Mets best options to replace Edwin Diaz after season-ending injury
The New York Mets will likely be without Edwin Diaz for the entire 2023 MLB season. The closer had surgery to repair a complete tear of the patellar tendon in his right knee. Recovery time is typically eight months for such an injury.
The ever optimistic Diaz believes he can return before the season ends. That's unlikely; and the Mets must plan to play 162 games plus postseason without him.
Diaz sustained the injury after striking out the side in the 9th inning of Puerto Rico’s 5-2 win against the Dominican Republic at the World Baseball Classic last Wednesday. He collapsed during an on-field celebration and was taken off in a wheelchair.
It’s a massive blow for the Mets, who are in World Series-or-bust territory this season. Diaz was one of a string of high-priced players the Mets signed or re-signed this Winter, bloating payroll to near $370 million.
That said, the Mets need to replace Diaz and here are the best options to do so.
Mets could split closer duties between David Robertson, Adam Ottavino
Diaz was the best closer in baseball last season and is a filthy strikeout machine in his prime. So, replacing him is not exactly going to be easy, or apples to apples comparisons.
But the Mets are fortunate to have two veteran relievers with closing experience. David Robertson has 157 saves in 14 MLB seasons. The 37-year-old, who signed a one-year contract this offseason, had 20 saves in 28 opportunities for the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies in 2022. He had three straight seasons of 34+ saves for the Yankees and Chicago White Sox from 2014-16.
Adam Ottavino has been primarily a set-up man in his MLB career, but he did have three saves for the Mets last season and has 33 in 12 seasons. Like Robertson, Ottavino is 37 and right-handed.
Of course, elevating one of these set-up men to the closer role has a trickle down affect. Each reliever on the roster takes on more responsibility and, in most cases, a different role. New York’s depth in the pen has already taken a hit this spring with Sam Coonrod and Triple-A flamethrower Bryce Montes de Oca heading to the IL and lefty Brooks Raley slowed by a hamstring issue.
Keep an eye on Drew Smith, a 29-year-old who’s impressed in lower leverage situations the past two seasons. The Mets like his arm and make up; and he could finally take on a more important role. However, he’ll have to do a better job keeping the ball in the ballpark after allowing 16 home runs in 87.1 innings the past two seasons.
And former Tampa Bay Ray righty John Curtiss has had an excellent spring while coming back from Tommy John surgery. He could play a significant role this season.
Mets could sign free agent Zack Britton
Like Curtiss, Zack Britton is looking to return following elbow surgery. Britton, who remains unsigned, threw for several teams last week and the Mets were there to scout him.
Britton once was an elite closer. The left-hander led the American League with 47 saves in 2016 with the Baltimore Orioles when his manager was current Mets skipper Buck Showalter. He has 154 saves in his MLB career.
He was terrific for the Yankees in 2019 and 2020, when he was an elite set-up man and also had 11 saves to go with a sub-2.00 ERA each season before being hurt in 2021. If he’s healthy, Britton would be a good fit with Showalter’s Mets and could form an intriguing left-right closing tandem with Robertson, depending on matchups.
However, the Mets have not publicly showed much interest in Britton at this point.
David Bednar, Alexis Diaz could be Mets trade targets
Not many teams are looking to trade their closer before the season even begins. However, it’d be hard to believe the Mets would wait until the MLB Trade Deadline on July 31 before addressing their bullpen depth. Between now and then, the Mets could target a late-inning addition or a closer, though the latter could cost them a prized prospect, say Ronny Mauricio, who’s been tearing it up in spring training but will begin the season at Triple-A.
So, the Mets must target teams not expected to contend this season, ones building for the future.
It would cost them, but the Mets should check in with the Pittsburgh Pirates about David Bednar. The 28-year-old closer was on the National League All-Star team last season after finishing eighth in NL Rookie-of-the-Year voting in 2021. He has a 175 ERA+ the past two seasons, second best among relievers who’ve thrown at least 100 innings.
An intriguing thought might be to investigate trading for Alexis Diaz. Yes, Edwin’s younger brother, who was last seen sobbing on the field when Edwin was carted off last week. Diaz finished fifth in ROY voting in 2022, when he had a 1.84 ERA, 0.958 WHIP and allowed four hits per nine innings in 59 games for the Cincinnati Reds. The 26-year-old had 10 saves last season but might slot in better with the Mets in a set-up role until he cuts down on walks (4.7 per 9 ip).
Scott Barlow, 30, is a dependable, durable option whom the Kansas City Royals might part with for the right price. And Daniel Bard had an MLB career-high 34 saves with the Colorado Rockies in 2022, his age-37 season.
Photo: Mark Rosenman