Wednesday night the New York Mets were dealt a significant blow when All-Star closer Edwin Díaz suffered a torn patellar tendon in his right knee during Puerto Rico's on-field celebration following a victory over the Dominican Republic in a win-or-go-home World Baseball Classic game. Díaz will have surgery and is expected to miss eight months, likely ending his season.
"We won't update Edwin's timeline for a while," Mets GM Billy Eppler told Newsday and Fox Sports on Thursday. "... To nobody's surprise, he's in great spirits. Last night when he talked to me, he was like, 'Don't worry. This is going to be fine.'"
The injury is a fluke that occurred when Díaz appeared to be doing nothing more than jumping up and down with his teammates. The celebration was not aggressive. There was no dogpile or people being thrown around or anything like that. Sometimes unfortunate things happen and Díaz's injury is an unfortunate thing that happened.
Although the Díaz injury is most significant, it is not the only pitching injury the Mets have suffered within the last week. Lefty José Quintana will be out until midseason with a rib injury and depth relievers Sam Coonrod (strained lat) and Bryce Montes de Oca (stress reaction in elbow) exited spring training games with injuries recently.
Here is what New York's Opening Day bullpen could look like in the wake of Díaz's injury:
- Closer: RHP David Robertson
- Setup: RHP Adam Ottavino, LHP Brooks Raley
- Middle: RHP John Curtiss, RHP Tommy Hunter, RHP Stephen Nogosek, RHP Drew Smith
- Long: RHP Elieser Hernandez
One of Tylor Megill and David Peterson will slide into the rotation to replace Quintana, and the other could move into the bullpen. Other bullpen candidates include lefty Joey Lucchesi, who is returning from Tommy John surgery; righties Jeff Brigham, Stephen Ridings, and Jimmy Yacabonis; and Buck Showalter favorite lefty T.J. McFarland.
Opening Day is two weeks away and of course Eppler will scour the market to see whether any free agents or trades make sense to help replace Díaz, not that Díaz can be replaced. He's the best reliever in the sport and by definition that makes him irreplaceable. All you can do is try to replace as much of the lost production and depth as possible.
With that in mind, here's a look at New York's bullpen options following Díaz's knee injury.
1. Stick with what they have
Always the most likely course of action this late in the spring. Free agent and trade options are limited, plus agents and potential trade partners smell blood in the water. They know the Mets just lost Díaz to a major injury, and they will jack up their asking prices accordingly. The injury is unfortunate, but no one feels sorry for Díaz and the Mets.
Ottavino, Raley, and Robertson are a solid end-game trio -- Robertson is New York battle-tested given his time with the Yankees -- and Curtiss has impressed this spring as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery. Still, relievers are unpredictable, even the great ones. Just look at Díaz. He was not exactly a trusted, lockdown closer his first few years with the Mets.
Given what's available now (i.e. not much) and general bullpen volatility, it would make sense for Eppler & Co. to take this bullpen into the season and see how things shake out before making changes. Who knows, maybe they have a hidden gem in Curtiss or the next stud reliever in the hard-throwing Ridings. The Mets could take a few weeks to see what they have, then reevaluate.
2. Sign a free agent
One name immediately jumps to mind: Zack Britton. Britton remains unsigned and he and Showalter know each other well from their years together with the Baltimore Orioles. Now 35, Britton missed most of 2022 while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He returned late in the season, walked six of the nine batters he faced, then suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.
Free agent reliever Zack Britton will throw a simulated game on Thursday at UC-Irvine. About eight teams are expected to be in attendance.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) March 16, 2023
The Mets are expected to attend Britton's showcase Thursday, according to the New York Post, and they have been connected to him for weeks given the Showalter connection. Díaz's injury could up their interest. How much Britton can help following Tommy John surgery and the shoulder injury is unclear, but that's why he's holding the showcase. To show teams he's ready to go.
Other free agent pitchers include relievers Archie Bradley, Ken Giles, and Corey Knebel. Mike Minor has started the last few years but has bullpen experience, and Chris Archer could be a sneaky good starter-to-reliever conversion candidate given his interesting slider characteristics and success the first time through the order in 2022.
|Batters faced||AVG/OBP/SLG||Strikeout rate||Walk rate|
First time thru lineup
Britton is the biggest name available and the Showalter connection can't be ignored. Others like Bradley, Giles, and Knebel have name value, though they're all coming off injuries like Britton. After that, you're wading into No. 6 starter types and Triple-A depth arms. If you need an outfielder, Jurickson Profar is available. If you need a reliever, free agency has much less to offer.
3. Try to find a trade partner
Trading for pitching help is not easy in spring training. No one wants to give up their depth on the mound before the regular season even begins. For Eppler and the Mets, their best hope at landing a reliever in a spring trade likely involves a rebuilding team with a closer or setup man making good money. Some possible trade candidates and their 2023 salaries:
- Colorado Rockies: RHP Dinelson Lamet ($5 million)
- Kansas City Royals: RHP Scott Barlow ($5.3 million) and LHP Amir Garrett ($2.65 million)
- Miami Marlins: RHP Dylan Floro ($3.9 million)
The ideal trade addition would be Cincinnati Reds righty Alexis Díaz, Edwin's younger brother, though he would require a significant prospect package given his age (26), performance (3.1 WAR in 2022), and team control (five more years). And hey, maybe it's worth it. The Mets are trying to win the World Series and Díaz would be a significant boost both this year and beyond.
The Mets could -- and should -- call and ask about other obvious trade targets, like Pittsburgh Pirates closer David Bednar and Texas Rangers righty José Leclerc, though those talks may have to wait until midseason. Free agents-to-be like Reynaldo López (Chicago White Sox) and former Met Trevor May (Oakland Athletics) are trade deadline possibilities.
Point is, trading for pitching -- any kind of pitching -- is not easy in March. Teams are reluctant to give up their extra arms because they know they will need them during the season. Eppler will undoubtedly work the phones the next two weeks, and beyond that as well. Whether he finds something worthwhile before Opening Day is another matter.
4. Wait for opt outs
Article XX(B) free agents -- those are players with at least six years of service time -- who sign a minor league contract automatically receive an opt out clause five days before Opening Day. That allows those players to become free agents and look for opportunities elsewhere rather than go to Triple-A if they're informed they won't make the MLB roster.
Every spring a few of these players opt out and latch on elsewhere. Steve Cishek was in camp with the Houston Astros in 2021, then he opted out and signed with the Los Angeles Angels before Opening Day, for example. Here are the notable veteran Article XX(B) free agent relievers on minor league deals this spring:
- RHP Jesse Chavez, Atlanta Braves
- RHP Alex Colomé, Washington Nationals
- RHP Heath Hembree, Tampa Bay Rays
- RHP Dominic Leone, Texas Rangers
- RHP Bryan Shaw, Chicago White Sox
Hembree spent a few weeks with the Mets in 2021, and while he was terrible with the Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers last year (19 runs in 22 innings), he's upped the spin on his fastball this spring and has struck out six in 5 2/3 innings. Tampa has a loaded bullpen, making Hembree a candidate to opt out later this spring. He's about as good as you'll find in the opt out market.
Díaz's fluke knee injury is devastating, there's no doubt about that, but the wrong thing to do in the immediate aftermath is make a panic move. Eppler knows that. Giving Britton a low-cost contract or waiting to see what the opt out market turns up is sensible. Trading for Díaz (Alexis, not Edwin) would be ideal, though expect the Reds to have a high asking price. The Mets have enough bullpen depth that they can go into the season and see what's what, and if they have to make changes in a few weeks, they will.