A five-year deal for a closer is a risky bet, but it’s one the Mets are willing to make.
The 2022-23 MLB offseason officially began Sunday with the Mets making Edwin Diaz the richest reliever in baseball history. Pending a physical, Diaz will be the recipient of a five-year, $102 million contract. The 28-year-old right-hander has a player option for 2026, a club option for 2028 and full no-trade protection. The AAV on the contract is $20.4 million.
Diaz was the best closer in baseball last season and the Mets promised fans they would make a competitive offer to keep him. Diaz converted 32 saves in 25 opportunities and four holds in 39 save situations, and went 3-1 with a 1.31 ERA and a 0.90 FIP. Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs both weighted him as a 3.0 WAR player last year.
But closers don’t often repeat dominant seasons, which is why you typically only see them getting deals in the 2-3 year range in free agency. Their best years may not be fully behind them once they’re old enough to hit free agency, but few short relievers continue to dominate consistently into their 30s. The Mariano Riveras of the game are rare.
The ascent of the Puerto Rico native was not linear. The starter-turned-reliever had a stellar season for the Seattle Mariners in 2018, but after being traded to New York in the infamous deal that brought Robinson Cano to the Mets in exchange for outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic, he posted a 5.59 ERA.
Diaz was much better in 2020 but just fine in 2021. But he exploded in 2022 and provided theatrics with his dramatic entrances. His entrance song, “Narco” by Blasterjaxx and Timmy Trumpet, became a viral sensation of sorts over the summer. College marching bands play it at football games and clips were shared all over social media. Fans came to Citi Field with the hopes of seeing Diaz run out to the trumpets and Timmy Trumpet even paid a visit to Citi Field to play live.
The Mets see Diaz as more than a key part of the bullpen, they also see him as a key entertainment aspect to home games.
This is a lot of money and a lot of term to commit to a player that may not top this past season again, but the price of another high-caliber high-leverage reliever might have been similar, though over a shorter amount of time.
General manager meetings begin Tuesday in Las Vegas and while those meetings are meant for things like discussing rule changes, getting 30 general managers in one place often leads to deals being discussed as well.
Free agency begins Thursday and teams can negotiate with their current teams until then, but they cannot sign with new teams yet. The Mets are expected to negotiate with two key free agents in outfielder Brandon Nimmo and right-handed ace Jacob deGrom, who opted out of his contract to become a free agent Monday. Right-handers Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker could be on that list as well, with Bassitt expected to decline a mutual option and Walker accepting a $3 million buyout on a player option, but they don’t appear to be priorities.
The Mets could have to replace up to four starting pitchers if deGrom leaves and are likely to be big players on the free agency market.
The two most intriguing pitchers in this year’s free agency class are Carlos Rodon and Justin Verlander. Rodon, the 29-year-old left-hander, has become an analytical darling of sorts since resurrecting his career in 2021. He’s now put up back-to-back All-Star seasons with the Chicago White Sox and San Francisco Giants, showing that his 2021 season was not an aberration.
Verlander will be 40 in February, but he put together a season so strong he may win a third Cy Young Award. Age is a question considering Max Scherzer – the only starting pitcher signed for next season – will be 39 next year and deGrom will be 35. But Verlander has shown no signs of slowing down. It’s the kind of move the Los Angeles Dodgers might make and the Mets have made no secret of their desire to emulate the Dodgers.
Speaking of the Dodgers, infielder Trea Turner became a free agent Sunday. The Mets are in need of an impact bat and the 29-year-old Turner provides that. Signing Turner would give the Mets a ton of flexibility. Jeff McNeil, the NL batting title winner, and Turner have the ability to play multiple positions and would give the Mets two serious threats at the top of the order. Turner could also replace Nimmo in center field, should the homegrown outfielder sign with another team.
The Mets made a bold move to open the offseason. Expect them to make a few more.