Mets closer Edwin Díaz suffered a sudden and serious injury pitching for Puerto Rico at the World Baseball Classic in Miami. An MRI revealed a ruptured patellar tendon on his right knee, and while Díaz has already undergone surgery started the recovery process, the likelihood is high that he will miss the entire 2023 season.
That’s bad news for the Mets, who recently made Díaz the highest-paid reliever in baseball, locking him up for five years and $102 million. The good thing about employing the best closer in baseball is that a ninth-inning lead is all but assured to turn into a win. The bad thing about employing the best closer in baseball is that there is no one in the world that can be expected to match his performance if that closer gets injured.
Luckily for Mets fans, the Díaz contract wasn’t the team's only move in the offseason to bolster the bullpen. The Mets re-signed Adam Ottavino to a two-year deal, bringing back the righty after a superb 2022 season. They also brought in David Robertson and Brooks Raley, the former of whom still shows elite stuff in his late 30s and the latter of whom demonstrates effectiveness from the left side. None of these pitchers are Edwin Díaz, but they should give Mets fans comfort that a Díaz-less bullpen should look better in 2023 than it would have in 2022.
But even though the Mets don’t have a second Edwin Díaz to bring out, someone is going to need to step into the closer role anyway. Or maybe a few people. So, who’s it going to be?
Conventional thought points to Robertson. While he hasn’t performed the role of full-time closer since 2016, Robertson got back to closing games last season for the Cubs and the Phillies and saved 20 games. He shines more in lower-leverage situations, as his eight blown saves in 28 opportunities in 2022 attest to, but having a pitcher who gave up only two hits and zero runs in four World Series games last season makes a pretty decent closer option.
Then again, Robertson walks a lot of batters. Amongst all relievers with 60 IP in 2022, Robertson has the third-worst BB/9 rate at 4.95. Robertson’s walk rate has never been impressive throughout his career, but last year was one of his worst seasons with the free pass, and nearly five walks per nine innings will undoubtedly make Mets fans sweat at the end of games. Luckily, the Mets have a similar pitcher in the pen who does much better in that regard.
Adam Ottavino’s K/9 rate of 10.8 looks only slightly less impressive than Robertson’s 11.5, but his BB/9 rate of 2.19 looks elite by comparison. In fact, Ottavino found a third wind in Queens as his 4.94 K/BB ratio was the best in a full season of his career. Ottavino isn’t as elite as a reliever as he was in his last season for the Rockies and his first season for the Yankees, but he isn’t far off. His most glaring flaw is his lack of closer experience, as he’s only recorded double-digit saves one time in his career (11 for the Red Sox in 2021). It’s entirely possible that Ottavino becomes less effective as the pressure rises, which might give the edge to Robertson in that regard.
There’s no obvious answer between the two, but considering that both can still show elite eighth-inning performances, the Mets can hope that one of Ottavino-then-Robertson or Robertson-then-Ottavino can work. And they really have to hope that one of those combinations works, because Raley will most likely stick to his left-handed assignments, and the only other reliever that might merit a shot is Drew Smith, but only with some more experience later in games.
But just because the Mets have limitations in the bullpen, it doesn’t mean they can’t get creative.
If no obvious closer candidate emerges from the bullpen, and if the starting rotation stays healthy, the Mets should seriously consider Tylor Megill for the closer role. Megill currently sits at seventh in the starting pitcher depth chart, and with José Quintana out for at least the first three months of the season, there’s a good chance the Mets will call on Megill to start this season instead of taking a crack at the ninth inning.
Still, Megill has closer stuff. He averaged 95.7 MPH on his fastball last season despite the team reigning in his velocity to extend his stamina as a starter. If let loose in short relief, there’s no reason to believe Megill can’t consistently hit triple digits at the end of a game. Megill also shows elite vertical movement on his slider and walked only 2.5 batters per nine innings in 2022. He shows the kind of talent that the Mets want for multiple innings at the start of the game, but if Verlander and Scherzer and company have the rotation on lock, it might be a fun experiment to let the 6’7” flamethrower shut down a game or two.
Of course, there isn’t much room for experimentation for a team that has World Series aspirations. If neither Robertson nor Ottavino works out, it’s more likely that the team will look to trade for an All-Star reliever instead of rolling the dice with unproven talent. They could also win every game by 5+ runs and negate the need for high-leverage relief innings (just a thought). But the Mets have decent closer options even without Díaz, and losing Sugar doesn’t mean they’re going down.