You're going to notice a trend in this series on Red Sox trade targets: we're going to be talking about a lot of starting pitchers. It's the clear position of need for the Sox, now that third base is taken care of (twice over, arguably), and it's a position that's going to need more help than just one major free agent signing. With that in mind, I turn to Jon Niese of the New York Mets.
Yesterday, Bryan Joiner made the case for Mat Latos (and his cat). I won't pretend that Niese is nearly so exciting a pickup. Latos has a career ERA of 3.34 to Niece's 3.87. A K/9 of 8.12 to Niece's 7.20, and no difference in BB/9 to compensate. Latos is an exciting arm, while Niese is, frankly, on the boring side of things.
Boring, however, does not mean ineffective. Niese has just gotten the job done these past three years. Go looking through his game logs since 2012 and find his biggest slump. In 2013, he allowed seven runs and eight runs in the first two games of May, and...well, that's about it. Sure, Niese has bad games. There's a six-run effort here, a strangely short performance there. But Niese has gone the last three years without ever really falling apart.
That may sound like the lamest "everyone gets a trophy!" praise of all time, but it's just not the norm. Not even close. Jon Lester, who everyone desperately wants to dump more than $130 million on, spent the better part of two months in 2013 as a pretty bad pitcher, producing a 6.49 ERA from May 20 to July 8. Scherzer was awful to start 2012, and had a fairly rough stretch around the end of May and beginning of June in 2014.
Niese doesn't really run into those issues. He'll come out every fifth game, throw strikes, and get ground balls--always a big plus in Fenway Park. And if he has a bad game, or even two, there's little question he's going to come back out and be his usual self in his next start. That's no small thing in a rotation that projects to have its fair share of youth and wild cards.
Still, is this what the Red Sox need? In another year, Niese would be the ideal pickup, but in 2015, even assuming they sign a rotation leader like Jon Lester, if the Red Sox are to have an impressive 1-2 punch, they'll need to either go out and get a player like Mat Latos, or have someone like Joe Kelly or Clay Buchholz step up and perform like they have in years past. Jon Niese doesn't really fill that role.
So why would the Red Sox go with someone like Niese over the aforementioned Mat Latos (and his cat)? Well...
Should we consider what the Sox would have to give up [for Latos]? It is a price the Red Sox can likely afford. Even if he's relatively expensive, as Bleacher Report columnist Ben Carsley wrote, it's probably worth it, provided the Sox kept Mookie Betts. Given that Betts is a near-certainty to break camp with the team, it would be better, Carsley writes, for us to "expect names like Blake Swihart, Henry Owens and Margot to be bandied about if talks heat up. That may seem like a steep price, but Latos is sort of an ideal No. 2 starter who should cost a little less to lock up to an extension than the options in the free-agent market this offseason."
It's no surprise that Latos will cost very real talent. Niese, on the other hand? Well, we heard recently that the return expected for a Niese trade is just not all that high. He's not going to come in for the same amount as Colon or Gee--the other two starters the Mets are looking to trade--but the Red Sox may very well be able to pick up Niese without surrendering any top-quality prospects.
There's no longer any easy Cespedes swap to be made, unfortunately. After picking up Michael Cuddyer, New York's outfield is more-or-less complete. But with the Mets looking for some financial flexibility as much as anything, the Red Sox would be happy to take Niese's contract off their hands and send them back some legitimate prospect (and/or bench) help in the process. What's more, Niese comes with a pair of team options to boot.
Maybe the word on the return expected for Niese isn't quite accurate. While the Mets are certainly full-up on starting pitching, turning their second most effective starter of 2014 into a glorified salary dump. But if it's true that he can be pried away from them without the surrender of any premium prospects, Niese is the sort of pitcher that will make just about any rotation better. And with the Red Sox in such desperate need for rotation help, adding an arm with Niese's consistency for not only 2015, but 2016 and beyond is not an opportunity the Red Sox should let pass them by.