Feb. 1, 11:30am: The Mets have offered Diekman a one-year deal with a vesting option, per SNY’s Andy Martino. He adds that New York offered a two-year deal worth $8-10MM total to Wandy Peralta before he agreed to a four-year, $16.5MM deal with the Padres, and their offer to Diekman is for a similar annual value. An agreement with Diekman isn’t yet in place, but there’s “optimism” about completing the deal.
10:05am: The Mets are close to a deal with free agent lefty Jake Diekman, per Will Sammon and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. The Mets have been exploring the market for left-handed bullpen help, and the veteran Diekman would check that item off the team’s to-do list. Diekman is represented by the Beverly Hills Sports Council.
Diekman, 37, is a veteran of 12 major league seasons. The Mets would be the southpaw’s ninth club. He’s never had even average command of the strike zone (career 13.3% walk rate), but he’s a power-armed lefty who misses bats in droves and has managed to overcome his penchant for walks more often than not.
The 2023 season was an uneven one for Diekman, who opened the year with an ugly 11 1/3 innings in the White Sox bullpen before (like so many pitchers before him) making a 180-degree turnaround upon signing with the Rays. Diekman was rocked for 10 runs on 11 hits and 13 walks with the ChiSox but gave the Rays 45 1/3 frames of 2.18 ERA ball with a 28.6% strikeout rate and 13.5% walk rate. He averaged 95.7 mph on his heater during his time with Tampa Bay — right in line with the 95.6 mph he averaged over the seven seasons prior.
While Diekman has had some rough seasons interspersed throughout his mostly solid career, he’s never posted an ERA of 5.00 or higher and has kept his earned run average south of 4.00 in eight of his dozen MLB campaigns. On the whole, he sports a lifetime 3.82 ERA in 570 1/3 MLB innings, including a 3.67 ERA over the past four years.
Tampa Bay changed up his pitch usage a bit, as Diekman threw his changeup at a career-high 15.8% clip as a Ray. He’d previously never thrown the pitch at more than a 7% clip in any full season. In fact, Diekman entered the season with just 149 total changeups thrown in his career … before throwing 137 of them in 2023 alone. The results were strong: opponents batted just .176/.222/.294 in the 36 plate appearances that Diekman finished off with a changeup. His slider and four-seamer remained effective as ever; opponents hit just .161 and .175 while slugging .290 and .228 against that pair of offerings, respectively.
Lack of command has been the primary flaw holding Diekman back from standing as one of the game’s elite lefties. At age 37, that’s unlikely to change. But even with a bloated walk rate, the quality of Diekman’s pitches should continue to produce plenty of whiffs and a deluge of weak contact. Opponents have averaged a below-average 87.8 mph off the bat against him in his MLB career and hit just 33.6% of batted balls at 95 mph or greater. In 2023, opponents mustered a pitiful 84.6 mph average exit velocity and similarly feeble 26.4% hard-hit rate against him.
The Mets signed a quartet of free agent relievers to major league contracts before talks with Diekman gained traction, adding Jorge Lopez, Michael Tonkin, Austin Adams and, most recently, Adam Ottavino on one-year deals. That group figures to join returning veterans Edwin Diaz, Brooks Raley and Drew Smith in a revamped Mets bullpen.
One thing the Mets lack in the bullpen, following that slate of veteran additions, is flexibility. None of Diaz, Raley, Smith, Ottavino, Diekman, Lopez, Tonkin or Adams can be optioned to the minors, nor can Sean Reid-Foley or Phil Bickford. That sets the stage for the Mets to further shake up the relief mix, either by designating someone like Reid-Foley or Bickford for assignment or perhaps finding a trade partner for one or both of those holdovers.
The Mets are already in the highest tier of luxury taxation and are entering their third straight season exceeding the tax threshold. As such, every dollar they spend at this stage of the offseason is taxed at a 110% rate. Effectively, they’ll pay just over double whatever Diekman’s salary is in order to add him to the bullpen for the upcoming season. The Mets had a projected $309MM payroll and $322MM of luxury obligations even without Diekman, per Roster Resource. Assuming he’s signing a guaranteed big league deal, both numbers will jump even further north.