MLB Rumors: Mets Closer Could Become Highest Paid-Reliever In History

In a league where relief pitchers have traditionally been the lowest-earning players, Edwin Diaz could break that mold. The Mets’ closer has been an absolute stud in the bullpen this year in Queens, with a 1.38 earned run average and 100 strikeouts in 52.1 innings, and as Jeff Passan sees it, he could become the sport’s first $100 million reliever. Passan, ESPN’s MLB insider, shared his thoughts yesterday on the Pat McAfee show.

Diaz burst onto the scene in 2018, his third year in the big leagues, when he led the league with 57 saves, making a run at Francisco Rodriguez’ record of 62, making the AL All-Star team, and even receiving some Cy Young and MVP votes. That offseason, he was traded to the Mets in a blockbuster deal including Robinson Cano, as well as Jarred Kelenic going the other way. As Passan noted on the podcast, the deal looked like a disaster for the Mets at first; Cano was suspended for PEDs, Diaz struggled with home runs in his first season with the team, and Kelenic looked like a rising star in the Mariners’ farm system. Since then, however, Diaz has rediscovered his dominant form and become a fan favorite, while Kelenic has floundered in his major league playing time.
Currently, the largest contract given to a relief pitcher in terms of overall value belongs to Raisel Iglesias, who signed a four-year deal worth $58 million with the Angels in the offseason before being traded to the Braves at this year’s deadline. In terms of yearly salary, the honor goes to Aroldis Chapman, whom the Yankees are paying $18 million this season. Chapman serves as an example of the risks of paying a premium for bullpen help; after a decade of being a top-5 closer, he was practically unplayable after the All-Star break before being shelved with a tattoo infection on his leg.

In fact, a brief look at the top-paid relievers in MLB should serve as a cautionary tale for over-eager general managers. Excluding David Price, who was a starter when he signed his $217 million contract, only four of the ten most expensive relievers this year have performed near their contract value - Iglesias, Liam Hendriks, Ryan Pressly, and Nick Martinez. The rest have either performed below replacement-level (Chapman, Craig Kimbrel, Will Smith) or haven’t played at all due to injury (Zack Britton, Will Harris, Drew Pomeranz). Whichever team signs Diaz this offseason will have to hope he can remain the dominating force he is now, or be willing to eat the back half off the contract for some great seasons up front.

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