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Mets hoping Jake Diekman, Shintaro Fujinami signings will bolster bullpen

Mets are closing in on a deal with Jake Diekman. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Mets are closing in on a deal with Jake Diekman. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

The Mets are expected to continue their bullpen overhaul with two new additions.

Right-hander Shintaro Fujinami and left-hander Jake Diekman are expected to join the Mets in 2024. A source confirmed that Fujinami will make $3.35 million with incentives next season while the club continues to work toward signing Diekman.

Fujinami played with Mets ace Kodai Senga on Team Japan in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Like Senga, the 2023 season was his first in North America and the results were mixed. The Oakland A’s signed him as a starter and he lost his first four decisions, including one to the Mets at the Coliseum. The A’s then moved him to the bullpen.

The results didn’t come immediately but he showed improved command over time. After a trade to the Baltimore Orioles, the 29-year-old had some good stretches of play. He held opponents to a .067 average over 9 2/3 innings in late July and August, then went 2-0 with a save and a 1.35 ERA in August and September.

He was mostly used in low-leverage situations and did not make the Orioles’ playoff roster, but the Mets see something in him that they can work with and it gives manager Carlos Mendoza a hard-throwing option out of the bullpen.

Fujinami’s calling card is his velocity. The Mets did not have a lot of exceptionally hard throwers last season and the Nippon Professional Baseball alum averaged 98.5 MPH last season, reaching 100 on multiple occasions. He also throws a splitter, cutter sweeper and a slider. A lanky righty at 6-6, Fujinami finished the season 7-2 with a 5.14 ERA and a .209 opponent batting average as a reliever.

Overall, he struck out 23.2% of hitters, walked only 12.6% and kept the ball on the ground 39.2% of the time. He also has minor league options remaining.

Diekman, a 12-year veteran, is coming off a stellar season with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Mets currently have only one left-hander in the bullpen (Brooks Raley) and president of baseball operations David Stearns has talked about giving Mendoza as many options and looks as possible. Diekman, 37, was released by the Chicago White Sox in May and signed a one-year contract with Tampa Bay, where he went 0-1 with a 2.18 ERA in 50 appearances. If the Mets can get him to replicate that success, then he should be a solid addition to the relief corps.

Diekman, who suffers from ulcerative colitis, missed much of the 2017 season after undergoing a three-step J-pouch procedure to remove his diseased colon. He and his wife Amanda created the Gut It Foundation to connect people and provide education in the inflammatory bowel disease community.

The Mets will need to open up space for both relievers on the 40-man roster. There is risk in signing both of them, but Fujinami and Diekman add necessary elements to the bullpen. The Mets added experience in Adam Ottavino last week and have also added depth options in Michael Tonkin, Jorge Lopez and Yohan Ramirez. Phil Bickford and Reed Garrett will return and homegrown arms like Sean Reid-Foley, Grant Hartwig and Josh Walker.