Over the past couple days, it has been reported that the Cubs and Dodgers are interested in trading for Mets pitcher Jon Niese. Niese, a 28-year-old lefty, is 3-7 with a 4.12 ERA this season. He is making $7 million this season and is due to make $9 million next year, after which he has two club options priced at $10 million and $11 million dollars each.
It is no secret that the Mets could benefit from trading a pitcher. The team is currently fourth in the National League in staff ERA, but have scored the second-fewest runs in the senior circuit this season. Gaining offensive help via trade could be the only way for the Mets to stay in playoff contention this summer, especially since Terry Collins has already said that he expects no offensive help from the farm system.
The Mets would likely not get a top-tier prospect in return for Niese due to his injury history and struggles this season. Additionally, the lackluster return the Rays received for David Price could be a dubious precedent for teams looking to trade a starting pitcher. But Niese has proven himself to be a capable pitcher; he holds a 3.58 ERA since the start of the 2012 season. So the Mets would likely be looking for more than just a salary dump in any potential deal.
Unlike past moves where the Mets traded veterans for young prospects, the team would likely look for a hitter who would be capable of making an immediate impact on the big league roster. Even if getting a substantial return for Niese seems unlikely now, Mets GM Sandy Alderson does have a history of asking for and receiving more than expected in trades. He was able to acquire Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard for R.A. Dickey and got Dilson Herrera in an August trade for Marlon Byrd.
Trading with the Cubs
If the Mets were to trade Niese to the Cubs, it would make sense to ask for a young shortstop in return. The Cubs have a trio of shortstop prospects and the Mets have a stockpile of young arms, so naturally the two teams have long been mentioned as possible trade partners.
Chicago currently has Starlin Castro and Addison Russell in the major leagues and top prospect Javier Baez in Triple-A, where he is rehabbing from a fractured finger. Due to his recent struggles, it would appear that Baez would be the most likely trade candidate of this trio. He was named the fifth-best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America before last season, but his stock has dropped somewhat over the past year. Baez batted just .169/.227/.354 in 52 games for the Cubs last season and failed to make the big league squad out of spring training.
Even though his stock may have fallen, a straight trade of Baez for Niese appears to be highly unlikely. Fox's Ken Rosenthal reported that the only way the Cubs would trade Baez for Niese would be if it was part of a larger deal. So if the Mets want Baez, they would either need to eat a large sum of Niese's contract or trade a prospect or two with him. Or both. This scenario seems very unlikely.
Another more realistic option for the Mets on the Cubs' roster could be third baseman Mike Olt. Olt, who was once a top prospect in the Rangers organization, has been a huge disappointment since the Cubs acquired him in the Matt Garza trade. The 27-year-old has batted just .158/.245/.333 in 111 major league games, and his future as a starter with the club is in serious doubt now that Kris Bryant occupies third base.
Despite his discouraging batting line, Olt has shown some pop in the majors, hitting 12 home runs in 89 games last season. The Mets have a void at third base with David Wright's injury, so acquiring Olt for Niese represents a much more realistic trade option for the Mets. Attempting to catch lightning in a bottle with a player like Olt could eventually pay dividends.
Trading with the Dodgers
As for a trade with the Dodgers, one possible return piece could be third baseman/outfielder Alex Guerrero. Guerrero, a Cuba native, has hit .270/.295/.546 this year with ten home runs and 30 RBI in 58 games. While he is under contract until 2017, he can opt out after this season if he is traded . Much like Niese, he has been subject to trade rumors due to the Dodgers' positional depth. He could wind up being a rental if he is traded, so this brings his price down considerably. Although they may need to package another prospect to acquire a player of Guerrero's caliber for Niese, he is still much more attainable than any of the Cubs' shortstops.
On the subject of shortstops, the Dodgers have a familiar face who may also be traded by the deadline: Jimmy Rollins. The 36-year-old former MVP is having the worst season of his career, batting just .211/.265/.333 with seven home runs and 21 RBI, and he will be a free agent at the end of the season. While he has been awful this season, Rollins may be able to benefit from a move back to the NL East. He hit a respectable .243/.323/.394 with 17 home runs and 55 RBI with the Phillies last year, so coming back to familiar waters could help him rediscover his stroke.
If one of these teams or another gets desperate for a pitcher sometime between now and the trade deadline, it could be possible for the Mets to get a bigger return than they thought possible for Niese. Some teams make top prospects more available at the deadline if they are in the midst of a playoff race, as the Mets once did when they traded Scott Kazmir to Tampa Bay for journeyman Victor Zambrano. There will be many rumors over the next couple of weeks, culminating with the July 31 trade deadline.
The Mets play the Cubs and Dodgers this week, so everyone can get a closer look at each other's available players.