The Boston Red Sox are reportedly among the teams interested in acquiring Mariners closer Edwin Diaz but Seattle’s demands are too steep.
There’s a void to be filled at the back end of the Boston Red Sox bullpen with Craig Kimbrel hitting free agency. Bringing back the flame-throwing closer remains a possibility but the team will still explore other options. One direction they could pivot toward for a younger, cheaper and a potentially better ninth-inning solution is Seattle Mariners closer, Edwin Diaz.
The 24-year old is coming off a career year in which he led the majors with 57 saves while posting a sparkling 1.96 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, and a 15.2 K/9 ratio. He’s a tremendous bargain in his pre-arbitration eligible years and won’t hit free agency until 2023. Diaz has established himself as one of the game’s elite closers and would be a fine addition to any contender.
The Mariners aren’t contenders but they seem hesitant to admit it. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Red Sox, Mets, Yankees, Phillies, and Braves have expressed strong interest in Diaz. Seattle is considering dealing their closer… but there’s a catch. Any team acquiring Diaz may be forced to swallow the $120 million remaining on Robinson Cano‘s contract over the next five years.
That stipulation should be a deal-breaker for the Red Sox. I’ve already outlined my concerns with taking on Cano’s mammoth salary despite the questionable status of incumbent second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Accepting the salary dump as the price to pay to acquire Diaz without surrendering a bounty of prospects makes the offer a bit more appealing. I’ll still pass.
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Boston would be better off overpaying Kimbrel, giving them a comparable option to fill the closer seat for the next few years without having to take on the added salary of Cano. Even if Kimbrel commands a salary of $17 million per year, that’s still $7 million less than Cano’s annual salary. That may not seem like much to pay for a potential upgrade at closer and second base yet the burden would be heavier for a Red Sox team with MLB’s highest payroll paying the steepest luxury tax penalties. It’ll look far worse in a few years when Kimbrel would have been off the books, Diaz needs to get paid and Cano is still clogging up the budget.
It’s unclear if Pedroia’s balky knee will cooperate enough for him to contribute next season. If he’s healthy, dividing the playing time between him and Cano would be a challenge. Even if Pedroia misses significant time again next season, Boston simply can’t commit $39 million between the two players at one position. The Red Sox have deep pockets but that would still be comically irresponsible.
The only way it makes sense is if the Mariners take Pedroia’s contract back in the deal to alleviate some of the financial burdens of taking on the Cano contract. Salary dumping a popular player who has spent his entire career with the organization for a former Yankees star would be a PR nightmare that Boston’s brass would be unlikely to entertain. Frankly, the Mariners should pass on that counteroffer anyway.
Seattle may ultimately be pushed into dealing their closer without Cano attached if no other team will take the bait. Diaz’ value will never be higher than it is now and they risk that value dropping off a cliff if they hold on to him through a bad season or significant injury. It would take a king’s ransom to acquire him without Cano though, likely more than what Boston paid the San Diego Padres for Kimbrel three years ago.
The Red Sox have depleted their farm system through various trades under the reign of Dave Dombrowski. While there are still several enticing prospects in their system, Boston probably won’t sell their best chips for another closer. If Kimbrel leaves, signing or trading for a cheaper option seems to be the more likely path.