The Pittsburgh Pirates are shopping their starting pitcher Jon Niese according to a report from Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Since being acquired via trade from the New York Mets this offseason for Neil Walker, Niese has been abysmal in a Pirates uniform. Over his 98 innings pitched, Niese has allowed 56 runs—53 earned—on 115 hits and 34 walks. Niese has already allowed as many home runs as he did in his entire 2014 campaign and is just one away from tying his 2015 total of 20.
The article also cites Francisco Liriano as a potential trade chip but suggests his performance woes may hamper his trade value too much to be worth selling:
Liriano, who is under contract through 2017, also could be shopped, but his struggles will limit the yield.
While it’s true that Liriano has been a massive disappointment this season, trading him suggests something else as well: that the Pirates are in more of a sell-mode. Trading away an asset like Niese is much easier to sell to a fanbase than trading away their opening day starter—even if he’s performing poorly. None of this rules out that option though.
The Pirates rotation has been the most significant problem contributing to their fade from contention. While the team is still 43-41 and in the mix, the NL Central is extremely competitive, and a win percentage of .513 won’t cut it this season.
As for potential fits for Niese, the Baltimore Orioles seem like a legitimate landings spot. Currently in first-place in the competitive AL East, the Orioles’ biggest problem, by far, is their starting rotation. Their starters are fourth-worst in the American League and worst in their division by FIP. Relying on Tyler Wilson, Mike Wright, and Vance Worley for 147.1 innings over 27 starts seems to be part of the problem. Adding the 29-year old southpaw on the cheap could help steady the Orioles’ shaky grasp on first-place.
The team has already called up one top prospect in Jameson Taillon and their top pitching prospect, Tyler Glasnow, is set to make his major league debut on Thursday. In short, the Pirates’ farm depth could afford the Pirates the opportunity of parting ways with Niese.
That being said, Taillon just joined the disabled list that already houses Ryan Vogelsong and the team’s ace in Gerrit Cole. The current rotation then consists of Niese, Glasnow, Francisco Liriano, Jeff Locke, Chad Kuhl, and Steven Brault. That leaves one pitcher too many for a five-man rotation and, beyond the All-Star break, could turn into two or three too many if Cole and Taillon return quickly.
Niese is under team control for the next two seasons on club options worth $10 million and $11 million. While the left-hander has lacked effectiveness this season, his affordability and previous track record could make him a viable candidate for contending teams.