Killing Our Little Darlings: Cano, Diaz to Mets
“Nah, no garlic fries but Fuku's loaded fries. Trust me, it's worth it.”
This is what I wrote last March for the 2018 Grand Salami player profile on young Edwin Diaz:
He’s so close to being elite, isn’t he? He’s young, lean, throws in the triple digits. If you rank least season’s 30 top relievers by saves, Diaz comes in 15th in innings pitched (15), tied for 19th in blown saves (5) and tied for 8th in saves (34). Meaning he’s right in the middle for opportunities, at the higher end for succeeding at those opportunities, and at the lower end for screwing them up. All good. He’s eighth in strikeouts (89) and tied for 9th in hits given up (44)—great numbers given his IP. Yet among these relievers, his WHIP (1.15) is 16th and his ERA (3.27) is 19th. What’s the problem?
The problem is the thing that comes back to haunt us: walks. His 32 free passes last season is more than all of these relievers save two (AJ Ramos and Corey Knebel). Homeruns are also an issue: He gave up 10 last year. But the biggest problem, oddly, may be that so-called pitchers’ paradise he calls home: Safeco Field. On the road, Diaz threw 36.1 innings, gave up 13 hits, 14 walks and two homers. His batting average against was .106 and his ERA was 1.24. But at the Safe, he wasn’t: 29.2 IP, 31 hits, 18 walks, and eight homers. That’s a .265 batting average against and a 5.76 ERA. Aberration? Anomaly? Probably. We’ll find out more this year.
The M’s have never had a great reliever. At best we’ve had a guy who made us cheer one season and groan the next: Mike Schooler, Bobby Ayala, Norm Charlton, Kasuhiro Sasaki, J.J. Putz, Fernando Rodney. Put it this way: If Diaz simply keeps repeating his 2017 performance, he’ll be the all-time Mariners saves leader by June 2020.
Then what happened? Then he became elite. He became the best closer in baseball, with a league-leading 57 saves in 73.1 IP, 124 Ks against a shockingly low 17Ks, a 1.96 ERA and a 0.79 WHIP. He led closers in almost every category. He was an All-Star, finished 8th in Cy Young voting and 18th in MVP voting. From the beginning of the season to the end, he was just lights out.
Plus: He was only 20 saves away from tying the all-time Mariners saves record (129, Kasuhiro Sasaki). Did I say June 2020? June 2019, more like it!
The rumors started last week and they kept solidifying until it was all but a done deal. Today the deal was done: Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz and cash to the New York Mets for five players. The Mariners organization apparently looked around, decided we weren't going to beat the young upstart Houston Astros anytime soon, and decided to start anew—the way the Astros themselves did back in 2012/13. Initially we had a few untouchables in the lineup, including Diaz and Mitch Haniger. But to unload Cano and his expensive, long-term deal, we had to let the Mets grab one of those untouchables. There's a phrase in writing, “You have to kill your little darlings,” meaning you have to cut sentences and paragraphs you love if they don't fit in with the overall. That's kind of what Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners did here. Diaz fit in with the overall, of trying to win it all in, say, 2023, but to engage this plan they had to give him up. They had to kill our little darling.
I get what they‘re doing, but—and this is a big but, a Sir Mix-A-Lot-sized but—I don’t know if I trust this organization to do it right. Before this off-season, we had the worst farm system in Major League Baseball, by some rankings, and that takes a lot of bad decisions over the years. Is this one of those? Was the Paxton deal? We draft lousy, our trades are iffy, our longterm contracts quickly become albatrosses, and when we do find a diamond in the rough, a guy we scouted and drafted and signed and brought up through our system, who throws 100-mph fastballs and 90-mph sliders with poise, and who, in only his third season, ties Bobby Thigpen for the second-most saves in a single season in baseball history, well, we can't even keep him around long enough to break out pathetic team record for saves.
And what did we get in return?
- outfielder Jay Bruce, who is signed to two more years at $14 mil each, will be 32 in early April, and had a -0.4 WAR last season.
- reliever Anthony Swarzak, 33, signed to one more season at $8.15 mil, and who had a 6.15 ERA and another -0.4 WAR last season. So far that's -0.8 WAR we‘ve picked up.
- right-hander Gerson Bautista, 23, who pitched a bit in mid-April and the end of May before being sent back to the minors. Small sample size: 5 games, 4.1 IP, 12.46 ERA, -0.3 WAR. Still counting at home? -1.1 WAR now.
- right-hander Justin Dunn, also 23, who hasn’t pitched above AA ball, where, last season, he went 605 with a 4.22 ERA.
- And finally, the main possible upside, outfielder Jarred Kelenic, the No. 6 pick in the 2018 draft and a potential five-tool player.
So that's -1.1 WAR and two maybes. All because we can't draft well and five years ago we oversigned for Cano.
I'm going to miss Cano. I was against his signing and I'm against his firing. Yes, PEDs last year. He still hit over .300. He's fun to watch. I like him. I like both of them. I get the feeling we're killing our little darlings needlessly—when the rest of our prose sucks.