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Edwin Diaz was on the mound at Citi Field last Friday, looking as dominant as ever, locking down the Mets' combined no-hitter against the Phillies before getting the Gatorade bath treatment as the fans roared.
Then on Thursday night in Philadelphia, as he closed out the Mets' wildest and most improbable ninth-inning comeback win in 25 years, Diaz was again untouchable, with his sharp slider dancing and his high-octane fastball crackling.
Diaz, the Mets' 28-year-old closer, has emerged over the last three seasons (after his rough New York debut in 2019) as the pitcher the Mets thought they were getting when they acquired him from the Seattle Mariners: a dominant and reliable closer with lockdown stuff and a fiery mound presence.
This season, Diaz has a 1.50 ERA and 0.83 WHIP with 21 strikeouts in 12.0 innings. And he has been especially nasty lately, as he enters play Friday allowing two hits over his last nine appearances dating back to April 17.
As far as Diaz's advanced numbers, they're ridiculous and match the traditional stats. He is in the 100th percentile in strikeout rate, xERA, whiff percentage, xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA. He is in the 99th percentile in chase rate and fastball velocity, the 98th percentile in hard hit percentage, the 97th percentile in average exit velocity, and 92nd percentile in barrel percentage.
And while Diaz has been at his most dominant this season, him being very good is not a new development -- as some have recently said. This is something that has been going on since 2020.
Here's what Diaz's numbers looked like in 2020 and 2021:
2.95 ERA (2.39 FIP), 1.10 WHIP, 139 strikeouts in 88.1 innings (14.2 K/9), five homers allowed.
The headline gave this away, so this won't come as a shock ... but it's time for the Mets to extend Diaz, who is set to become a free agent after the season.
And it can be argued that signing Diaz to an extension should be the Mets' top priority right now, though they should also be exploring extensions for Chris Bassitt, Brandon Nimmo, and Pete Alonso.
While extending Diaz would make sense under pretty much any circumstance, it should be even more of a priority for the Mets with Seth Lugo and Trevor May (whose injury has clouded his situation) also set for free agency after the season.
As things currently stand, the Mets' only late-inning option who is under control beyond this season is Drew Smith. And while Smith's emergence as an impact reliever this season should not be surprising, the sample size remains small.
Good teams need lockdown closers, or as close as closers can come to being lockdown. Closers will give up runs, and they will blow games from time to time. That's just the nature of the job, though it probably won't stop a vocal minority of Mets fans from going ballistic the next time Diaz gives up a lead.
But back to good teams needing lockdown closers...
The Mets, who feel like a legitimate World Series contender for the first time since 2016, expect to be a perennial contender. And with Steve Cohen's commitment to winning, the big league core that's in place, and the top prospects who should soon start to emerge from the minors, there's no reason to believe the Mets won't be a perennial contender.
Now, there is a case to be made that it could be wiser in the long term to search for the next Diaz instead of locking up the actual Diaz. But I won't be making the case. That's because shutdown closers are very hard to find and because the Mets as currently constituted should have more than enough wiggle room to fit an extension for Diaz (and some others) in their budget.
First, the roughly $4 million Lugo is earning this season and the close to $8 million May is making will likely be off the books in 2023.
Then there's the Mets' payroll situation over the next few seasons, with their current commitments shrinking to $127 million by 2024 and $74 million by 2025. Yes, those figures don't account for raises via arbitration, but the Mets are in solid shape going forward.
As far as what an extension for Diaz could look like, perhaps something in the $16 million range annually could make sense. That's the AAV Kenley Jansen just received, and a tick lower than what Liam Hendriks recently got on the open market.
Now, I want to go on a bit of a tangent for a minute...
There are those who have recently said that the Mets have "won" the trade that sent Jarred Kelenic to the Seattle Mariners and brought Diaz and Robinson Cano to New York.
And while it's true that Kelenic has been almost impossibly bad in parts of two seasons with the Mariners, that trade will not have been "won" by the Mets even if Kelenic flames out. That's because in Kelenic, they gave up an incredibly valuable prospect who should never have been included in a deal where the Mets were helping the Mariners by taking on a huge chunk of Cano's contract. Throwing that value away won't change because of what Kelenic ultimately becomes.
Back to Diaz's Mets future...
There will be times when he gives up a run or two, gives up a home run (gasp!), and/or even blows an incredibly important game. As noted above, that's the nature of being a closer.
But more often than not, Diaz will not only get the job done but be dominant while doing so. And one of the most important things to do when trying to lock down close games in the late innings is make it impossible for random things to happen when the ball is put in play. And with the amount of bats Diaz misses, having him on the mound greatly lowers the chances of being done in by randomness.
Over the last three seasons, as Diaz has rebounded from 2019, he has looked more and more like a pitcher who could one day be on the mound as the Mets close out a World Series title. That could come this year. But the Mets should ensure that they'll have Diaz beyond 2022, with the goal being to not only compete for a championship now but in the future.