A young and talent-rich starting rotation has been an overriding reason why the New York Mets sit a mere 2.5 games back of the National League East lead as the first half of the season winds down. Several NL squads have taken notice, and hope to pry one of New York’s young arms before the trade deadline.
According to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs have expressed interest in 28-year-old lefty Jonathon Niese. Rosenthal expounded on his initial report by saying the Cubs have “discussed” Niese but didn’t clarify if those were internal talks or directly with New York. He also stated Niese is one of several starters the Dodgers are looking at, though they haven’t spoken to the Mets.
As the No. 4 starter in an unorthodox six-man rotation, Niese has gone 3-7 in 14 starts with a 4.12 earned-run average and 58 strikeouts, while failing to earn a win since May 9. Yet, in June, he’s gone at least six innings over his last four starts, allowing no more than three runs in each. Contending teams may also be attracted to Niese based on his strong performance in September last season, when he had a 3.06 ERA in 32.1 innings.
New York ranks No. 27 in the majors in runs scored, and could probably sacrifice a starting pitcher if it means bolstering their anemic offense. The Mets could certainly use more power, ranking No. 14 in the NL in slugging percentage (.363), with the team struggling to hit extra base hits. Niese might be a suitable bargaining chip for general manager Sandy Alderson to offer teams for a perhaps a gap hitter.
However, in this instance, the Cubs and Dodgers would have to continue paying Niese’s $7 million salary for this season and the $9 million he’s owed next year. In the two subsequent years, whichever team acquires Niese would have to activate $10 million and $11 million options to keep him while conceding a productive bat.
The Dodgers, who once again have the highest payroll in either league, cling to a half-game lead in the NL West and are in need of a fourth or fifth starter behind Zack Grienke, Clayton Kershaw, and Brett Anderson, who has never pitched 200 innings in his career and has failed to pitch 100 innings since 2010. The Dodgers have perhaps the deepest bench in baseball, as well as several mid-level prospects that they could be willing to part with for Niese.
The Cubs are right in the middle of the NL Central at 39-35 after losing five straight, and they’ll actually face Niese for the second time this season Tuesday night at Citi Field. But with the No. 23-ranked offense in the Majors, and still in the middle of a rebuild, its difficult to project who the Cubs could afford to give up at this time.