By Owen Russell
The New York Mets wasted no time putting the baseball world on notice. Just two days after the Houston Astros beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series, it was reported that the Mets’ relief pitcher Edwin Diaz had signed a five-year $102 million contract.
The record-setting deal brings back baseball’s best closer from 2022, and locks him down for half a decade. Undoubtedly, the move signifies that Mets’ owner Steve Cohen is committed to winning a World Series. While fans in Queens are already popping the champagne, they may need to take a moment. While Diaz dominated late innings all of 2022, I find it hard to believe his monstrous contract won’t come back to bite Cohen and the Mets where “the sun don’t shine.”
Cohen has spent big since acquiring the Mets. As of 2020, New York has boasted baseball’s highest payroll, beating out perennial high-rollers like the Yankees and Dodgers. Multiple big ticket free agents have been lured to Queens by preposterous amounts of money. In 2021 shortstop Francisco Lindor inked a 10-year $341 million contract, making him the tenth highest paid player in the league. Not to be out done, Max Scherzer signed a three-year $130 million dollar deal to make him the highest paid player per year. Diaz’s deal becomes just the latest in this trend. Not only is Diaz’s $102 million dollar contract the zenith among current relief pitchers, it is the richest deal ever struck by a reliever.
The previous richest reliever contract? Aroldis Chapman’s contract with the Yankees in 2017. How did that turn out? Short answer, disastrously.
Obviously, Chapman and Diaz are different pitchers. It would be unfair to assume that just because the previous highest paid closer imploded like the Hindenburg, that Diaz would follow suit. But it is worth comparing each pitcher leading up to those contracts.
Both Chapman and Diaz entered the majors at 22 years old. Both of them signed their historic contracts at 28 years old. And both pitchers were widely regarded as the best closers in baseball when they signed the dotted line.
In their contract years, both pitchers dazzled. Chapman earned 36 saves with a 1.55 earned run average while pitching for both the Yankees and Chicago Cubs, eventually helping Chicago win their first World Series since the early 1900s. It could be argued that Diaz had an even more dominant year. The Mets’ closer earned four less saves than Chapman, but threw 115 strikeouts with an ERA of 1.31. Clearly a link exists between the two, but what separates them may prove to be more illuminating.
Diaz struggles with consistency. Since joining New York as part of a trade with the Seattle Mariners, Edwin Diaz has been an absolute wild card. In his first season as a Met, his ERA ballooned from 1.96 to 5.59. It fell under 2 in a bounce back second year, but his third year saw another increase as he threw for a 3.45 ERA. Obviously last season was a dominant performance, but it is fair to say that Diaz is a question mark in Queens.
As for Chapman, before signing his massive deal, he was as competent a closer there could be. From 2012 to 2015, Chapman threw for an ERA of 2.0 or lower three times, and earned four straight years with 100 or more strikeouts. Even in the two years before 2012, Chapman’s skills set the baseball world on fire as he consistently threw 100 miles per hour. Chapman’s dominance continued into 2016, and thus guaranteed his record-breaking contract.
Comparing the numbers, Chapman blows Diaz out of the water, and his deal makes much more sense. He had five straight seasons as the best relief pitcher in baseball, Diaz has yet to string together more than one. It’s hard to justify that Diaz deserves such a large contract, but even if you think his numbers are worthy, take a look at how Chapman’s contract panned out.
After signing with the Yankees, many assumed that Aroldis Chapman would be the reincarnation of Mariano Rivera – a callous closer who cared nothing about the batters he squared off against, sending them packing on three straight pitches. A pitcher who caused audiences to turn off their televisions because when he stepped on the mound there could only be one outcome. What did New York get for their money? A whisper of what Chapman used to be.
Chapman’s ERA jumped and his strikeouts fell. His regular season play did enough to warrant three All-Star appearances, but he failed to be the playoff powerhouse New York needed. He earned a reputation for being unable to seal the deal. In his postseason tenure with the Yankees, Chapman earned six saves, one win, and three losses in 17 appearances. He faded into obscurity once October rolled around. Chapman’s career free fall culminated this year when he failed to make New York’s postseason roster.
There is no crystal ball indicating that Diaz will follow in Chapman’s footsteps, but the demise of baseball’s formerly highest paid closer should be a warning sign for Steve Cohen and the Mets. There is no guarantee that Diaz can live up to his contract. His career has been streaky. Dominant at times, but a liability at others. And even if his career was as stunning as Chapman’s once was, he is cresting 30. A drop off point for more than a few MLB pitchers.
The goal for New York is a World Series. Not in ten years. Now.
Perhaps signing Diaz brings New York one step closer. After such a phenomenal year, he was bound to command big bucks on the open market. Perhaps Cohen made the deal he thought no other team could match, sacrificing some of his own money so New York could bring back Diaz for the immediate future.
It is hard to rule whether this deal will sink the Mets, or bring them their first World Series since ‘86. Whatever the case may be, grab your trumpet, because Diaz is going to be around for a long time.