A glorious moment for Puerto Rico turned into the darkest hour of the spring for Edwin Diaz and the New York Mets. The ripple effects may last the entirety of this upcoming season.
Diaz, the Mets’ outstanding closer whose $105 million contract was a crucial portion of the club’s massive offseason spending in hopes of a World Series run, crumbled to the turf amid Puerto Rico’s celebration after eliminating the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic on Wednesday night.
X-rays on his right knee proved inconclusive, but his pain, the reaction of startled onlookers and his inability to exit the field on his own power all indicated a significant injury to his right knee. Subsequent MRIs and other tests from the Mets will determine the severity in coming days.
It is a blow to his Puerto Rican brothers and his Mets teammates both. Here are the longer-term implications:
A WBC black mark?
Team USA’s stars downplayed the concept that Diaz was injured in an event that ranges somewhere between glorified exhibition and full-throated international competition, depending on one’s perspective. It could have happened anywhere, they said after advancing to join Puerto Rico in the WBC quarterfinals.
And they are right. Just look at the man who will be at least partially charged with replacing Diaz if his injury is season-ending.
UH-OH: Don’t blame the WBC, Edwin Diaz’s injury was simply a ‘freak accident’
David Robertson was a key member of the Phillies’ bullpen during their postseason run to the World Series last autumn. Yet he had to sit out the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves.
Why? Well, Robertson was injured when he vaulted a dugout railing to celebrate a key home run by Bryce Harper in the NL wild-card series. Robertson hurt his calf and sat out the NLCS, returning to save a game in the World Series.
Such stories are legion across baseball, affecting seasons and careers. Slugger Kendrys Morales was never quite the same after suffering a grim ankle injury landing demonstratively on home plate after hitting a walkoff grand slam in a 2010 game. Sure, Diaz probably doesn’t suffer that injury appearing in a Grapefruit League game in Port St. Lucie, but that’s beside the point.
Stuff happens, whether you’re wearing your country’s colors or those of the team paying you. And you can’t bubble wrap ballplayers any more than you can the planet from an asteroid.
How do the Mets move on?
Oddly, Robertson is now part of that equation. After posting a 2.40 ERA in a bounceback season in Philly, the Mets signed him to a one-year, $10 million contract to add depth to the bullpen. It was an easily-forgotten move in the wake of the $105 million New York guaranteed Diaz after his utterly dominant 2022 season, during which he struck out 118 batters in 62 innings.
Another WBC reliever, Adam Ottavino, also re-signed in the offseason, but Diaz’s injury means he moves up in the pecking order, from seventh-inning guy to likely setting up Robertson. It is, perhaps, in the deeper reaches of New York’s bullpen where this loss would be felt the most, particularly at this very late stage of the offseason where almost every reliever is off the market.
Does this change the NL East picture?
The Braves and Mets each won 101 games last year, and the Phillies’ further buildup raised the specter of three teams shooting for 100 wins and a division title.
That hasn’t changed.
Dominant as he is, Diaz still controls just one inning of the game, albeit its most important. The Mets still won all those games last year with ace Jacob deGrom shelved for more than half the season and Max Scherzer sidelined with an oblique injury.
The team’s fate will still reside largely in how Scherzer and import Justin Verlander fare, along with Tylor Megill’s ability to hold down the back end of the rotation while Jose Quintana recovers from rib surgery.
They will hit. If they’re healthy, they’ll still have a dominant rotation. They’ll just likely need to figure out the most important inning of all, after a grim and unforeseen evening that could have happened almost anywhere.