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Edwin Díaz remains an enigma heading into fourth (and final?) season with Mets

It’s possible that Citi Field will be Narco-less after this season.

MLB: New York Yankees at New York Mets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The truth is that Edwin Díaz’s Mets career was probably always going to be tinged with some level of disappointment.

Even if Díaz had been as consistently dominant as he was in 2018 for the Mariners, some Mets fans would only ever think about what the team gave up to acquire him. And indeed, if Jared Kelenic turns out to live up to his potential, there’s not much Díaz can do in 2022 that will lift the sting that many Mets fans will feel when they think about the trade.

It doesn’t help, of course, that Díaz’s Mets career up to this point has been a roller coaster of extreme highs and even more extreme lows. When he’s been on top of his game, he’s looked every bit as electric as he was in that remarkable 2018 season of his. But when he hasn’t had it—when he’s gone through stretches of losing the strike zone entirely, or when hitters have been able to make solid contact against his pitches—well, then you have something like his dreadful 2019 season in which he introduced himself to New York with a putrid 5.59 ERA and allowed 2.3 HR/9.

Last season was somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. To be sure, Díaz on the whole was a good reliever for the team last year, as his 3.45 ERA in 63 games pitched will attest. And he certainly had stretches where he looked unhittable, when his slider was bewildering hitters and he was throwing shutdown innings with ease. But so too did he have stretches—like a three-game segment in July in which he blew three straight saves, including two against the hapless Pirates—where some of those same issues haunted Díaz and kept him from fully earning the confidence of a lot of Mets fans. Indeed, while those high moments continue to make him a thrilling pitcher to watch, the uncertainty about exactly which version of Díaz we’re getting on any given day also makes him a confounding one.

Díaz is now heading into his fourth season with the Mets, and it may be his final one, as the 28-year-old pitcher is eligible for free agency for the first time at season’s end. If he has a season in which he lives up to his sky-high potential, he may fetch a price that the Mets won’t be comfortable paying for a reliever. If he has a tumultuous season closer in-line to his 2018 catastrophe, the Mets will probably be all too happy to see him go. If his season is more of an in-between affair like 2021... well, who knows? As is often the case with Díaz, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding him.

What is less uncertain is the importance that Díaz will have to the success of the 2022 Mets bullpen—and by extension, to the 2022 Mets team as a whole. The bullpen did not make many huge additions over the offseason, give or take an Adam Ottavino. It also lost its best reliever from last season with Aaron Loup’s departure. The bullpen has the potential to be an above-average group of pitchers, but it also has the potential to be a liability if just one or two of the guys being counted on stumbles. And while Díaz will justifiably still be the closer heading into the season, he’s also shown himself to be a guy who is as capable of stumbling as anybody—and his stumbles can be the kind that make him an outright burden on a team, as he was in 2019.

The Mets can’t afford that if they want to be the kind of well-rounded squad that is capable of making a deep postseason run. They need him to be, if not quite the dominant 2018 All-Star closer, at least something somewhat resembling that sort of player. If he can do that, Díaz will be a vital cog to the Mets, and he will set himself up for a nice payday in free agency. It may not quite make up for the sting of losing Kelenic, but the Mets will take what they can get at this point. And if this does end up being the end of the road for Díaz in New York—well, we’ll always have “Narco.”