Jon Niese curiously clears waivers, should the Dodgers have interest?

While perusing Twitter on Monday afternoon, I saw a tweet from Jon Heyman that was somewhat surprising.

Huh. Jon Niese cleared waivers. It’s no surprise Curtis Granderson did, but a quality lefty entering the prime of his career signed to a reasonable deal through 2016 doesn’t usually get through waivers. With the Mets having a bevy of great young pitchers and pitching prospects (Matt HarveyZack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, Dillon Gee, Jacob deGrom, etc.), they can afford to trade a guy like Niese for a decent return, while shedding his salary from the payroll. Of course, that return can only be players who have cleared waivers (i.e. overpriced veterans) or players not on the 40-man roster (prospects) or 60-day disabled list, unless it’s a “player to be named later.”

Despite great debuts by Roberto Hernandez and Kevin Correia, Niese is a guy the Dodgers should absolutely be looking to acquire, and probably should have put in a waiver claim on … right? Let’s examine.

Niese, 27, was No. 7 on Daniel’s post from Aug. 2 on which pitchers could be available during the waiver trade deadline period. Of the six pitchers listed ahead of Niese, only Edwin Jackson was a decent candidate to get through waivers. Daniel wrote the following:

“Jon Niese isn’t amazing, but his cheap and long-term contract means he’ll be difficult to get.”

Perhaps. But let’s look at Niese’s injury history — the primary reason he got through waivers, probably.

In 2009, Niese suffered a torn hamstring, something that doesn’t impact his pitching at this point (especially since it happened five years ago). Last season is the injury people need to be focused on. Niese suffered a partial tear of his rotator cuff. He didn’t have surgery, which was somewhat surprising. Shoulder injuries are always a lot more serious for pitchers rather than elbow injuries. Fortunately for Niese and the Mets, an MRI of the shoulder came back clean in spring training after experiencing some soreness. A person I talked to said the rotator cuff could be an issue down the road, but so far, Niese is performing well despite the obstacle that is a less-than-perfect shoulder. That’s something the Dodgers could use at the back of their rotation, seeing as Josh Beckett‘s injury status is unknown, Dan Haren used up his goodness early in the season and there’s no telling what Hernandez and Correia will provide going forward (odds are, not much).

This season, Niese is averaging 6.1 innings per start — the second-best mark of his career. He’s doing it on 91 pitches per start, meaning he’s more efficient than he has been in his career. In those innings, he has posted a 3.46 ERA, 3.84 FIP, 3.86 xFIP and a 0.9 WAR. He also owns 1.28 WHIP (second-best of his career, despite a 9.1 H/9) and a 2.4 BB/9. He makes hitters beat him by limiting his free passes, something that should interest all teams.

The one concerning part about Niese’s game is his dip in velocity. This season, his velocity is down across the board. His fastball averages 88.6 MPH after posting three consecutive years of 90.6, 90.4 and 90.2 MPH. His cutter is down a 0.5 MPH, his curveball and changeup by almost 2 MPH. But that might not be all bad. He isn’t a pitcher who relies on velocity to get outs. He isn’t going to blow 95 MPH by hitters, especially since he throws his fastball just less than 50 percent of the time.

From Maggie Wiggin at Mets Blog:

“After an injury-plagued Spring Training and just a year removed from a potentially devastating rotator cuff injury, expectations were low for Niese, both in terms of performance and durability. However, he has excelled in both of these regards, despite – or perhaps because of – a drop in his fastball velocity of over a full mile per hour…

Niese has stood in contrast to most of his fellow pitchers by showing an active awareness of his own injury concerns, whether by pulling himself out of his start prior to the shoulder injury last season or by slowing down his rehab during the Spring. It may be that his restrained pitching approach this season is reflecting his desire to stay strong and healthy throughout the season, especially in the face of increasing evidence that ties pitcher injury to consistent pitching at max effort.

By reducing the velocity on his fastball and mixing in more offspeed pitches, Niese could be, intentionally or unintentionally, protecting himself from overtaxing his arm.”

Interesting. He is obviously aware of his physical ability, which bodes well for his future success. Now, teams are obviously privy to more information than bloggers, but it’s still surprising to see Niese make it all the way through waivers. It likely means his injury situation is worse than the public knows (though, he had a great start in Philadelphia on Monday) or the asking price for him is outrageous.

Niese signed a 5-year extension with the Mets in 2012. He’s due the remainder of his $5 million salary this season, $7 million next season, $9 million in 2016 before two option years in 2017 ($10 million, $500,000 buyout) and 2018 ($11 million, $500,000 buyout). So, he’s due $17 million from 2015-16, which is a bargain in this day of escalating pitcher salary. With Beckett and Haren (hopefully) coming off the books after this season, the Dodgers should really have no issue adding Niese’s salary (not that they really would anyway, being the richest team in baseball).

The Dodgers don’t seem ready to turn things over to Zach Lee (or he’d have been recalled already), and Chris Reed is a future bullpen arm. They have a need for a pitcher who can go out there and give them six quality innings — they have ever since Beckett hurt himself and Haren turned ineffective. Niese fits the bill, because of the other starting pitchers close to the majors, Red Patterson is more of a swingman type, Carlos Frias is a reliever, Matt Magill is a wreck and Stephen Fife is just OK (but he’s also injured right now). There really aren’t a lot of great back-of-the-rotation starters for the Dodgers to choose from.

I’m hoping the Dodgers are at least entertaining the thought of bringing him out west. None of the top guys would even be considered to go for Niese — no Corey Seager, Joc Pederson or Julio Urias — and Grant Holmes, were he eligible to be traded, would also be off-limits. It may or may not take the Dodgers one or two prospects in the 5-15 range. This includes guys like Lee, Reed, Tom Windle, Chris Anderson, Scott Schebler, Darnell Sweeney and others. I’d even include Alex Guerrero, but I’m not sure the Mets would want to take on his salary, nor do I think the Dodgers are eager to trade him after making the initial investment in him. Also, Guerrero would have to clear waivers since he’s on the 40-man.

I’m guessing it’d take one pitcher and one position player. The Dodgers have a ton of pitchers they could include and some intriguing position prospects who could interest the Mets. There could be a deal waiting to happen here, if the two teams are willing to compromise.

A Niese acquisition wouldn’t exactly punch the Dodgers’ ticket to the World Series, but grabbing a quality arm who will be 28 years old who could prevent Haren from reaching 180 innings is something this team should be interested in.

About Dustin Nosler

Avatar photo
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.