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Bill Madden: Buck Showalter on the challenge of managing Mets without Edwin Diaz


PORT STREET. LUCIE — No one has to tell Buck Showalter that he’s going to have to manage his butt this season if he wants Steve Cohen’s $336 million Mets back to October and beyond. It will simply be an adventure without Edwin Diaz for 162 games.

We were standing on the sidelines watching the Mets go through some pregame drills at Clover Park the other day, and as with every conversation with the Mets manager this spring, it’s hard not to mention the elephant in the room. Showalter is getting over, as he has to, the devastating turn of events when Diaz tore the patellar tendon in his knee celebrating the World Baseball Classic, but the void is immeasurable.

“Look,” he said, “in my opinion, Edwin had the best season of any closer in baseball history last year. He would challenge anyone for him to come up with a better one.”

Certainly in terms of dominance and value to team success, Diaz’s 2022, in which he was nearly unhittable (1.31 ERA, 118 strikeouts and just 18 walks in 62 innings, 32 saves of 35 chances), Showalter you have a valid point. With the Mets holding first place for most of the season, the vast majority of Díaz’s saves were of the high-leverage variety. For that reason, Cohen made Diaz his top priority last winter, signing him to a record deal (five years, $102 million) for closers.

“To be honest,” Showalter said, “even before his injury, I had already prepared myself for the fact that he wouldn’t be able to replicate what he did last year.”

As Showalter stepped away for a minute to consult with one of his coaches, John Franco, who knows a little about the value of closers, was standing nearby and had overheard our conversation. “I know what you’re saying,” Franco said. “It’s a completely different thing for a manager when he doesn’t have that safety valve for the ninth inning. He has to handle each game differently.”

In all likelihood, Showalter will manage with a variety of closers this season, which is why David Robertson’s $10 million, one-year contract, along with Adam Ottavino’s $14.5 million, two-year contract mocked by some opposing teams. as excessive, they now loom as important offseason signings. Early speculation has been that the 37-year-old Robertson, who has the most experience as a closer with 157 saves to his credit and 20 last year with the Cubs and Phillies, will get the nod as the lead closer, but Showalter was not. . I’m not ready to go there. As the spring draws to a close, he’s still watching and evaluating various closer options, including a couple of interesting veterans who have traveled a lot, 34-year-old lefty Brooks Raley and 29-year-old righty John Curtiss.

“Obviously, Robertson gives you the advantage that, as a right-hander, he’s just as effective against lefties,” Showalter said, “but we’ll probably operate ‘lanes’.”

Presumably, by that he meant that righties will stay in their lanes and lefties in theirs and how opposing teams’ batting orders stack up in the eighth and ninth innings will dictate how he will close out games.

However, since the start of this spring, Showalter has been particularly good with Raley 6-3, who last year with the Rays, his fourth major league team after five years in Japan with the Lotte Giants (2015-19). . — Set career bests in ERA (2.68), opponent OPS (.226), saves (6) and ranked eighth among AL pitchers in opponent batting average (.188) . What intrigued Showalter most when the Mets acquired Raley from the Rays for minor league lefty Keyshawn Askew in December was his hard contact on just 24.6% of balls hit, according to Statcast.

As for Curtiss, primarily a setup reliever and middle inning with the Twins, Angels, Marlins and Brewers from 2017-21, the Mets thought enough of him to sign him to a two-year deal in 2021 knowing he was going to be he lost all of last year recovering from his second Tommy John surgery. It was during his rehab last year that he got bored of not being allowed to throw breaking balls right away, so he started experimenting with a changeup and says he feels confident using it now as a viable pitch in his repertoire. While Curtiss’ main role is likely to be more in the middle innings, hearing Showalter talk about him makes you wonder if his “lane” could also lead to the ninth inning on occasion.

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“He’s got that ‘it’ factor,” Showalter said, which means Curtiss has an air of confidence about his ability in any situation.

Of course, none of these relievers come close to Diaz’s pedigree and you have to believe Showalter is privately hoping one or two will emerge with a big season. Once Diaz went down, it became pretty clear that the Mets would have to replace him from the inside. Neither team is trading their closers in the middle of spring training. For that reason, this will be the most challenging season of his distinguished career as Showalter’s coach, where, as Franco said, he will have to handle 162 games differently.

The Mets’ all-time saves leader with 276, Franco is in camp as a special instructor, and at 62, he’s still lean and in great shape, which led me to ask if he might have thought about offering himself as volunteered for Showalter’s ninth-inning dilemma.

“Only if they move the mound 40 feet,” Franco said, smiling.

Although the end result was not what he wanted, mark of rose He deserves a lot of credit for the managerial work he did with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, especially given all the pitching restrictions he had to deal with. We can only imagine now what kind of manager DeRosa will be in normal situations, which should be very soon. Hail to the pride of Bergen Catholic High. …

At least for now, the Braves have come to the conclusion that the best prospect vaughn grisson not ready to replace dansby swanson as his everyday shortstop. That was the hope when they let Swanson go as a free agent and had Grissom undergo some crash courses at shortstop with his respected infield instructor. Ron Washington this winter. But according to scouts who followed the Braves this spring, it too often looked like they were trying to drive a square peg into a round hole, as Grissom’s defense was shaky, to the point that the Braves sent him to camp minor leagues last Tuesday with two weeks. to go to spring training. According to Braves sources, the feeling was that Grissom was better off refining his Triple-A defense even further, while the shortstop was handed over to last year’s infield utility man. orlando arcia. The move also allowed them to maintain versatility. Ehire Adrianza on the list. The Braves also sent the lefty Jared Shuster last week, but will definitely be back soon. The 6-3, 24-year-old 2020 first-round draft pick wowed scouts this spring: one run, 16 strikeouts, two walks in 12.2 innings, and he was only sent back because he had options. …

Another rookie who has had a breakout spring probably for naught is the 21-year-old shortstop for the Cardinals. masyn winn who hit .311 with two home runs, nine RBIs in his first 15 games and of whom one scout praised: “That guy’s better than any shortstop I’ve ever seen here, but he’s never played above AA ball and they’re pretty sure to start him in Triple-A. But I predict she’s going to be his shortstop in the middle of the season.”

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