Mariners closer Edwin Díaz and Brewers left-handed reliever Josh Hader were selected as the recipients of the AL and NL Reliever of the Year awards, Major League Baseball announced Saturday. It marked the first time either pitcher had received the distinction.
Díaz, 24, completed his first All-Star campaign with the Mariners in 2018. He earned league-best totals with 57 saves and 65 games finished, and placed second only to Athletics closer Blake Treinen with a 1.96 ERA and 3.5 fWAR across 73 1/3 innings, both career-high marks. Not only was he the second-ever pitcher to record 50+ saves and 100+ strikeouts in a single major-league season, but his 57 saves also established a new all-time record for most saves by a Puerto Rican pitcher in MLB, edging out the 43-save record Roberto Hernández set with the Rays in 1999.
Hader, also just 24 years old, rounded out his second season in the majors with a 2.43 ERA, 12 saves, and career-best 2.7 fWAR in 81 1/3 innings. His 143 strikeouts were the most among any reliever in the majors, and the most by a left-handed reliever in any MLB season, too. The lefty’s stellar year on the mound still has a shadow hanging over it, however, as he found himself at the center of considerable controversy in July when a number of racist, homophobic, and misogynistic tweets were uncovered during the All-Star Game, for which the Brewers ultimately decided not to issue a formal punishment.
Until 2018, neither the Mariners nor the Brewers had seen a single pitcher receive the Mariano Rivera AL Reliever of the Year and Trevor Hoffman NL Reliever of the Year awards, respectively. The Red Sox’ Craig Kimbrel and Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen took home the awards in 2017.
Around this time last year, the ink was drying on Manny Machado‘s 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres and Bryce Harper was about to put the finishing touches on his 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies. We had gotten used to premier free agents hanging out in limbo until late February and even into March. This past offseason, however, was a return to normal. The top three free agents — Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, and Stephen Strasburg — all signed in December. Once the big names are off the board, the lesser free agents subsequently tend to find homes. There were a handful of noteworthy signings in January, but pretty much everyone was off the board when February began.
There are a handful of free agents remaining as I write this, with one name really sticking out: Yasiel Puig. Last season, between the Reds and Indians, Puig hit .267/.327/.458 with 24 home runs, 84 RBI, 76 runs scored, and 19 stolen bases in 611 plate appearances. He was one of only seven players in the league last year to hit at least 24 home runs and swipe at least 19 bases. While Puig has had some problems over the years, he still possesses a rare blend of power and speed that would seem useful.
The Marlins, White Sox, and Rockies have been linked to Puig this offseason. His market has been otherwise quiet since he became a free agent. The Athletic’s Jim Bowden suggests Puig will have to settle for a “pillow contract” — a one-year deal with which Puig reestablishes his market value, aiming to pursue a multi-year deal the following offseason. Along with the aforementioned three teams, Bowden suggests the Mariners, Indians, Pirates, Giants, Red Sox, and Cardinals as other teams that could potentially fit with Puig, which is not to be confused with teams having expressed interest in his services.