Replacing the Unreplaceable: The Edwin Diaz Issue

Today's players love the game just as much as the fans do, and the chance to represent their country in the World Baseball Classic (WBC) is just another way to prove themselves and show pride on a stage that the entire world gets to witness. In some cases, this is the only true way that the players get to represent their home country in ways they never can while playing games in the MLB. For example, Freddie Freeman's parents were both born in Canada so he holds dual-citizenship, so this year he's playing for Canada's national team.

Edwin Diaz is no exception. He represented the Puerto Rican national team in the 2017 WBC, and returned to represent them in the 2023 WBC. However, this time didn't go nearly as smooth. Following a win against the Dominican Republic, while the team was celebrating the win, Edwin Diaz went down to the ground. He was injured, and it was obvious to those surrounding him and those at home, that it wasn't going to be good news when the doctors were able to look at him. After being unable to put any weight on his leg, it was later revealed that Diaz had suffered a freak injury and had torn his patellar tendon in his right knee. The recovery time for the injury is roughly 8 months, which means that the Mets will be without their dominant closer for the upcoming season. So where do they turn? Do they have the pieces? Do they need to trade for one? Is there one out there on the market still?

The Mets have a few names in the majors already that have some experience in the closer role, even in short bursts and necessity reasons.

David Robertson, RHP:

Robertson signed with the Mets this offseason on the heels of a postseason run with the Phillies and a solid season between the Cubs and Philly. At age 38, Robertson has tons of experience. Over the course of his 14 year career in the majors, his career ERA is 2.89, and while he's been a reliever in his career he has managed to rack up 157 career saves across all of his stops. Robertson has largely been used in late inning situations in his career, which should bring enough confidence in him to fill the role of Diaz. While it shouldn't be expected that Robertson be anywhere nearly as dominant as Diaz was over the course of this past season, Robertson excels in getting outs when he needs to, how he needs to. The role Robertson most likely would've filled if Diaz hadn't been injured was probably more of a set up role in order to ease into Diaz, so moving Robertson to the closer role out of necessity won't be a foreign idea.

Adam Ottavino, RHP

Ottavino signed with the Mets after a couple down years in Boston and the Bronx and over the course of the season showed that sometimes, situation is everything. After posting a COVID season ERA of 5.89, and following it up with a 4.21 ERA in Boston, Ottavino joined the Mets and proceeded to roll a 2.06 ERA. Throughout his career, however, Ottavino has only amassed 33 saves. Robertson has more experience in the closer role, but Ottavino's consistency last year should allow the Mets to explore his ability to close out games this season. We're most likely headed towards splitting the role between these two options if the roster was to stay the same, but Ottavino's consistency could help him surge into a bigger role this year at the end of games.

Brooks Raley, LHP

One of the lesser options, Raley holds 9 saves in his career which is boosted by the 6 saves that he had last year. Coming off the best ERA season of his career, a 2.68 showing, Raley could slot in as a third option to close out games if the needs call for it. With the likes of Robertson and Ottavino, the need to test Raley in the closer role isn't as big of a need, but he's certainly one of the options that's currently at the major league level. Brooks was also at the WBC and was forced out with an injury, suffering a low grade, hamstring strain, but it's shouldn't keep him on the shelf for any type of extended period of time.

Those are the logical answers inside the organization at the major league level, the Mets do currently have a couple of prospects that could fill the role, if not help ease the rest of the bullpen into Robertson/Ottavino taking over the role.

Bryce Montes de Oca, RHP

The #22 ranked prospect in the Mets organization by MLB's website, the flamethrower has shown off his velocity during the 2023 Spring Training. Montes de Oca won't be available for the start of the season due to a stress reaction injury that should sideline him for 3-4 weeks, but when he's healthy and able to throw, Montes de Oca could be a perfect option to fortify the bullpen. While Montes de Oca hits triple digits regularly with his fastball, he also wields a mid-90s cutter, and wipe out slider that sits in the mid-80s on the radar gun. With that in his arsenal, Montes de Oca struck out batters at an impressive 34.6% K rate last year. The knock on Montes de Oca is his control. He managed a 16.5% walk rate this past season, but if he can maintain some control on his pitches, Bryce could be a staple in the Mets bullpen going forward in 2023 and beyond. Could he fill the closer role? He holds 17 saves across his minor league career with the Mets, but in this case, the Mets might want to wait to test him in a late game situation until he shows better command.

Grant Hartwig, RHP

This 25 year old was an undrafted free agent of the Mets in 2021, and was immediately moved to the bullpen in the system, and in 2022 alone, Hartwig managed to see time across four different levels of minor league baseball. Hartwig racked up a 1.75 ERA, 13 saves, 86 strikeouts in 56.2 innings pitched, and a 1.09 WHIP across the board in 2022, so there's certainly potential to him reaching the major league bullpen sooner rather than later. Hartwig had a 35.5% strikeout rate to lead the Mets minor league system, and he was nearly unhittable by lefties with a 38.5% strikeout rate against them. The knock on Hartwig is also the same as Montes de Oca, the walk rate is too high. Hartwig has closer experience after saving 13 games in 2022, 16 in total for his minor league career, but he's probably still too green to get that chance at the major league level over guys like Robertson and Ottavino. He doesn't possess triple digit velocity on his fastball, but he does sit in the low to mid 90's, and his low 80's slider has enough action on it to work at the big league level. He probably won't be in the major leagues at the beginning of the year, but Hartwig is certainly a name to watch as a potential call up to help the bullpen throughout the year.

The internal options are pretty solid, albeit unspectacular. But in order to cover all bases, outside of the organization holds players that the Mets and fans might be willing to look into with the injury to Edwin.

Alexis Diaz, RHP, Cincinnati

Edwin's brother is a common name that almost every Mets fan has mentioned in the wake of his injury. The 25 year old younger brother still has 5 years of team control until he's officially a free agent, which means the price tag that would be hung on Alexis is substantial. If the Mets were inclined to move off of one of their top prospects, then it might sway the Reds into making such a deal, but that's probably a baseline for where discussions would need to sit before any Diaz family reunion would happen. Alexis posted 10 saves a year ago for a Reds team that wasn't entirely dedicated to winning baseball games the way the Mets were. Even so, Diaz finished the 2022 campaign with a 1.84 ERA to go along with his 10 saves, and looks like he has the potential to be as good as his big brother. The Mets may have checked in on Alexis Diaz's availability this past season, or so the rumors go, but if the Mets weren't willing to part ways with any top prospects at the deadline last season then it's hard to imagine them breaking that bond now.

Zack Britton, LHP

Why not see if Buck Showalter can get anything out of the tank from his former closer? Britton knows Buck well from their time together in Baltimore, and he has plenty of experience as a closer with 154 saves in his career. If you look at his stat sheet, most would assume that his best pitching days are behind him, but the season is 162 games long so if it was necessary, the Mets could kick the tires and see if the tank is empty on Britton or strike gold and have another serviceable arm in the pen. Compared to Alexis Diaz, Britton is bone cheap. The bidding war for Britton probably won't be breaking anyone's bank. If Britton is waiting for the right opportunity to pitch again for the 2023 season, the Mets and Showalter might just be it.

Of course the natural reaction is to panic when one of the best closers in all of baseball is lost for the season. And it's easy to blame that all on the participation in the WBC, but the fact is that injuries happen. It wasn't an injury that was from playing in the game, it wasn't from getting hit by a pitch, it was a freak accident. Edwin Diaz's knee just gave out. His Mets teammates, his own brother, his Puerto Rico teammates, all had to watch as something so innocent such as a celebration took out one of the best closers in the game. It was not the WBC's fault, it was not his teammates' fault, it was not even Edwin's fault. These things happen. As Mets fans, we need to wish him a speedy recovery and root for the guys to fill the role in the best way that they can. If your fandom for the upcoming season was hinging on Edwin Diaz, then you never believed the Mets had a good team to begin with. The Mets still have a good team, and the door is still open for whatever comes next, "Ya just gotta believe!"

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