The Mets have a lot of holes to fill on their roster because of so many players hitting free agency. Plenty of work still needs to be done prior to Opening Day. Thankfully, one large to-do list item has already been crossed off Billy Eppler’s list: re-signing Edwin Diaz.
Like the starting rotation, New York’s bullpen looked quite bare with proven commodities. For a win-now club, the Mets need a trusted closer to lock down the back end of the bullpen. No searching was necessary since Diaz proved to be worthy after an incredible 2022 campaign.
In 62 innings pitched, the right-hander posted a 1.31 ERA and 0.84 WHIP with 32 saves, a 50.2% strikeout rate, a 7.7% walk rate, and a 3.0 fWAR. This performance was dominant enough to earn a second-place vote in National League Cy Young Award voting. He ultimately finished in ninth place.
This all led to a record payday for relievers, with Diaz inking a five-year, $102 million deal before free agency even fully opened up. When asked about it, manager Buck Showalter had this to say about his closer (quote via SNY):
I think what we were drawn to him was the fact that he has shown the toughness to pitch in New York, and come back from things. You gotta have that toughness to pitch here.
The 2022 NL Manager of the Year also said this:
When you return from where he was, when you had failure, and you return and had the success that he had – and I think our fans fed off that, they know the toughness they respect that toughness it takes to come through that – usually you don’t want to go back there again.
This really jumped out at me because of the hole Diaz climbed himself out of to reach this moment. It wasn’t too long ago that the reliever was viewed as a bust in New York. And even if the Mets wanted to cut their losses and make a trade, there wasn’t a market for him:
Just an insane career arc for Edwin Diaz. https://t.co/tW4LNtzbHl
— offseason olive (@Jolly_Olive) November 6, 2022
Of course, Diaz came to New York with Robinson Cano via trade ahead of the 2019 season. Edwin was fresh off one of the most dominant reliever seasons we’ve ever seen. He compiled 3.5 fWAR in 73.1 innings pitched while securing 57 saves.
Needless to say, he arrived in Flushing with the highest of expectations. That all came crashing down during his first year with the Mets. Diaz racked up 58 innings of work, but his performance was worth 0.0 fWAR. It included a 5.59 ERA, a 1.38 WHIP, and 2.33 home runs allowed per nine innings.
It’s hard to struggle through a year like that in any big-league market. But in New York? It’s a whole different animal. Dealing with poor performance and criticism from media pundits and fans alike would be enough to sink any ballplayer’s confidence to an all-time low. I wouldn’t be shocked if Diaz’s confidence was at its lowest point during the 2019 season.
If you told any Mets fan during those struggles that Diaz would not only stay with the club but eventually secure a $100 million contract from the Mets, they would’ve thought you were crazy. They also would’ve expressed those feelings with lots of four-letter words.
This is how baseball goes sometimes, folks. It’s a humbling sport that can beat a player down quite consistently. But, it also provides an opportunity for that same player to show what they’re made of.
That’s exactly what Diaz has done. The trajectory of his Mets career has been nothing short of extraordinary. Between his incredible performance and equally-incredible entrance from the bullpen, Diaz has completely changed the narrative about himself in New York.
He’s gone from being an absolute bust to having a chance at being the best reliever in franchise history. That’s insane, and it’s something very few players would’ve been able to do while playing in New York.