Earlier this week, we learned of the supposed tiff between New York Mets manager Terry Collins and starting pitcher Jon Niese, which sparked in some fans the idea that this news is the precursor to the team trading the 28-year-old lefty. While that might or might not be the case, Niese and his rotation mates Bartolo Colon and Dillon Gee are currently in baseball limbo.
All three are facing a dichotomy of situation, as they are quality pitchers on reasonable contracts with plenty of value who lack upside, are varying degrees of not-young, and are being pushed by an ensemble of young, talented arms. This, along with what seems to be a lack of trade value, puts their futures in doubt. With three starting rotation spots locked up by Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Zack Wheeler and internal pressure from the likes of prospects Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, and even Steven Matz, it's hard to see places on the Mets for all three pitchers going forward. That said, though all three pitchers have their flaws, there is little question that they belong in big league rotations.
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In addition to their solid statistics, all three pitchers have team-friendly contract situations. Colon is entering the final year of a two-year deal and is due $11 million in 2015. Gee is entering his second arbitration-eligible season after earning $3.625 million last season, and his salary will rise over the next couple of years, but not astronomically. Finally, Niese has the most team-friendly contract of the three, as he is owed $16 million over the next two years with club options of $10 million and $11 million in 2017 and 2018, respectively, with minimal buyouts for both years.
In theory, the Mets have at least a couple of options to clear up this logjam:
A: They can keep all three veterans and move Gee to the bullpen, where can serve as a spot starter/injury replacement.
B: They can attempt to trade one or two of these players in the hopes of improving other areas of the roster.
Let’s take option A first, a reasonable plan as Gee may be better suited for a part-time role. But this merely delays an eventual decision. Assuming good health—a scary concept, for sure—Noah Syndergaard is all but ready for the majors, and his ascension would displace another of the veteran starters, forcing the team’s hand to make a move.
Option B seems logically sound, but it doesn't look as though any of the three have much trade value. According to the Daily News, the Diamondbacks have no interest in Niese, Gee, or Colon in a deal for a shortstop. This is most surprising for Niese, who arguably had one of the best seasons of his career in 2014, is not old, and is under team control for up to four years.
An obvious third option that would clear up any roster decisions is if the Mets were to trade one or more of their pitching prospects. To this point, though, the Mets have seemed reluctant to part ways with their young guns, so barring a prospect trade, a decision has to be made at some point. There are reasonably eight possible starters for five opening day rotation spots the Mets are in the precarious position to figure out how to get the most value out of every roster spot.
The value is not found in a trade where they are giving up any of the veteran starters for less than they are worth on the open market or shifting anyone but Gee into a bullpen role, as they would be getting less value out of them than they likely would as starters. While this falls under the "good problem to have" category, it is unclear what the best course of action here is. One thing is clear in a still murky situation: For a team with payroll restrictions, general manager Sandy Alderson will have to get creative to best utilize his assets.