classification to see how the Mets relievers were used last season.
As you would expect, Díaz pitched in the most “high-leverage” situations. Interestingly, the Mets, as a team, had the least number of high-leverage appearances in baseball last year. Not what you would expect from a club that won 101 games. In total, they had the third lowest number of relief appearances. A trend that could continue if you believe in the health of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer and their ability to pitch deep into games.
For purposes of analysis, I took the numbers in the chart above and changed the following:
Added twenty more appearances to bring the Mets closer to league average and spread those appearances out among the three leverage categories;
Replaced Lugo with Robertson and put Robertson in the “closer” role;
Kept Ottavino the same, moved Drew Smith up to Lugo’s role and boosted Raley’s contributions relative to Joely Rodríguez’ last year;
Now we have a better picture of what the Mets need to replace. We can put the low-leverage situations aside. Those can be mostly filled out by the back of the pen or the top guys when they need extra work. We can assume the medium-leverage situations can be handled by a mix of arms. Robertson, Ottavino, Smith and Raley are no slouches. You trust them in a non-intense scenario.
The focus is really on the high-leverage situations. This is where Díaz will be missed most. Besides the drop-off from Díaz to Robertson, if Robertson ends up taking a lion’s share of those extra opportunities, the injury means Drew Smith will be asked to take a heightened set-up role and someone else will have to emerge as a candidate to give them 10-15 regular appearances in tight, close games.
This is where a Zack Britton could be intriguing. You wouldn’t necessarily be asking him to come in and pitch every night in the 8th inning with a lead. You would need him to offer you support on a night the back of the bullpen is short, or when an important match-up emerges early in the game.
If we want to be really optimistic, perhaps someone like John Curtiss or the healthiest of Sam Coonrod, Bryce Montes de Oca, Jeff Brigham or Stephen Ridings could turn into reliable options. Besides the main core, you can see in the graphic there are still at least 30 more high-leverage situations to cover, even when Díaz was healthy.
🔻 BOTTOM LINE: We can talk about replacing Edwin Díaz as a closer, or we can be more accurate in saying the Mets need to replace around 30+ high-leverage situations where he excelled. The additions of David Robertson and Brooks Raley should already give Buck Showalter some added confidence late in games. If the front office can identify at least one more piece — and I am a proponent of being patient in finding that reliever — they should be able to stitch together a strong bullpen.
Losing Díaz is devastating, but the Mets can survive. This isn’t about replacing a closer, it’s about replacing high-leverage innings. Hopefully, by looking at it this way, the challenge seems less daunting.
👍 FEELING GOOD: Kodai Senga was back on the mound yesterday after suffering pain in his right index finger. He tossed three innings of one-run ball, striking out five along the way. He is still working to figure out the new rules around the pitch clock. He had to seek guidance from the home plate umpire on when he is allowed to set on the rubber. Otherwise, he felt good.
“There are different types of treatment and training, just getting used to the ball,” Senga said through his interpretor. “I think it’s just a step to get used to the big leagues and get used to the big-league ball so I am approaching it one step at a time.”
🏃♂️ NEED FOR SPEED: Acquired to provide speed in the faster-pace game of 2023, Tim Locastro is having himself a nice spring, reaching base two more times on Thursday to increase his on-base percentage to .462, putting him in position to swipe six bases.
⏭️ UP NEXT: Carlos Carrasco will take the hill today against the Marlins at Clover Park. The veteran right-hander has been steadily average throughout Grapefruit League play, allowing at least three baserunners in each of his three starts. He could pitch five innings today.
◾️ Matt Harvey is looking for another chance: “Obviously I’m not pumping mid-to-upper-90s anymore — at least not yet. Hopefully, the velo comes back. But if it doesn’t, I feel like I still know how to pitch and to get guys out,” Harvey told The Post from Japan. “I’ve worked really hard on a different style of pitching. I feel good. Hopefully the stuff comes back. But I can still pitch. The game is still about getting people out.”
◾️ In a memo sent to all 30 teams, MLB said its efforts to crack down on pitchers’ illegal use of substances will be enhanced in 2023.
◾️ Starting this season, MLB will allow viewers on MLB Network and Apple TV+ to watch replay review in real-time via Zoom.
🔗 How the Mets intend to handle Edwin Díaz’s WBC injury: ‘We still expect to go win’, by Will Sammon, The Athletic ($): “Within 10 seconds of the nightmare scenario unfolding on television, Buck Showalter’s phone buzzed with a text from Brandon Nimmo, the first of several Mets players who messaged the manager about Edwin Díaz. ‘Are you watching this?’”
🔗 How can the Mets attempt to replace Edwin Díaz? by Tim Britton and Andy McCullough, The Athletic ($): “With Robertson, Ottavino and left-hander Brooks Raley, the Mets have themselves three successful pitchers who achieve their success against different types of hitters. Ottavino is the most dominant against right-handed hitters, Raley the best against left-handed hitters, and Robertson the best against a mix. It could be as simple as picking the right one to face the three hitters due up in the ninth.”
🔗 How New York’s deadline trades with the Cubs are looking from the other side, by Joel Sherman, NY Post: “The Mets have a lot of internal regret about obtaining Baez on July 30, 2021, for Crow-Armstrong barely a year after using the 19th overall pick in the 2020 draft on the center fielder. The Mets didn’t make the playoffs, and Baez left in free agency. And as Crow-Armstrong emerged last year after missing all action in 2020 due to COVID and most of 2021 following shoulder surgery, the Mets were left more circumspect about trading their better prospects at last year’s deadline. The Mets have seller’s remorse that they traded Crow-Armstrong without fully understanding what they had.”
📺 New York Mets star pitcher Max Scherzer joins Foul Territory: “The guys react to Edwin Diaz's freak injury following Puerto Rico's win over the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.”
And we close this one out with some words from Mr. Díaz…
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Amazing analysis of the relief situation from 5000 feet. I think this sort of perspective is especially appropriate for relief pitchers. No one will do as well as Diaz. A big loss to be sure. But we are not losing 100% of his production because others will make up for a certain amount of it. I’m sure you’ll have a calculation of what the end result was after the season is over. I agree we should be patient. But if Britton looks like he’s a solid reliever who can give us 40 or more quality relief appearances, we should grab him now, options and luxury tax be damned.
I’m hopeful this is a huge tear for Drew Smith. I think he has the most potential of stepping up to a significant high leverage contributor. And if he doesn’t, it’s time to move on from him. Nogosek has potential to reach a level of serviceable bullpen arm too. Brigham might be a solid too. And John Curtis might be a huge high leverage contributor.
We just can’t afford any more injuries.
Great stuff on the high leverage scenario. Yes I think Lindor wanted Baez but now PCA is a top 20 prospect at premium position. I am hoping Alex Ramirez continues to ascend to take sting out of losing PCA for rental of Baez (who did play well but wasn’t right move imo).