The Mets’ loss of closer Edwin Diaz should spur the Rockies to make a crucial phone call
Mar 17, 2023, 2:04 AM | Updated: 6:33 am
(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
Daniel Bard has been a gift to the Colorado Rockies.
When they took a flier on him, inserting him into their bullpen during the pandemic-altered 2020 season nearly seven years after losing his command and his grip on a major-league spot, no one could have predicted what followed — namely, that he would return to the dominance he showed in his first Major League hitch with the Boston Red Sox a decade ago.
But he did. And by last year, when matters were in Bard’s right hand, he rarely dropped the ball. He didn’t allow a single earned run in his final 12 appearances last year.
And his 3.8 WAR led all Major League Baseball relief pitchers in 2022.
No joke. Twenty-three pitchers ranked above Bard last year, but all were starters.
By that standard, Bard was the best in the biz.
For plenty of spurts last year, one looked at the Bard-anchored bullpen during games the Rockies led and said, “They’ve got some good stuff here.” Now, the ‘pen wasn’t deep, and when the Rockies got into the Manfredball chaos of the contrived extra-innings format, they often ran short of quality. At one point spanning from June through August, the Rockies lost six consecutive extra-innings contests.
And therein lies the rub.
When the Rockies re-signed him last August, the move was as curious as it was heartwarming. The endorphins kick in when you keep someone like Bard around. But a closer can only do but so much on a team spiraling toward its fourth-consecutive losing season — and its 10th in the last 12 seasons. What’s more, in just one of those 10 seasons did the Rockies’ win total come within 10 games of their loss tally — and that was in 2020, when they played just 60 games. The Rockies haven’t been merely losing; with the exception of the 2017-18 wild-card seasons, they haven’t been close to winning.
And last season, despite Bard’s MLB-leading relief-pitcher WAR, the Rockies lost 94 games and finished 19 games out of the last wild-card spot.
Now, take that team and subtract its overall WAR leader and reigning NL Gold Glove winner, Brendan Rodgers. He’s likely out for the season with a shoulder injury. Spring-training pickup Mike Moustakas is swinging a hot bat in Arizona and Kris Bryant is relatively healthy. But if Moustakas’ form in the regular season looks like his last two years and Bryant succumbs again, the Rockies will find themselves in the same forlorn spot they’ve come to sadly know too well.
Bard’s inspirational story now has the sharp teeth of last year’s dominant form. But success for closers can be fleeting. Few know this better than Bard; the last time before 2022 that he had a sub 1.000 WHIP — the 2012 season — it ballooned to 1.736 the following year, with strikeout and home-runs-per-9-innings rate that shrank and mushroomed, respectively, to equal and alarming degrees.
There is no indication that will happen to Bard now. But it serves as a reminder of how quickly a bullpen can go astray — and why, when teams are not viable contenders, the bullpen arms are usually the first to go out the door at the trade deadline to those making a legitimate postseason push.
Get what you can, while you can. Maximize the value. That’s the way most clubs operate.
We know that the Rockies are a bit different. Not trading Bard last summer was another reminder.
But they have another chance to make the logical choice that they bypassed last year.
ENTER THE METS
Until this week, the New York Mets — and everyone who cares about Major League Baseball — knew who their closer would be, and what it would sound like.
Everything about Edwin Diaz last year was epic, from a fastball that approached 103 miles per hour to his Blasterjaxx & Timmy Trumpet entrance music which subsequently spread like kudzu throughout sporting venues far and wide.
Sound 'em. 🎺🎺🎺 pic.twitter.com/wPv2R0GDxt
— SNY (@SNYtv) August 7, 2022
(A few words of advice to Mizzou football and anyone else trying to use “Narco” for your own big moments: It ain’t the same. Stop it. Leave it for Diaz.)
Diaz, like Bard, went off to the World Baseball Classic to showcase his wares on a global stage. It hasn’t gone well for Bard; he got shelled by Mexico to the tune of four hits, a walk and four runs in two-thirds of an inning. But Bard would take that outcome over that of Diaz, who tore a patellar tendon while celebrating a Puerto Rico win.
Diaz is done for the season. And now the team with the highest payroll in MLB history — an astonishing $350 million — has a massive ninth-inning hole in its bullpen plans.
The Mets began spring training with as complete a pitching staff as any in MLB. Their rotation is deep; their bullpen is stout. And the latter gives them closer options, including old friend Adam Ottavino, who cleaned up last year with a microscopic 0.975 WHIP, his best such figure since his 2016 campaign with the Rox.
But the least disruptive option to the Mets’ hopes is to insert a new closer and roll on with everyone else’s roles untouched.
And the sooner they get that closer in place, the better, because if the National League East race evolves as it did last year, the Mets could have scant room for error, with the last two NL champions lurking in their midst.
If the Mets don’t call the Rockies, the Rockies should pick up the phone. Just to see
The Mets have shown they’ll sacrifice prospects and cash. They laugh at the notion of the luxury tax. If the NFL didn’t have a salary cap, the Broncos might have attacked this offseason much like the Steve Cohen-led Mets.
And Cohen’s outfit has a farm system that Baseball America places fifth in its 2023 preseason rankings
Now, the Rockies have done some fine work in their organization. Legitimate hope now exists there. Last month, Keith Law of The Athletic ranked the Rockies’ organizational talent 12th, largely on the strength of five top-100 prospects. But even for young farm-system players at that stratum, the failure rate is high. The Rockies need more arrows in their minor-league quiver.
Further, much of that help is years away — and thus, a near-certainty to be well past the window in which Bard could have a significant impact as an elite closer in purple.
In New York, he might be a piece that makes a World Series possible. In Denver, he’s more apt to be the difference between fifth place and fourth. Three or four years from now, a premium closer could be the difference between postseason bliss and spending October at home. But by then, Bard will be in his 40s, and that closer could be one the Rockies develop.
Yes, postseason might sound bonkers given where the Rockies sit right now, a tiny house amid the colossal mansions sprouting on the tracts of their Southern California divisional sparring partners. But in a few years, it’s realistic. And any more prospects who the Rockies can acquire and nurture to be ready for a more viable contending window can only help.
And that’s where their closer can provide some unexpected benefit to the cause.
Indeed, Daniel Bard was a gift the Rockies didn’t foresee.
But his best gift to the Rockies long-term might be what he can bring in a trade with a free-spending team desperate to justify their owner’s profligate spending and hoist a trophy now.