Assessing the Mets' options after Diaz's injury
The New York Mets are facing the difficult task of navigating the season without the game's best closer.
All-Star reliever Edwin Diaz is likely to miss the entire 2023 campaign after tearing the patellar tendon in his right knee while celebrating Puerto Rico's win over the Dominican Republic at the World Baseball Classic.
There really is no way to replace a talent like Diaz. The Mets rewarded the 28-year-old with the largest contract ever for a reliever after Diaz dominated the competition in 2022. He racked up 32 saves with a mind-blowing 50.2% strikeout rate and a microscopic 1.31 ERA.
However, with a veteran-laden roster and World Series aspirations this season, Mets general manager Billy Eppler must find a way to keep the bullpen competitive.
Here, we discuss the avenues Eppler might take to address the Diaz-sized void in New York's bullpen.
Stand pat - for now
This option is probably the least appealing to Mets fans right now. The issue Eppler might find at this stage of the spring is a dearth of impactful free agents.
The Mets added veteran relievers David Robertson and Brooks Raley in the offseason to provide manager Buck Showalter with more proven commodities to use in a variety of situations.
Robertson in particular could be given the first opportunity to slide into the closer's role. The 37-year-old enjoyed a renaissance in 2022, racking up 20 saves, a 2.40 ERA, and a 11.45 K/9 with the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs.
The Mets have a few non-roster invitees in spring camp who could emerge as options to take Diaz's roster spot. Tommy Hunter and Jimmy Yacabonis are both putting together strong performances. Yacabonis struggled to the tune of an 8.36 ERA last season but racked up 21 strikeouts in just 14 innings, indicating there is legitimate swing-and-miss upside in his repertoire.
The current group of Mets relievers might not be good enough to excel in the grind of playoff baseball, but there is still probably enough talent to hold down the fort for the first portion of the regular season before more options materialize for Eppler.
Tap into the free-agent market
While there aren't many capable free-agent relievers still available, the Mets do have some options with ninth-inning experience to look at.
Most notable is veteran left-hander Zack Britton. The former All-Star closer has history with Showalter from their time spent with the Baltimore Orioles. The Mets already showed interest in Britton at various points in the offseason. Britton may not possess the same caliber of stuff he did in his best years, but if healthy, he can provide Showalter and the Mets with some reliable innings.
Another option is former Phillies closer Corey Knebel. The right-hander struggled through injuries and inconsistency last season, losing his grip on the ninth inning. Knebel is recovering from a shoulder capsule tear but has a track record of success with 72 saves over eight big-league campaigns.
Swing a trade
This is probably the most difficult path for Eppler to take. Teams will likely seek a major haul to trade a reliever to the Mets, knowing how desperate New York is. The trade market usually takes some time to materialize once the season starts, but there might be an opportunity before rosters are set ahead of Opening Day.
Wouldn't it be something if Eppler and the Mets could acquire Alexis Diaz, Edwin's younger brother, from the Cincinnati Reds? New York reportedly tried to acquired Diaz at the 2022 trade deadline but was rebuffed. The time might be right for Eppler to revisit the possibility with Reds general manager Nick Krall.
Kansas City Royals right-hander Scott Barlow is another intriguing name to monitor. The Royals added former All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman in free agency this offseason, leaving Barlow's role somewhat uncertain.
The 30-year-old has 40 saves over the past two seasons, including 24 in 2022. Barlow has three solid pitches to work with and carries another two years of club control before reaching free agency following the 2024 season.