The New York Mets will likely be without All-Star closer Edwin Díaz for the entire 2023 MLB season. On Thursday, GM Billy Eppler announced Díaz suffered a full-thickness tear of the patellar tendon in his right knee during Puerto Rico's on-field celebration following their win over the Dominican Republic in Wednesday night's win-or-go-home World Baseball Classic game. Díaz will have surgery Thursday and the recovery time is generally eight months.
"In general, we are not given too many opportunities to stand in the way when a player goes (to the WBC). There are certain criteria that has to be met for a player to not go," Eppler told the Washington Post about holding players out of the WBC. "When we're given that runway, we've taken it. We took it with (Starling) Marte. We filed the objection on Marte because we could. But I don't want to get into the specifics here."
Teams can block players from the WBC only under specific injury conditions and Marte was held out after having offseason abdominal surgery. New York's entire starting infield -- first baseman Pete Alonso (USA), second baseman Jeff McNeil (USA), shortstop Francisco Lindor (Puerto Rico), third baseman Eduardo Escobar (Venezuela) -- is still playing in the WBC, as is setup man Adam Ottavino. Ottavino is a candidate to replace Díaz in the closer's role.
It's difficult to tell exactly how Díaz hurt his knee, but here's a look at the incident in question:
Díaz recorded the final three outs in Puerto Rico's upset win over a stacked Dominican Republic squad. He and his teammates were not celebrating excessively, and he wasn't caught at the bottom of a dogpile or anything like that. It appears Díaz was simply jumping up and down with his teammates when his knee gave out.
Other players have suffered major injuries at the WBC. Among them, New York Yankees first base Mark Teixeira tore a tendon in his wrist while taking batting practice with Team USA in 2013. It sabotaged his year and eventually required season-ending surgery. Lefty Drew Smyly, then with the Seattle Mariners, hurt his elbow with Team USA in 2017 and needed Tommy John surgery.
Díaz, 29 on March 22, signed a five-year deal worth $102 million last offseason. It is the largest reliever contract in history in terms of both total guarantee and average annual value. Díaz is coming off a historic season that saw him post a 1.31 ERA (297 ERA+) and a 6.56 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 62 innings. He also finished with 32 saves over the course of 61 appearances.
Edwin Diaz is a great human being and a fierce competitor. All of us at the Mets are shaken but determined to sustain our quest for a great season. We wish Edwin a speedy recovery.— Steven Cohen (@StevenACohen2) March 16, 2023
While Díaz is irreplaceable in the ninth inning, the Mets still have a veteran late-inning relief crew that includes former All-Star closer David Robertson, lefty Brooks Raley, and Ottavino. That said, the Mets recently lost righties Sam Coonrod (strained lat) and Bryce Montes de Oca (stress reaction in elbow) to injuries, so their bullpen depth has taken a big hit this week.
Zack Britton, who spent all those years with Mets manager Buck Showalter in Baltimore, remains available as a free agent and has been speculated as a fit for New York for weeks. Veterans Ken Giles, Corey Knebel, and Mike Minor are unsigned as well. Trading for pitching is difficult in March, though a rebuilding club may be willing to part with a high-priced closer before Opening Day.
Major League Baseball players who partake in the WBC are required to be insured, so the Mets will be compensated while Díaz is sidelined. The inability to secure insurance has, at times, forced players to withdraw from the tournament. For example, Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw was reportedly one such case earlier this spring.
Indeed, Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer crunched the numbers following the 2017 WBC and concluded the following: "the evidence of an injury effect isn't strong enough to justify preventing players from participating, especially since a well-populated tournament is so much fun for fans — and, in the long term, potentially beneficial for baseball, which in turn enriches teams."
The Mets went 101-62 last season but lost to the San Diego Padres in the Wild Card Series. Owner Steve Cohen authorized a free agency spending spree -- a spending spree that included re-signing Díaz -- that pushed the team's payroll well over $350 million. The club's competitive balance tax bill will be north of $100 million.
Given that payroll and luxury tax bill, there is immense pressure on the Mets to win the World Series in 2023. Díaz's injury is unfortunate and a major blow to the Mets, but the WBC remains a worthwhile endeavor.