Edwin Díaz injury: Four avenues Mets can take to fill gaping bullpen hole after WBC mishap

On Wednesday night, the New York Mets suffered a major blow when All-Star closer Edwin Díaz suffered a torn patellar tendon in his right knee during Puerto Rico’s celebrations following a win over the Dominican Republic in a win or home World Baseball Classic game. Díaz is undergoing surgery and is expected to be out for eight monthsprobably ends his season.

“We won’t be updating Edwin’s schedule for a while,” said Mets GM Billy Eppler Newsday And Fox sports on Thursday. “…To no surprise, he’s in the best of spirits. Last night when he spoke to me he said, ‘Don’t worry. This is going to be good.'”

The injury is a fluke that happened when Díaz appeared to do nothing but jump up and down with his teammates. The celebration was not aggressive. There was no dog poo or people being thrown around or anything like that. Sometimes unfortunate things happen and Díaz’s injury is an unfortunate thing that happened.

While the Díaz injury is the most serious, it’s not the only pitching injury the Mets have sustained over the past week. Left-hander José Quintana will be out until mid-season with a rib injury and deep relievers Sam Coonrod (distorted lats) and Bryce Montes de Oca (elbow stress reaction) recently walked out of spring training games with injuries.

Here’s what New York’s bullpen could look like on opening day after Díaz’s injury:

One of Tylor Megill and David Peterson will slip into rotation to replace Quintana and the other could move to the bullpen. Other bullpen candidates include left-hander Joey Lucchesi, returning from surgery on Tommy John; right-handers Jeff Brigham, Stephen Ridings and Jimmy Yacabonis; and Buck Showalter’s favorite leftist, TJ McFarland.

Opening day is two weeks away and Eppler will of course be scouting the market to see if free agents or trades make sense to replace Díaz, not that Díaz can be replaced. He is the best helper in the sport and that makes him irreplaceable by definition. 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 after Díaz’s knee injury.

1. Stick with what you have

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This late in spring is always the most likely course of action. Free agent and trade options are limited, and agents and potential trade partners smell blood in the water. They know the Mets just lost Díaz to a serious injury and will raise their asking price accordingly. The injury is unfortunate, but no one feels sorry for Díaz and the Mets.

Ottavino, Raley and Robertson are a solid endgame trio – Robertson is battle-hardened given his time with the Yankees in New York – and Curtiss impressed this spring as he works his way back from the Tommy John surgery. Still, relievers are unpredictable, even the big ones. Just look at Diaz. In his early years with the Mets, he wasn’t exactly a trustworthy lockdown seamstress.

Given what’s available now (i.e. not much) and overall bullpen volatility, it would make sense for Eppler & Co. to bring those bullpen into the season and see how things play out before making any changes. Who knows, maybe they have a hidden gem in Curtiss or the next stallion reliever in the highly competitive Ridings. The Mets could take a few weeks to see what they have and then reevaluate.

2. Sign a free agent

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One name comes to mind immediately: Zack Britton. Britton remains unsigned and he and Showalter know each other well from their years together with the Baltimore Orioles. Britton, 35, missed most of 2022 while rehabilitating after undergoing surgery by Tommy John. He returned late in the season, walking six of the nine hitters he faced and suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

The Mets are expected to attend Britton’s Showcase on Thursday, according to the New York Post, and they’ve been linked to him for weeks because of the Showalter connection. Díaz’s injury could increase her interest. How much Britton can help following Tommy John’s surgery and shoulder injury is unclear, but that’s why he’s running the show. To show the teams he’s ready to go.

Other free agent pitchers include relievers Archie Bradley, Ken Giles and Corey Knebel. Mike Minor has started in recent years but has bullpen experience, and Chris Archer could be a sneaky good candidate for converting starters to relievers given his interesting slider traits and first-time success through the 2022 order .

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Britton is the biggest name available and the Showalter connection cannot be ignored. Others like Bradley, Giles and Knebel have name value, although like Britton they all suffer injuries. After that, wade into #6 starter types and triple-A depth arms. If you need a fielder, Jurickson Profar is available. If you need a helper, free agency has a lot less to offer.

3. Try to find a trading partner

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Trading pitching aid is not easy in spring training. Nobody wants to give up their depth on the hill before the regular season even starts. For Eppler and the Mets, their best hope of landing a reliever in a spring trade is likely to be a rebuild team making good money on a closer or setup man. Some possible commercial candidates and their salaries in 2023:

The ideal trade match would be the Cincinnati Reds’ Alexis Díaz, Edwin’s younger brother, although given his age (26), performance (3.1 WAR in 2022) and team control (five more years), he needs a significant package of prospects would. And hey, maybe it’s worth it. The Mets are looking 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 the Pittsburgh Pirates’ David Bednar and the Texas Rangers’ Jose Leclerc, though those talks may have to wait until midseason. Future free agents like Reynaldo López (Chicago White Sox) and former Met Trevor May (Oakland Athletics) are opportunities for trade deadlines.

The point is, trading for pitching — any type of pitching — isn’t easy in March. Teams are reluctant to give up their extra arms because they know they will need them during the season. Eppler will certainly serve the phones over the next two weeks and beyond. Whether he finds something worthwhile before opening day is another matter.

4. Wait for opt-outs

Heath Hembree


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Article XX(B) Free agents – players with at least six years of service – who sign a minor league contract will automatically receive a release clause five days prior to opening day. That allows those players to become free agents and look elsewhere for opportunities instead of going to Triple-A when informed they won’t make the MLB roster.

Each spring, some of these players drop out and join elsewhere. Steve Cishek was at camp with the Houston Astros in 2021, then dropped out and signed with the Los Angeles Angels ahead of opening day, for example. Here are the notable veterans of Article XX(B) Free Agent Relievers on minor league deals this spring:

Hembree spent a couple of weeks with the Mets in 2021, and while he was terrible with the Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers last year (19 carries in 22 innings), this spring he’s upped the spin on his fastball, hitting six in 5 2/ 3 innings. Tampa has a filled bullpen, making Hembree a candidate to drop out later this spring. It’s about as good as you’ll find in the opt-out market.

Díaz’s accidental knee injury is devastating, no doubt about that, but panicking immediately afterwards is wrong. Eppler knows this. It’s reasonable to either give Britton a bargain deal or see what happens in the opt-out market. Trading with Díaz (Alexis, not Edwin) would be ideal, but expect the Reds to command a heavy price. The Mets have enough bullpen depth that they can go into the season and see what’s what, and if they need to make changes in a couple of weeks, they will.

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