Up until Wednesday, the Mets had avoided the worst. The pitching depth had taken a few hits over the last two weeks but the Mets were still in a position to be able to withstand the losses. But losing the best closer in baseball is a different story.
Edwin Diaz tore his patellar tendon while celebrating Puerto Rico’s win over the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic in Miami and is expected to be out for the season. The 28-year-old right-hander will undergo surgery Thursday afternoon by Dr. David Altchek and will be sidelined for roughly eight months.
The 28-year-old right-hander will undergo surgery Thursday afternoon in Florida and will be sidelined for roughly eight months. It’s a huge blow to the bullpen and to the Mets, who signed him to a record five-year, $102 million contract in November, and to fans who loved the trumpets on his walkout song, “Narcos.”
Mets general manager Billy Eppler noted that other athletes who have undergone the same surgery have recovered within six months, but the Mets are not yet ready to say that will be the case for Diaz.
In the internet age, hardly anything passes without outrage. And while the discourse around the WBC will certainly continue, the Mets have to figure out what comes next.
When putting together the bullpen, Eppler prioritized pitchers can who have experience throwing in high-leverage innings and who have a track record of success in high-leverage situations.
In-house options who fit that bill are right-handers David Robertson and Drew Smith and left-hander Brooks Raley. Robertson was the Yankees closer following the retirement of Mariano Rivera in 2014 and then spent the next two years in the same role for the Chicago White Sox. The veteran reliever converted 20 saves last season with the Chicago Cubs and the Philadelphia Phillies. The 37-year-old says he can pitch in any inning and he’s confident in his ability to get outs in just about any situation.
Smith became Diaz’s primary setup man last season, pitching in 16 save situations and logging 14 holds. Traded to the Mets in exchange for first baseman Lucas Duda in 2017, the 29-year-old Texan has been a workhorse for the Mets over the past two seasons, making 31 appearances in 2021 and 44 in 2022.
Raley withdrew from the WBC with a hamstring injury but he’s expected to be ready for Opening Day. He’s converted nine saves in his career.
The Mets could opt to sign a free-agent reliever and there are currently four with experience working the ninth inning: Zack Britton, Ken Giles, Will Harris and Corey Knebel. Britton, a former Yankees reliever who was the closer for the Baltimore Orioles and current Mets manager Buck Showalter, recently threw for scouts and the Mets were in attendance.
The club opted not to sign the 35-year-old left-hander but the loss of Diaz could force them to take another look.
Diaz is coming off of the best season of his career. In 2022, he made his second All-Star appearance and converted 32 saves in 35 opportunities, posted a 1.31 ERA and struck out 118 batters. He walked on 18 in 62 innings, showing exceptional command of his triple-digit fastball and his slider.
After being traded from the Seattle Mariners in the same deal that brought Robinson Cano to the Mets, Diaz struggled to adjust to a new team in a new market. But he returned to old form, and between his entrance music and his affable nature, he was able to win over Mets and quickly become a fan favorite. The fans won over Diaz too and his family grew to love New York.
The injury occurred when Diaz and his brother, Cincinnati Reds right-hander Alexis were embracing following Puerto Rico’s 5-2 win over the favored Dominicans. Players began circulating around the two brothers, who were playing together for the first time since childhood, and jumping up and down. The group stopped when they noticed Diaz had gone down in the middle and quickly signaled for trainers. Diaz was taken off the field in a wheelchair and sent for X-rays.
The WBC was an important tournament for Diaz. His pride for Puerto Rico and the opportunity to play with his brother made the decision a no-brainer. This tournament is similar to the Olympics or the World Cup for countries outside of the United States and for some it’s the only chance they get to represent their countries.
“It’s representing my country,” Diaz told the Daily News earlier this month. “Every player dreams of representing their country. I feel proud to have Puerto Rico on my chest.”