The Mets’ 2022 season came to an abrupt end on Sunday night at Citi Field. With that loss comes plenty of uncertainty, as New York will watch several key players enter free agency. What will the organization’s top priority be this winter? Based on recent reports, it could be to re-sign closer Edwin Diaz before he even officially becomes a free agent.
This makes sense, but it won’t come cheap. In fact, his next contract could break some records.
In 150.1 innings since the start of 2020, Diaz has accumulated 5.9 fWAR out of the Mets’ bullpen. That puts him fifth on the franchise’s all-time leaderboard. The other five hurlers ahead of him (John Franco, Jesse Orrosco, Skip Lockwood, Armando Benitez) all threw significantly more innings than he has so far.
Diaz has tossed 208.1 frames as a Met. The next-closest pitcher to him in the top five is Benitez, who threw 347 innings with New York. It’s not just the cumulative performance that’s been impressive for the 28-year-old, though. He’s brought the goods each season in some way (yes, even in that disastrous 2019 campaign).
He owns four of the top-six seasons by a Mets reliever when it comes to strikeout rate. His 3.0 fWAR in 2022 was the second-best in franchise history, and his 50.2% strikeout rate was one of the most dominant the game has ever seen from a reliever.
So what does this all equal? That’s right — a huge payday.
Even with all the crucial decisions they’ll need to make this winter, the Mets are built to win right now. Performance out of the bullpen is volatile from year-to-year, but having a reliever that can consistently shut down the opposition in high-leverage situations is a must.
The Mets realize that, which is why Diaz is at the top of their winter to-do list. Plus, the right-hander said himself that he hoped New York would approach him quickly (quote via Sports Illustrated):
I hope the team comes to me quick to talk. I hope we get the best offer. We’ll take the best offer for me and my family.
It seems like he’d prefer to stay in New York and make this period of unemployment as short as possible. But those three sentences already tell us he’s probably not going to take a discount.
The Mets know their offer to Diaz will have to at least settle near the richest reliever contracts ever to have a shot at signing him before free agency starts.
Hypothetically, that won’t be a problem for MLB’s richest owner in Steve Cohen. You’d have to imagine general manager Billy Eppler will try to get creative to minimize the cost in any possible way, though. After all, he’s got lots of roster spots to fill.
Aroldis Chapman’s five-year, $86 million deal with the Yankees prior to the 2017 season is currently the richest ever for a reliever. Kenley Jansen’s five-year, $80 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers is the second-richest. Looking at recent big paydays for relievers, Raisel Iglesias (four years, $58 million) and Liam Hendriks (three years, $54 million) will also be measuring sticks for Diaz’s camp.
Iglesias and Hendriks may have had a stronger/longer track record before earning their respective deals, but neither of them was coming off the season Diaz just had. Also, they both signed their current contracts at an older age than the 28-year-old right-hander. That $86 million plateau has to be what the reliever’s representation will be shooting for.
The other record Diaz could be poised to break is earning the highest annual salary for a reliever. That honor technically belongs to David Price, but we all know he didn’t sign his $217 million deal with the Boston Red Sox to eventually be a reliever. If we take him off the list, Chapman is once again at the top, earning $18 million this season.
What will Diaz’s next contract look like? MLB insider Jeff Passan thinks it’s possible he could earn one worth at least $100 million. We can assume Diaz, who will be 29 years old on Opening Day, is looking for a term of either four or five years. Those two numbers combined would easily give him both the richest reliever contract in baseball history and the highest annual salary for someone coming out of the bullpen.
That might seem like a crazy number for someone pitching about 60-70 innings per year, but we also saw how valuable of a weapon he was for manager Buck Showalter in 2022. He pitched more than three outs several times and wasn’t limited to just the ninth inning. Diaz pitched earlier in ballgames when the situation called for the team’s best reliever.
He answered the bell virtually every time, and now it’s the Mets’ turn. If he’s a priority for their offseason plans, they’ll have to show it in their negotiations. Cohen has already broken many money-related records since becoming the team owner. This would just be another one of those occurrences in his hunt for a championship.