The Mets’ trade for Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano could hardly have gone worse in the first year. But how was the blockbuster deal viewed at the time? MLBTR’s Jeff Todd explores this huge Mets-Mariners swap in today’s video.
If the Mets are going to maximize their potential and break their three-year playoff drought in 2020, odds are they’ll need a bounce-back effort from right-handed reliever Edwin Diaz. It’s still tough to believe how little the Mets got last year from Diaz, whom they acquired in December 2018 in what now looks like a regrettable blockbuster with the Mariners.
Diaz concluded his three-season Seattle tenure in epic fashion prior to the trade, turning in one of the greatest years a reliever has ever recorded. He collected 57 saves on 61 tries and logged a 1.96 ERA/1.61 FIP with 15.22 K/9 and 2.09 BB/9 in 73 1/3 innings en route to AL Reliever of the Year honors. The Mets surely expected Diaz to compete for the NL version of that award last season. No dice.
Diaz wound up ranking among the majors’ worst at preventing runs in his first year with the Mets, as he finished seventh last out of 158 qualified relievers in ERA (5.59) and well below average in FIP (4.51). The .377 batting average on balls in play hitters registered against Diaz had a hand in his sudden ineffectiveness, though he can’t simply be let off the hook for that. After all, someone who was so dominant just the year before (and very good in the prior two seasons) could no longer seem to keep meaningful contact at bay.
Thanks in part to noticeable decreases in groundball percentage and infield fly rate, Diaz’s hard contact jumped by 18.8 percent from 2018, according to FanGraphs. He ended up in the league’s second percentile in hard-hit percentage and its 11th percentile in average exit velocity against, per Statcast. His slider – a pitch that embarrassed hitters before – was battered to the tune of a .387 weighted on-base average, helping lead to a whopping 16 percent increase in home runs. Many pitchers gave up more HRs than usual during a power-happy 2019, but most didn’t so to that extent.
Despite all of that, the 26-year-old Diaz shouldn’t be counted out just yet. He did show some positive signs last season, believe it or not. Diaz lost nothing on his fastball, a pitch that has averaged 97.3 mph in each of his major league seasons. His strikeouts and swinging strikes dropped from his dream ’18 effort, while his walk rate rose, but he was still far above average in the first two categories and passable in the third. In fact, his strikeout rate (39 percent; 15.38 per nine) ranked in the league’s 99th percentile, and he finished fifth among relievers in swinging strikes (18 percent). And it seems Diaz did deserve better when he threw his slider, evidenced by a .272 expected wOBA against the pitch.
None of this is to say Diaz will ever return to his absolute best form, but he does still seem to have what it takes to succeed in the bigs. Even if he does, the Diaz/Robinson Cano trade (the latter has also struggled so far) probably won’t go down as a positive for the Mets. But if Diaz can help stabilize the back end of New York’s bullpen and aid in a return to the playoffs, that would ease the pain to some degree.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Entering the day, there were more than 150 players on the clock to exchange arbitration figures with their respective teams prior to a noon ET deadline. As one would expect, there’ll be an utter landslide of arbitration agreements in advance of that deadline. We already ran through some key facts and reminders on the arbitration process earlier this morning for those who are unfamiliar or simply need a refresher on one of MLB’s most complex idiosyncrasies, which will hopefully clear up many questions readers might have.
We’ll track the majority of the National League’s settlements in this post and are maintaining a separate one for American League settlements as well. Note that all projections referenced come courtesy of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz:
- The Rockies have an agreement in place with righty Jon Gray, per Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post (via Twitter). It’s a $5.6MM deal, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (Twitter link).
- Outfielder Tommy Pham has struck a $7.9MM pact with the Padres, who acquired him at the outset of the offseason, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter). Other Friars striking deals, per an update from Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, include Zach Davies ($5.25MM) and Matt Strahm ($1.4MM).
- The Nationals announced that they’ve avoided arbitration with Trea Turner. It’s a $7.45MM agreement, per Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post (via Twitter), right in range of the $7.5MM projection.
- The Mets are in agreement with a laundry list of players. Right-handers Marcus Stroman ($12MM) and Noah Syndergaard ($9.7MM) were the top earners, per reports from MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (via Twitter) and MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo (via Twitter). Both come in close to their projected values of $11.8M and $9.9MM, respectively. The Mets also have a $5.1MM deal with reliever Edwin Diaz, Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports (Twitter links). He entered the offseason projected at the $7.0MM level but will fall well shy of that. Despite an outstanding overall track record, Diaz’s platform season was a dud and obviously created some risk in a hearing for his side. Outfielder Brandon Nimmo will play for $2.175MM in his first season of arb eligibility, landing well over the $1.7MM that the model projected. Southpaw Steven Matz, meanwhile, lands a $5MM deal, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post (via Twitter). That’s $300K shy of his projected amount. Relievers Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo will earn $1.225MM and $2MM, respectively, per Mike Puma of the New York Post (Twitter links). Slugger Michael Conforto will earn $8.0MM, per SNY.tv’s Andy Martino (via Twitter), which is notably south of the $9.2MM that we projected. And fellow outfielder Jake Marisnick checks in a just over 10% north of his projection at $3,312,500, Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets.
- Star reliever Kirby Yates receiveds a $7,062,500 salary from the Padres, per Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. He tops the $6.5MM that MLBTR projected by a solid margin, reflecting just how exceptional he was in 2019.
- The Marlins will pay recently acquired infielder Jonathan Villar a $8.2MM salary, per MLB.com’s Jon Heyman (via Twitter). That’s a far sight shy of the $10.4MM that the MLBTR system projected, perhaps reflecting a more difficult path to the bigger number through recent comparables. The club also had some added leverage here since Villar would likely not fare terribly well on the open market if cut loose at this stage or later. (Unless this is a guaranteed deal, Villar could still be jettisoned, with the club paying just a fraction of the settled amount.) The Fish also have also agreed to terms with lefty Adam Conley (for $1.525MM, per MLB Network Radio’s Craig Mish, via Twitter) and righty Jose Urena (for $3.75MM, per MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, on Twitter).
- Righty Vince Velasquez will pitch for $3.6MM this year with the Phillies, per Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philly (via Twitter). Fellow hurler Jose Alvarez will earn $2.95MM, per Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer (via Twitter).
- The Rockies have an agreement with lefty Kyle Freeland, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (Twitter link). He’ll earn $2.875MM. Outfielder David Dahl takes home $2.475MM, Heyman adds on Twitter. The former had projected at $2.4MM and the latter at $3.0MM.
- Pirates hurler Joe Musgrove will receive $2.8MM, per Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Twitter links). Fellow righty Keone Kela will earn a reported $3.725MM. Both players had projected at $3.4MM, but land well to either side of that number. Infielder Adam Frazier also has a deal at $2.8MM, per Mackey (via Twitter).
- Righty Anthony DeSclafani will earn $5.9MM from the Reds, according to Robert Murray (via Twitter). He had projected at $5.2MM. Backstop Curt Casali will earn $1.4625MM, per Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer (Twitter link). And reliever Matt Bowman takes down $865K, Murray adds on Twitter.
- The Dodgers have worked out a non-typical deal with righty Ross Stripling, Heyman tweets. He’ll get an up-front signing bonus of $1.5MM, which he’ll receive in the next week, and then earn $600K for the campaign to come. Stripling had projected to earn $2.3MM on the year.
- Cardinals righty John Gant will earn $1.3MM after settling with the club. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch first tweeted that a deal was in place, while Murray had the number on Twitter. That comes in just under his $1.4MM projection.
The Mets have about $20MM to spend to stay under the luxury tax, and though they haven’t ruled out going over for a season, history suggests otherwise, writes MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo. The rotation is largely set with Cy Young Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman, and Steven Matz locked into the top four spots. Despite the rumblings, GM Brodie Van Wagenen has been adamant about Syndergaard staying put, and as for the fifth rotation spot, relievers Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman are very real candidates. Free agent upgrades are more likely to bolster the bullpen, which is already a man down if Lugo or Gsellman jump to the rotation. Of course, the best upgrade they could hope for would come in the form of a bounceback season from closer Edwin Diaz. Diaz is putting in extra work this winter in Puerto Rico, and for what it’s worth, new manager and fellow Puerto Rican Carlos Beltran “considers mentoring Diaz one of his top priorities.” Here are some more notes coming out of the GM meetings…
- White Sox GM Rick Hahn attempted to temper expectations before projecting bloated win totals for his club in 2020, per the Chicago Tribune’s Paul Sullivan. It’s an exciting time nonetheless for those on the south side of Chicago, with high-end youngsters Nick Madrigal, Luis Robert, and Michael Kopech expected to establish themselves as big leaguers. They have money to spend on pitching or an outfielder, and a tough decision to make on newly-minted gold glover Yolmer Sanchez. Madrigal is likely to unseat Sanchez from his regular role at second, and with Sanchez due to make roughly $6.2MM through arbitration, he’s definitely a possible non-tender. The Sox love him from a character perspective and aren’t eager to kick him curbside, but even with his new hardware in tow, $6.2MM after a .252/.318/.321 season is probably a touch too rich for the ChiSox.
- The Red Sox are facing a different kind of offseason under the leadership of Chaim Bloom, per Alex Speier of the Boston Globe. Scaling back the payroll is objective A, and the Red Sox are active in trade discussions around just about everyone on the roster. The media has Mookie Betts as the fulcrum of Boston’s trade activity, but he’s expensive on a one-year deal and unlikely to sign an extension, mitigating any trade return and making a deal unlikely. It’s more likely the Red Sox find their desired breathing room by trading from their rotation: David Price, Chris Sale, and/or Nathan Eovaldi. Meanwhile, discussions with free agents are largely on the backburner as they look for creative ways to free up space in the payroll.
An offseason free of trade rumors swirling around right-hander Noah Syndergaard will almost feel strange at this point, but Mets general manager Brodie Van Wageen said in a conference call to address today’s dismissal of manager Mickey Callaway that the team will not trade Syndergaard or embattled closer Edwin Diaz this winter (Twitter link via The Athletic’s Tim Britton):
“Edwin Diaz is going to be on this team next year. Noah Syndergaard is going to be on this team next year,” said Van Wagenen. Notably, that was an unprompted assertion from the GM, who is entering his second offseason at the post.
Syndergaard has been a fixture on the rumor circuit for the better part of two seasons, as teams have persistently inquired about the right-hander’s availability amid postseason misses and uncertain offseason approaches. While most expected the Mets to take a seller’s approach at the 2019 trade deadline, though, Van Wagenen & Co. loaded up for the 2020 season with a surprise acquisition of Marcus Stroman. Today’s comments not only emphatically double down on the fact that the Mets view themselves as contenders but also preemptively put to bed any speculation about moving Syndergaard for MLB-ready help in other areas.
As for Diaz, the once-dominant Mariners closer looked like a potential change-of-scenery candidate after the 2019 season proved to be an unmitigated disaster. The 25-year-old’s strikeout percentage dropped from 44.3 percent in 2018 to 39 percent in 2019 as his walk percentage jumped from 6.1 to 8.7. But Diaz’s true downfall was his alarming susceptibility to the long ball. After allowing an average of just 0.61 homers per nine innings pitched with Seattle in 2018, Diaz’s HR/9 rate soared to an untenable 2.33 with the Mets in 2019. The flamethrowing righty maintained his velocity, but the uptick in walks and home runs serve as clear indicators of trouble locating the ball.
The bottom-line results — a 5.59 ERA, seven blown saves and an eventual removal from the closer’s role — were about as poor an outcome as one could’ve forecast following the trade that brought Diaz to Queens. However, it seems there’s no thought to parting ways a la Sonny Gray and the Yankees, as the Mets remain confident they can get Diaz back on track. He does have three remaining seasons of club control, so the upside with Diaz is enormous if he can right the ship. Syndergaard, meanwhile, is controlled through the 2021 season.
With both Syndergaard and Diaz seemingly written in ink on next season’s roster, the question for the Mets will become one of who’ll slot in alongside them. Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Stroman will join Syndergaard in the rotation, but with Zack Wheeler hitting free agency, the Mets will need to add a fifth starter (plus some depth to stash in the upper minors). That’s especially true given that Anthony Kay, perhaps the organization’s most MLB-ready rotation prospect, was sent to the Blue Jays as part of the trade to acquire Stroman.
In the bullpen, Jeurys Familia had a similarly disappointing year to the one through which Diaz struggled. Robert Gsellman had his own struggles before going down with a partially torn lat that ended his season. That trio will return alongside righty Seth Lugo and lefty Justin Wilson, both of whom pitched well, but the Mets will surely be in the market for some bullpen reinforcements once again.
It’s a hypothetical that Mets fans could be asking for years to come — what if the team didn’t make last December’s big blockbuster trade with the Mariners for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz? Yahoo Sports’ Matt Ehalt looks at a potential alternate reality where the trade didn’t take place, which keeps Jay Bruce, Anthony Swarzak, Gerson Bautista, and prospects Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn in the New York organization and also slightly dims Van Wagenen’s “win-now” push, which also means that Marcus Stroman isn’t acquired at the trade deadline (for pitching prospects Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods-Richardson). All other moves remain the same, which means that J.D. Davis and Wilson Ramos are still on the team, for instance.
The end result is a Mets roster that has a lot more young talent as its disposal as possible trade chips or roster reinforcements for 2020, plus a lot more financial flexibility without Cano or Diaz on the payroll. McNeil is locked in as the everyday second baseman, while players like Davis and Pete Alonso still blossom as they did in the real world. “In this alternate universe, the Mets enter the offseason in a much better position,” Ehalt writes, as while “this version of the Mets would win fewer games than the 80-plus games the Mets will win this year, but a few wins are irrelevant when neither season results in a postseason berth.”
Here’s more from Citi Field…
- “Boldness won Brodie Van Wagenen the job of Mets general manager, and lost the season,” the New York Post’s Joel Sherman writes in roundup of the Mets’ 2019 campaign and a look ahead to what the team should do this offseason. Sherman notes that while many of Van Wagenen’s bigger moves (i.e. the Mariners trade) backfired, many of his less-heralded moves proved successful, such as acquiring J.D. Davis or Justin Wilson. Looking ahead to 2020, Sherman proposes that the Mets should continue to “find hidden treasures” on other teams’ rosters, acquire a proper center fielder (Sherman suggests the Padres’ Manuel Margot) for at least a platoon role, and hang onto Diaz and Noah Syndergaard rather than trade either pitcher. To juggle the payroll, Sherman also suggests a few bad contract swaps, unloading the likes of Ramos or Jed Lowrie for high-priced relievers who are also in need of a change of scenery (such as the Rockies’ Jake McGee or White Sox righty Kelvin Herrera).
- Dominic Smith, center fielder? After getting work in the corner outfield this year, Smith tells MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo that he wants to contribute to the 2020 Mets at as many positions as possible. This includes all three outfield spots and at his old first base position, despite something of a roster logjam — Pete Alonso obviously isn’t going anywhere at first base, while Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Jeff McNeil, or J.D. Davis could all be options for corner outfield work (not to mention the x-factor that is Yoenis Cespedes, should he be able to get healthy). While center field may seem like a tall order for a player who didn’t fare well defensively as a corner outfielder, Smith will have an offseason to fully prepare himself for outfield work, and to that end has already hired a track coach for offseason speed training. With the Mets looking for answers in center, there’s at least a chance that Smith could be a part-time solution up the middle. “Why not get in great shape, man, and go out there and try to compete and do it? I don’t sell myself short on anything. I feel like I can go out there and compete and do anything,” Smith said.
Sunday: Manager Mickey Callaway told reporters, including Anthony DiComo of MLB.com, today that Díaz is “slightly improved.” He’s unavailable for today’s series finale against Atlanta, but he should avoid a trip to the injured list.
Saturday: After Mets closer Edwin Diaz was removed from tonight’s 9-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves, manager Mickey Callaway indicated post-game that the embattled pitcher was dealing with “trap” tightness. When asked by Anthony DiComo of MLB.com if Diaz’s ailment was serious enough to necessitate a trip to the injured list, Callaway could only offer that it was “really hard to say” (link).
In speaking with Deesha Thosar of the New York Daily News about the injury, Diaz struck the tone of an athlete frustrated by near season-long turmoil: “That’s the first time it’s happened,” Diaz said. “I don’t understand why it happened. Yesterday I felt good. When I felt like I was starting to finally get it going, something like this happens.”
It’s easy to feel sympathy for the 25-year-old hurler, who has posted the worst results of his career in 2019 after being propped up as something of a savior for the beleaguered Mets bullpen. In his final pre-arb campaign, Diaz has posted a 5.55 ERA (3.33 xFIP) through 48.2 innings. Public calls to remove Diaz from closing duties have reached near-cacophony at various points this year, but Callaway, perhaps realizing that the righty maintains solid underlying peripherals (16.2% SwStr rate and 14.79 K/9 rate), has maintained faith to this point.
If Diaz does indeed miss games, Seth Lugo would seem to be the logical choice for fill-in duties as the team seeks to gain ground in the NL Wild Card race–a race in which they are only 2.0 games back from first. Lugo has already chipped in 3 saves this year and had a 2.65 ERA as recently as Aug. 14–a date on which he was drubbed for 5 runs by the Braves. Since then, Lugo has compiled five consecutive scoreless innings, dialing back this season’s ERA figure to a tidy 3.14 in 63.0 innings.
The Red Sox are going to have to “be creative” in the near future when it comes to drawing up a plan for their floundering rotation, manager Alex Cora said Sunday (via Chad Jennings of The Athletic; subscription required). The club has six days off in the next three weeks, which will enable it to skip certain starters, but there’s no denying Boston’s in trouble. The reigning world champions are what could be an insurmountable 7 1/2 games back of an American League wild-card spot, in part because their rotation has endured a Murphy’s Law year. Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez have arguably been the Red Sox’s best starters, but the former hasn’t been the dominant ace we’ve grown accustomed to watching, and the latter has been more good than great. Meantime, David Price is on the injured list (and went through a horrid stretch before hitting the shelf Aug. 8), former Cy Young winner Rick Porcello has been horrid, and the pre-trade deadline acquisition of Andrew Cashner has blown up in the team’s face.
Here’s more from the East Coast…
- Despite his ongoing struggles, the sizzling Mets aren’t considering demoting reliever Edwin Diaz to the minors, according to Andy Martino of SNY. The hyped offseason acquisition has surrendered at least one earned run in five of his past six outings, contributing to a horrendous 5.60 ERA in 45 innings on the season. That’s almost four runs higher than the 1.96 ERA the hard-throwing Diaz posted in his final season as a Mariner last year. Most of Diaz’s other numbers have also gone way downhill, though he has still struck out 14.6 batters per nine.
- The sprained right hand Rays outfielder Tommy Pham is “something he’s going to have to manage” through the end of the season, skipper Kevin Cash said Sunday (via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times). The Rays don’t expect Pham to land on the injured list, but it seems the sprain has negatively affected his production. He’s just 5 for 30 since suffering the injury, though Pham’s still batting a strong .266/.365/.440 with 16 home runs and 13 steals in 485 plate appearances on the season.
- Blue Jays executive vice president, business operations Andrew Miller has joined the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings as their chief operating officer, Adam Schefter of ESPN tweets. Miller had been with the Blue Jays since 2016. His familiarity with Jays president of baseball operations Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins dates back to their time in Cleveland’s front office. For more on the Vikings and the NFL, visit ProFootballRumors.com.
Edwin Diaz’s struggles may finally be loosening his grip on the Mets’ closing job, as manager Mickey Callaway told reporters (including Newsday’s Tim Healey) that “I don’t think we can lock ourselves in to one thing” in terms of who pitches the ninth inning. “Moving forward, it’s just something that we’re going to do whatever we can to win a game that night,” Callaway said. After a dominant 2018 season with the Mariners, Diaz’s first season in Queens has been a borderline disaster, with a 5.44 ERA inflated by a 22.2% home run rate and a huge increase in the righty’s hard-hit ball rate. Just when it seemed like Diaz might have been turning a corner by tossing six scoreless innings over a seven-game stretch in July, he proceeded to allow at least one earned run in each of his last four outings.
This would seem to open the door for Seth Lugo to receive save opportunities, as Callaway said that Lugo also isn’t operating out of an assigned role. Lugo has been the Mets’ best reliever this season, and could be shifted into closer duties or (if the Mets strayed from the traditional closer role) be saved only for highest-leverage situations, whether those are in the ninth inning or earlier in the game.
Here’s more as we begin a new week…
- The Rays’ busy trade deadline is explored by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, who includes the detail that the club wasn’t willing to discuss moving many of their top prospects, including Wander Franco, Brendan McKay, Vidal Brujan and Matthew Liberatore. Jesus Sanchez was the only member of that top tier who seemed to be on the block, and indeed it was Sanchez who was dealt along with Ryne Stanek to the Marlins in exchange for Trevor Richards and Nick Anderson.
- Meanwhile, Stanek’s erstwhile role as an opener factored into the Rays’ decision to trade the right-hander. Interestingly, Topkin writes that the Rays “shed the uncertainty of his opener-influenced arbitration case in 2021,” which promises to be a fascinating test case for how an arbiter could put a financial precedent on a new role within the game. As Topkin notes, Stanek has been much better as an opener (2.71 ERA in 83 innings) than in a normal relief role (4.73 ERA in 59 innings).
- The Brewers believe they might have a hidden gem in trade deadline acquisition Ray Black, as president of baseball operations David Stearns told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Black has “as good…stuff as any reliever in the game.” Black had only a 6.04 ERA over 25 1/3 career Major League innings as a member of the Giants, due in part to five homers allowed in that brief stint. However, he also struck out 38 batters with his blazing fastball, and also posted a 3.70 ERA, 2.83 K/BB rate, and 16.8 K/9 over 153 1/3 career frames in the minors. Between that live arm and those strikeout totals, Stearns thinks Black can blossom in Milwaukee, and pointed to a relatively healthy season for Black in 2019 as a positive development after multiple years shortened by injuries. “The most important thing for him is keeping him on the field….He has changed some of his training regimens over the last year, and that seems to have helped. We’re hoping and optimistic that we can help keep him healthy,” Stearns said.
Mets closer Edwin Diaz has frequented the rumor mill this week, but it appears he’ll remain in place beyond the deadline. The “belief” is that the Mets will retain Diaz, Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports.
Several teams have shown interest in Diaz of late, but the Mets wouldn’t exactly be selling him when his value’s at its zenith. The Mets already bought high on Diaz last offseason, sending two top prospects – outfielder Jarred Kelenic and righty Justin Dunn – to the Mariners in a deal for Diaz and the $100MM left on second baseman Robinson Cano’s contract. At the time, Diaz was coming off an otherworldly season in which he converted 57 of 61 save chances, logged a 1.96 ERA/1.61 FIP and posted 15.22 K/9 against 2.09 BB/9 in 73 1/3 innings.
This season hasn’t been the same story for the 25-year-old Diaz, who has blown five saves in 28 opportunities, recorded an ugly 5.05 ERA (with a better, albeit not great, 3.93 FIP) and 13.83 K/9 against 3.29 BB/9 over 41 frames. There’s still appeal in the hard-throwing Diaz, who’s making a near-minimum salary and under arbitration control for the next three seasons. But the suddenly surging Mets seem inclined to keep Diaz for at least the rest of the season to see if he can restore some of the value he has lost this year.