Edwin Díaz Signs Record Contract To Stay With Mets

Edwin Diaz
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

One of this winter’s top free agents crossed himself off the list over the weekend, as Edwin Díaz signed a five-year, $102 million contract to remain the Mets’ closer. Díaz was absolutely dominant this season, striking out nearly two batters an inning, resulting in a FIP under 1.00, and avoiding any of the walk or home run flurries that occasionally have marred his résumé. While I’m not particularly a fan of the save stat or the conclusions drawn as a result, him only blowing three saves in 2022 accurately reflects his dominance; he only allowed multiple runs in a single appearance all year, and all three of his blown saves occurred with one-run leads. The deal comes with a $12 million signing bonus, a team option at $20 million for a sixth season, a no-trade provision, and an opt-out after 2025.

Generally speaking, when a pitcher has a microscopic ERA, there’s some measure of luck involved; nobody’s long-term baseline expectation is an ERA of 1.31. So it naturally amuses me that Díaz arguably underperformed his peripherals this season. How often does a pitcher with an ERA that excellent actually have a FIP nearly half a run lower? Not very.

Best ERAs for FIP Underperformers (min. 40 IP)
Craig Kimbrel 2012 62.7 1.01 0.78 -0.23
Eric Gagne 2003 82.3 1.20 0.86 -0.34
Edwin Díaz 2022 62.0 1.31 0.90 -0.41
Kenley Jansen 2017 68.3 1.32 1.31 -0.01
Walter Johnson 1910 370.0 1.36 1.28 -0.08
Ed Walsh 1908 464.0 1.42 1.36 -0.06
Christy Mathewson 1908 390.7 1.43 1.26 -0.17
Craig Kimbrel 2017 69.0 1.43 1.42 -0.01
Sergio Romo 2011 48.0 1.50 0.96 -0.54
Aroldis Chapman 2016 58.0 1.55 1.42 -0.13
Rube Waddell 1904 383.0 1.62 1.48 -0.14
Walter Johnson 1908 256.3 1.65 1.47 -0.18
Dave Smith 1987 60.0 1.65 1.54 -0.11
Chief Bender 1909 250.0 1.66 1.52 -0.14
Rob Dibble 1990 98.0 1.74 1.50 -0.24
Chief Bender 1908 138.7 1.75 1.42 -0.33
Red Ames 1908 114.3 1.81 1.39 -0.42
Cy Young 1905 320.7 1.82 1.61 -0.21
Francisco Rodriguez 2004 84.0 1.82 1.64 -0.18
Chad Green 2017 69.0 1.83 1.75 -0.08

Going back to the start of 1901, there have been only 35 player-seasons in which a pitcher had an ERA under 2.00 and had a FIP lower than their ERA (out of 796 possible player-seasons). Only Gagne and Kimbrel had lower ERAs in seasons during which they failed to match their FIP; the average FIP for a pitcher with an ERA between 1.01 and 1.51 is 2.30.

Not only did Díaz underperform his peripherals, but he was also arguably better than that. From his plate discipline and Statcast stats, ZiPS thinks that his pitching was flawless enough that he “should have” had five more strikeouts, four fewer walks, and one of his three homers axed (most likely Bryce Harper’s opposite-field shot in April that barely cleared the fence). In other words, it’s not outlandish to think that he was even better than his already amazing basic stats.

While it’s tough to get people to forget a first impression, Díaz has certainly done it. His 2019 debut with the Mets was a rather lackluster showing, as he allowed 15 homers in 58 innings, making him initially quite unpopular in Queens given Jarred Kelenic’s then-prospect status. ZiPS, though, called for a big bounceback in 2020, with a projected 2.98 ERA, not a cavernous maw away from the 2.36 ERA he was pegged for going into the season. I speak from personal experience that it’s tough to mollify fans angry at their ineffective closer by noting “home run rates are extremely volatile for relievers” and “there’s no such thing as a .377 BABIP pitcher.” I daresay that this season, few fans weren’t eagerly awaiting the next volume of Díaz’s song of ice (the reality-bending slider) and fire (the 99–100-mph fastball).

There’s little doubt that we’re now in an era beyond peak closer. The closer role still exists, but it’s slightly less rigid than before, and teams have largely moved away from the idea that there’s something magical about them beyond their ability to prevent the other guys from scoring runs. Thirty years ago, Díaz would have been an extremely strong contender for the NL Cy Young award. But it’s been 14 years since a closer finished in the top three in Cy Young voting in either league (Francisco Rodriguez); even Zack Britton’s 2016 season (47 saves and a 0.54 ERA) only was enough for him to finish fourth.

Díaz may not have Cy Young hardware, but he does get the honor, which zero players in history have treasured, of being the first player this winter to get an Official ZiPS Projection© for 2023. Other than the normal skewness of risk that any star player has, ZiPS sees no reason to be concerned about him as a pitcher.

2023 ZiPS Projection – Edwin Díaz
2023 5 1 2.28 61 0 59.3 36 15 5 19 101 171 2.3
2024 5 1 2.45 61 0 58.7 36 16 5 19 98 159 2.1
2025 4 2 2.47 60 0 58.3 38 16 5 19 94 158 1.9
2026 4 2 2.72 59 0 56.3 38 17 5 19 88 143 1.6
2027 4 2 2.98 58 0 54.3 38 18 5 20 83 130 1.3

2023 ZiPS Percentiles – Edwin Díaz
Percentile ERA+ ERA WAR
95% 504 0.77 4.6
90% 366 1.06 3.9
80% 269 1.45 3.4
70% 221 1.76 2.9
60% 193 2.01 2.6
50% 171 2.28 2.3
40% 154 2.53 2.0
30% 137 2.83 1.7
20% 112 3.48 1.1
10% 86 4.50 0.5
5% 63 6.14 -0.2

Only a single reliever in baseball has a spicier projection than Díaz: Emmanuel Clase. Suffice it to say, the Guardians weren’t going to give him to the Mets.

From the standpoint of WAR, an elite closer will tend to be overpaid relative to their bottom-line numbers. ZiPS would only give Díaz $69 million, a much less nice number than what he actually got, but I’m more likely to be named Vladimir Putin’s successor than Díaz was to get that little in free agency this year.

That doesn’t mean that you should avoid signing those relievers in all situations. I think there’s a strong case to be made that you ought to be willing to overpay for an elite talent when there are a number of conditions: you’re a contending team, the money won’t keep you from doing something else, the player is truly an elite at his position, and signing the player addresses a real team need. This signing meets all these conditions.

Even with Díaz re-signed, the Mets only rank 12th in our current reliever depth charts; replace him with a merely good reliever (let’s call that 0.5 wins), and they drop to 26th place. They are clearly contenders — they won 101 games in 2022 — and if you’re not convinced Díaz is an elite closer yet, there’s not much I can say that will change your mind. And while it’s a lot of money, Steve Cohen appears to be one of the few owners prepared to steamroll through the luxury tax thresholds this winter. I’d be a lot less positive about this deal if I thought that this signing meant that the Mets would not go after starting pitching. So far in the pay-to-play world of free agency, they appear ready to assemble the best roster they can to wipe out 2022’s disappointing final act.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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1 year ago

I’ve come to the conclusion that as long as the Mets are willing to spend whatever it takes to land the best players, the standard analysis of “is this a good or bad deal” doesn’t really apply. It just is.

1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I think the discussions went something like this:

Mets: How much are you looking for?

Diaz’s Agent: Nine figures.

Mets: ….Well, no reliever has ever made $20m+ per year. How about 5 years, $102 million.

Diaz’s Agent (trying to play cool): We’ll need a no-trade clause and an opt-out.

Mets: If we have a club option for a sixth year at $20m, we’ll write this up with the no-trade and opt-out.

Diaz’s Agent: DONE!!!

John Wickmember
1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

On the one hand, I kinda agree with this — at least to the extend that a Fangraphs Standard efficiency-driven ‘are they going to get value out of this contract?’ analysis isn’t as well-suited to a signing like this.

On the other hand, there’s *some* spending limit they’ll hit and if this means they aren’t, say, signing deGrom or Judge or whichever FA you like, then it becomes a question of whether this is the right player to splurge on.

David Klein
1 year ago
Reply to  John Wick

Doubt they’ll be in on Judge and not because of this contract and if they lose it won’t have to do with this contract either they’re gonna have a 325-350 mil payroll.

1 year ago
Reply to  David Klein

I thought Cohen said no team should require a payroll over 300 mil to compete. Am I misremembering?

David Klein
1 year ago
Reply to  TimBrownU

Not exactly he said you should be able to win with one

1 year ago
Reply to  David Klein

Got it. I’d still guess that suggests payroll will be capped at ~300 but definitely less confident than before. 350 would surprise me though

1 year ago
Reply to  John Wick

I have legitimately zero idea if this is something that is going to haunt them down the road. Cohen has said they won’t spend like this forever, but I think that was about giving out new big contracts as opposed to using the old big contracts as a justification not to spend.

But that’s just my sense.

1 year ago
Reply to  John Wick

Well stated. This is ultimately an issue of opportunity cost. The Mets signing Diaz means they’re not, for example, signing Suarez and Ottavino (or your relievers here) instead, and the result of that is additional innings going to the team’s worst relievers.

Unless, of course, they also sign Suarez and Ottavino, and stock the back end of the bullpen with the kind of guys you can spread innings between without the drop in quality you’d otherwise tend to get from those pitchers, but that implies a payroll around $330m when Cohen implied in the NYPost it should be possible to build a team comparable to this season’s for under $300m.

1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Eh, there’s always opportunity cost. They aren’t going to run a 400M payroll. If payroll wouldn’t have mattered they would’ve signed George Springer or Carlos Correa or something. Like if they end up letting Nimmo walk to sign Edwin Diaz this is going to be a bad move.

1 year ago
Reply to  steveo

We don’t know that they won’t run a $400m payroll, but there is always an opportunity cost

1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

For a Mets fan, after the impecunious reign of the Wilpons there’s a strong element of irreality to this and the previous offseason. The best I can do with it all is to figure, based on hints in the Post, that Cohen doesn’t care to be the worst sort of fatback grosero, believing a payroll beginning with a “3” is like cussing in church; not that you can’t do it, but it will cause the other rich kids to edge away from you and not want to play with you.

So as I and my pals GM our way through this offseason, we’re limiting our dreams to a $299m payroll. With Eppler at the helm and the Mets needing pitching, pitching, and some more pitching, and with the Lindor deals and Scherzer signing showing you can indeed have too much money, we’re not optimistic about matching the Braves. But it’s more fun than trying to catch the Phillies.