The Rangers have signed left-handed pitcher Jon Niese to a minor-league deal with an invitation to major-league spring training, per Ken Davidoff of the New York Post.
Niese, 31, didn’t pitch in the majors last season. He attended Yankees spring training as a non-roster invitee but didn’t crack the Opening Day roster after flashing mid-80s fastball velocity during the exhibition slate. He spent time in extended spring training with the Yankees but didn’t appear in any minor-league games, and he was released by the organization in early June.
Over nine major-league seasons — nearly all of which have been spent with the Mets, save for 23 appearances with the Pirates to begin 2016 — Niese has a 4.07 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP with 914 strikeouts and 367 walks over 1,189.1 innings. He’s primarily worked as a starter but has also made 14 relief appearances, nine of which came in 2016.
If the Rangers don’t add another starter before the regular season begins, Niese will be a darkhorse candidate to win a spot at the back of Texas’ Opening Day rotation. Mike Minor is the favorite to win the No. 4 starter job despite working exclusively as a reliever last year in Kansas City, but the No. 5 slot will be wide open as Martin Perez recovers from an elbow injury suffered in a freak offseason accident that involved a startled bull. Clayton Blackburn, Matt Bush, Chi Chi Gonzalez, and Yohander Mendez are among the pitchers that figure to compete with Niese to fill that temporary rotation vacancy.