John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
If the Mets are going to be this careful about protecting Edwin Diaz, refusing to use him in the highest of high-leverage eighth-inning spots Monday night against the Phillies, then there's only one way to justify such caution:
Go sign Craig Kimbrel. And do it quickly before someone else does.
It's the obvious take, I know, and it might make for a touchy situation as to who gets the ninth inning if the Mets actually were to sign him.
However, for a team whose bullpen has a 6.00 ERA, ranking 13th in the National League, with Jeurys Familia's control problems already becoming a major issue, Kimbrel could be a season-changer.
You can make the same case for signing Dallas Keuchel as a replacement for Jason Vargas, but that move only helps the starting rotation, where signing Kimbrel could help on both ends, potentially providing enough depth in the pen to allow the Mets to use Seth Lugo as a starter.
If ever a win could crystallize the need for such a move, it was Monday night's 7-6 heart-stopper in Philadelphia.
But, really, who knew Diaz was considered so fragile that he couldn't be used at least once in a while for a four-out save? And never did a situation call for it quite like the eighth inning Monday night, when Mickey Callaway could have brought in Diaz rather than Robert Gsellman to try and bail out Familia with the bases loaded and two outs, the Mets clinging to a 6-5 lead.
Indeed, presuming that he would have had the same blow-away fastball then as he had in the 11th -- when he struck out the side on 11 pitches to close out the win -- Diaz could have saved the Mets and their fans an awful lot of angst.
So why is it that a 25-year old reliever with very little tread on his tires, so to speak, can't ever be used for more than three outs at a time -- as both Callaway and GM Brodie Van Wagenen said after the game would be the case for the foreseeable future?
You can't help but wonder if there is more here than we know about Diaz. There was at least some speculation around the ballclub during spring training that he had some tenderness in his arm, as the Mets brought him along slowly and used him sparingly during Grapefruit League games.
Could that still be a concern?
He sure looks healthy, judging by the way he overmatched the heart of the Phillies lineup, striking out Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, and J.T. Realmuto -- all swinging -- on a total of 11 pitches.
But if the Mets might feel that extending Diaz beyond three outs and specifically having him go sit down in the dugout and cool off before returning for a second inning of work, could be an issue, then protecting him is understandable.
Being able to count on that type of lock-down relief to close out games can be as important psychologically to a ballclub as it is in terms of sheer results, especially as the Mets seem to be starting to believe they have what it takes to be serious contenders, knowing they can score runs with this offense.
The problem is that getting to Diaz is too often dicey, especially with Familia as the eighth-inning guy.
Honestly, I didn't understand bringing Familia back on a three-year deal when they signed him in December at a time when there were so many other relievers available.
I mean, who would you rather have, Familia at three years for $30 million or Adam Ottavino for three years, $27 million, which is what he received from the Yankees some six weeks after Familia signed.
It's not like the Mets hadn't seen Familia's control issues when they had him the first time around, before trading him to the A's last summer.
He had a couple of strong years as their closer, but the walks were always an issue. For the most part his overpowering sinker was good enough to get him out of trouble, and that might still be the case on some nights, but his tendency to lose the plate seems to be becoming more and more of a problem.
With his three walks on Monday night, Familia has walked nine hitters in 8.1 innings this season, and he has been more hittable than usual, giving up nine hits so far, including two home runs.
That's especially alarming, considering that keeping the ball in the ballpark has been one of Familia's strengths: he allowed only three home runs all of last season.
On Monday night, meanwhile, only Jeff McNeil's brilliant diving play at third base saved Familia from a worse fate, and almost surely a loss for the Mets.
It all adds up to an ugly stat line for Familia so far this season, especially a 2.160 WHIP that is even more revealing than his 6.48 ERA.
Considering the Mets don't really have an obvious candidate to take over the primary set-up role, the situation cries out for the opportunity to take advantage of Kimbrel's availability.
Otherwise they'll unquestionably be looking to trade for a top reliever come July, and their farm system isn't deep enough, especially after dealing Justin Dunn and Jarred Kelenic to get Diaz and Robinson Cano in the off-season, to be dealing away more prospects.
Bottom line: if they're truly all-in to win, they need a better bullpen, and perhaps a better fifth starter as well. Finding a way to sign Kimbrel is the best way to address both of those problems.