Jon Niese, Texas Rangers potential offseason acquisition: Jon Daniels has recently said that the Rangers' focus this offseason, when looking at potential trade targets, is finding a player they can have under team control for more than just 2015. Consistent with that desire, we continue our look at various players the Rangers could target this offseason by examining New York Mets starting pitcher Jon Niese.
Jon Niese is a 28 year old lefthander who first appeared in the majors in 2008, and who has been a regular in the Mets' rotation since 2010. While his first couple of seasons as an everyday rotation member were somewhat underwhelming -- he put up a 4.20 ERA in 2010 in 173.2 IP and a 4.40 ERA in 2011 with 157.1 IP, good for a combined 0.5 bWAR, although his fWAR was a combined 4.0 in those two seasons -- he had a breakthrough 2012 campaign in which he threw a career-high 190.1 IP with a 3.40 ERA and a 112 ERA+. Niese's runs allowed regressed some the past couple of seasons, and he only made 24 starts in 2013, but his FIP and xFIP have been fairly steady. Niese has been roughly a league average starting pitcher the last few years.
There is an article today in the New York Daily News about Niese reportedly cursing at Mets manager Terry Collins last year during a game. The article indicates that the Mets are willing to part with Niese, and while they say the confrontation isn't the reason why, it has been pointed out that the Mets have a habit of leaking damaging information about players they intend to deal.
So Niese appears to be on the block, and his reasonable contract -- he makes $7 million in 2015 and $9 million in 2016, with team options of $10 million and $11 million in 2017 and 2018 with $500K buyouts -- makes him fairly marketable. The Daily News story indicates that the Mets are looking to get a shortstop to plug into their lineup, which could be problematic for the Rangers unless the Mets think Luis Sardinas is ready to step in and play every day. Still, the Rangers have plenty of pieces available as trade chips, particularly if the Mets are willing to take prospects rather than major-league ready players, so I suspect that Niese is someone the Rangers have at least looked into.
There are some red flags with Niese -- his fastball velocity dropped last year, as noted by the Daily News piece, and while he's made 30 starts in three different major league seasons, he's never had more starts than that in the majors. Niese isn't a workhorse or an innings eater...he's a 6 inning lefty who will keep you in games, while missing the occasional start.
Still, the Rangers could do worse than him in terms of a #3 starter to slot behind Yu Darvish and Derek Holland, and ahead of Colby Lewis and the Internal Option, in the 2015 rotation. He's someone to keep an eye on in the coming days.