By: Brian Mangan
With the news that the Mets are actively shopping Jon Niese, I took a look at what the Mets might expect to be able to acquire in exchange for their cost-controlled, league-average lefthander. After looking at a few recent trades involving similar pitchers, I agree with Matt Cerrone who said that a package involving Niese could get the Mets an “an out of favor or boxed out youngster or a veteran” nearing free agency.
To establish this comparison, I looked for pitchers aged 32 or younger who within the last four years had an ERA within a quarter point of Niese, with 35 or more wins, 650 or more innings, and a K-BB ratio of 2 or better. Surprisingly, I found only 9 comparables:
Some of these players, like Ian Kennedy, Francisco Liriano, or Ervin Santana, are not helpful for our comparison, as each of those players each experienced high peaks and valleys to get to their Niese-like averages. We can also remove Mike Leake, who has never been traded, and Jeremy Hellickson, who was injured in his last season before he was traded (although he still returned two minor leaguers in trade). This leaves us with four players whose trade value we know: Bud Norris, Wade Miley, Rick Porcello, and Jason Vargas.
- Bud Norris was traded from Houston to Baltimore in July 2013 for Josh Hader, L.J. Hoes, and a 2014 competitive balance pick. At the time, Norris was 28 years old with a 95 ERA+ and 1.39 WHIP over his three most recent seasons, and was in his first year of arbitration.
- Jason Vargas was traded from Seattle to Los Angeles in December 2012 for Kendrys Morales. Vargas was 29 years old, had a 97 ERA+ and 1.25 WHIP over his three most recent seasons, and had one year, $8.5 million left on his contract. Morales, as we all know, has just returned from missing a full season and posted a 787 OPS with 22 HR for the Angels at age 29.
The other two players were both traded this past offseason, and to the same team.
- Wade Miley was traded from Arizona to Boston in December 2014 for Raymel Flores, Rubby De La Rosa, and Allen Webster. Miley was 28 at the time, had a 104 ERA+ and 1.30 WHIP over his three most recent seasons, and was in his first year of arbitration (he ended up signing an extension which would pay him $19.25 million over three years).
- Rick Porcello was traded from Detroit to Boston in December 2014 for Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Wilson, and Gabe Speier. Porcello was 26 at the time, had a 101 ERA+ and 1.34 WHIP over his three most recent seasons, and was entering his final year of arbitration (approx. $12 million). Porcello brought the most impressive return, landing Cespedes, an All Star with Oakland in 2014.
Each of these players has a different story to tell, in terms of their performance and their contract status, but each of them was good enough to return bona fide major league players or prospects.
Jon Niese’s Value Compared to the Group
Jon Niese, 28, is almost identical to our four pitcher cohort, judging from his 98 ERA+ and 1.37 WHIP over the last three seasons, although his situation is a little murkier thanks to concerns about his shoulder health. Nonetheless, he’s been a very valuable pitcher over the last half decade.
Niese’s on-field value at the moment is closer to Vargas, Norris and Miley than it is to Porcello, who had just completed an apparent breakout with a 3.43 ERA (115 ERA+) the year before. On the other hand, however, Niese has a very attractive contract, owed only $9 million in 2016 with two reasonable team options.
At the very least, therefore, Jon Niese ought to be able to secure similar return in trade as Vargas and Miley, both of whom returned players of value. Kendrys Morales (traded for Vargas) was a one year rental capable of putting up 20-25 HR almost 2 WAR. Of the group traded for Miley, Rubby De La Rosa was a fringe major league starter (89 ERA+ in 28 starts) who came along with Boston’s 4th best prospect and a low-level prospect.
If Sandy Alderson were to acquire a major leaguer, who is today’s Kendrys Morales? Who is today’s fringe starter and interesting prospect?
Who Can the Mets Reasonably Expect to Acquire?
One potential trade partner might be the Toronto Blue Jays who, at 35-32, are pushing hard in the American League East. Their rotation currently features an ineffective R.A. Dickey (5.35 ERA/5.40 FIP) and swingman Marco Estrada (3.78 ERA/4.20 FIP), along with recently injured Aaron Sanchez (3.55 ERA/5.19 FIP). Acquiring Niese could allow them to displace Dickey or Estrada, or move Sanchez back to the bullpen where he was dominant last season with a 1.09 ERA. Other contending teams who could use upgrades in their rotation include: 1) the second-place Minnesota Twins’s Ricky Nolasco (5.51 ERA), 2) the expensive, above-.500 Los Angeles Angels’s Jered Weaver, who is averaging less than 84 mph on his fastball, and 3) the Texas Rangers’s Chi Chi Gonzalez, who has more walks than strikeouts and started last year in Single-A. Only one of these teams can win the Cole Hamels Sweepstakes.
Coming back to the Mets could be a veteran like Danny Valencia, from Toronto, who is buried behind Josh Donaldson at 3B and Edwin Encarnacion at DH. Valencia, who is 30, has a lifetime .266 average, and has hit .283/.315/.449 over his last 508 major league at bats (111 OPS+) and is in his first year of arbitration. If the Mets are interested in prospects, the Twins have the 4th best farm system, and might be tempted to part with a decent prospect or two. The Angels and Rangers, both in the AL West, could compete to keep Niese from the other.
Is it worth it for the Mets to even make a trade for a player like Valencia when Dilson Herrera appears primed to emerge as an every day player in New York? It is hard to tell. But Niese has pitched well recently (3.60 ERA and 18 strikeouts over his last 20 innings) and has definite value despite concerns about his shoulder. There are several teams in contention that could use him.
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Brian Mangan is an attorney living in New York City. He likes to get concrete answers to things.
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