How Díaz's record deal with Mets came together

November 11th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Anthony DiComo's Mets Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Welcome back to the Mets Beat newsletter! Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for since 2007, including the past 13 seasons full-time on the beat.

Earlier this week, the Mets made their record-setting five-year, $102 million deal with Edwin Díaz official, checking one significant item off their offseason to-do list. But why now? How did the Mets manage to come to terms on such a large contract so quickly? And what does it mean for the rest of their plans?

Let’s dig into the idea behind the Díaz contract:

How were the Mets able to lock up Díaz before free agency even began?

While it’s unusual for a free agent to forgo the opportunity to talk to the other 29 teams, Díaz’s situation was unique.

Before the end of the season, the Mets made it clear to Díaz and his agent, Joel Wolfe, that they hoped to re-sign him. Díaz, in turn, told team officials that he wanted to return to New York. Given that the Mets have at least a half-dozen bullpen holes to fill this offseason, it was important for them to fill the biggest one as quickly as possible -- in other words, there wasn’t much reason for either side to shop around. So long as the Mets offered a fair-market deal, which they did with the largest contract for a reliever in baseball history, the situation was ideal for a quick resolution.

“He wanted to get something done,” Mets general manager Billy Eppler said. “He wanted to stay here. He was very upfront about that from the get-go, so we just felt it was a really good match.”

Is it actually a good contract?

There’s no denying that the history of long-term contracts for relievers isn’t great. This is a volatile position, as Díaz himself demonstrated in going from one of the league’s worst closers in 2019 to one of its best in 2022. Outside of Mariano Rivera, few one-inning closers in history have strung together a half-decade or more of elite performances.

Díaz, however, has multiple things working in his favor. One is the fact that he’s only 28 years old and will be 33 after receiving all the guaranteed money in his deal. Plenty of relievers have been solid performers long past that age. Díaz’s underlying metrics suggest that even if he takes a sizable step backward over the course of his deal, he should still be plenty valuable.

The best comp out there might be Aroldis Chapman, who immediately regressed after signing a five-year deal with the Yankees following his standout 2016 season -- not ideal. But Chapman, like Díaz, was coming from such a lofty place that even in his diminished state, he managed to save 124 games with a 2.82 ERA and a 155 league-adjusted ERA+ over those five seasons. It’s reasonable to think even a noticeable step backward from Díaz could look similar.

“We were comfortable with the player,” Eppler said. “We were comfortable with where he was in his career, where he was in his trajectory and aging curves and all of those variables that help govern those decisions.”

Don’t forget also that baseball is a business; Díaz played into that in a significant way with his entrance music and all the jersey sales, foam trumpets and marketing dollars that spawned. In more ways than one, the Mets are likely to receive a sizable return on investment here.

What about the rest of the bullpen?

Right now, there are only two locks for the 2023 relief corps: Díaz and Drew Smith, who remains under team control. The Mets also picked up their 2023 contract option on John Curtiss, a former Rays reliever who missed this entire season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, and they recently claimed left-hander Tayler Saucedo off waivers from the Blue Jays. Those two are possibilities for the bullpen, as are internal candidates like José Butto, Yoan López, Bryce Montes de Oca, Stephen Nogosek, Eric Orze and Josh Walker.

Say the Mets open the year with Díaz, Smith, and three of the eight other players listed above. That would require them to bring on three or four additional relievers from outside the organization, which feels about right.

“There’s more work to do and a number of pitchers we’re willing to bring in,” Eppler said. “But getting someone to anchor the back end of the bullpen, and somebody that’s reliable -- our manager trusts him, our fans trust him, our owner trusts him, I trust him -- I think everybody feels good when he comes running into the game. So I think that was a big component of it.”