I almost feel sorry for the Mets. The famous reliever Edwin Diaz has been lost for the season before the season could start. The thing that cannot happen – a signficant injury to a significant player – in spring training has happened.
Though not, technically speaking, in a exhibition. Diaz saved Wednesday’s World Baseball Classic game against the Dominican Republic for Puerto Rico. The ensuing celebration left him with a torn patellar tendon, which is worse than your garden-variety ACL tear. He won’t be closing until 2024. The Mets have 162 games in 2023, plus whatever happens in October, to negotiate first.
I live in Atlanta, which means I’m supposed to hate all Mets. True confession: I don’t hate Diaz. His walk-up music – “Narco,” as augmented by Timmy Trumpet – is my favorite since Trevor Hoffman and AC/DC’s “Hells Bells,” which was a last-century deal. (The memory of seeing/hearing it in San Diego when Hoffman was summoned to face Javy Lopez in Game 3 of the 1998 NLCS still brings chills. It’s on YouTube.)
Remember when the Mets signed Carlos Correa and became the greatest team ever assembled? “This puts us over the top,” spendthrift owner Steve Cohen crowed in December. Not so fast, my friend. The Mets and Correa never got around to signing anything. He’s back with the Twins.
Diaz, who re-upped for $102M over five seasons, will miss the first of those seasons. Justin Verlander, another big-ticket splurge, just turned 40. Outfielder Brandon Nimmo, owner of a new deal worth $162M over eight years, has been held out of most spring action, not because he’s hurt but because the Mets want to ensure his continuing health. Fancy that.
Not everything has gone well for the Braves this spring. Michael Soroka: hurting again. Ian Anderson: wild again. Kyle Wright: cortisone required. Still, updated FanGraphs projections have the Braves winning 94.8 games, more than any other MLB club. They’re given a 92.6 percent chance to make the playoffs, a 15.5 percent chance of winning the World Series. San Diego is given the second-best chance at 12.1 percent.
As for the National League East: FanGraphs assigns the Braves a 60 percent chance of finishing first. The Mets are at 26.1 percent, the Phillies at 11.7. Coming off Tommy John surgery, MVP Bryce Harper isn’t expected back until July.
Cohen took to Twitter on Thursday to express his condolences to Diaz – “a great human being.” He also tweeted: “All of us at the Mets are shaken but determined to sustain our quest for a great season.”
When last we saw Cohen’s crew, it was being eliminated by the Padres in the wild card round after being run down by the Braves and, despite winning 101 games, finishing second on a tiebreaker. To be fair, the Braves didn’t linger much longer in October 2022, being ousted by the Phillies in Round 2.
Still, the Braves have won two World Series since the Mets won any. The Braves have won the East five years running. The Mets have won it six times over 53 seasons.
So yeah, I feel sorry for the Mets. Their payroll has ballooned to $336 million – that’s $146M more than the Cobb County crew – and they’ll finish second again, or maybe third. They’re paying Verlander and Max Scherzer $86.6M this season; the aggregate age of the two pitchers is 78 years and eight months. Good luck with that.
A part of me – the worrywart part – wonders if the Braves are due to have a season where things, as things will, go wrong. Then I remind myself that they had a year when their rotation collapsed (2020) and another when their outfield fell to pieces (2021). The first saw them take the Dodgers to Game 7 of the NLCS. The second saw them win the World Series. They’re good at problem-solving.
They’ll win the East again. It’s what they do. It’s what the Mets seldom do.
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