Jon Niese Rumors

Extension Candidates: Sophomore Starters

Wade Davis signed a multiyear extension with the Rays last week, though he's just one season into his MLB career. The deal is not without risk for Davis, since he could pitch like Ubaldo Jimenez and become a bargain for Tampa Bay, or for the Rays since Davis could get hurt, depriving them of a pitcher they need.

Here's a list of pitchers who could sign deals like the four-year, $12.6MM contract Tampa Bay completed with Davis. Like the Rays righty, these pitchers are on track to hit arbitration after 2012 and free agency after 2015 unless otherwise noted (age in parentheses):

  • Mat Latos, Padres (23) – Latos was flat-out phenomenal last year and would be positioned to ask for more than Davis obtained with his record deal. The skill is there, so if the Padres believe in his health (he's now on the DL) and maturity, Latos would be an extension candidate.
  • Wade LeBlanc, Padres (26) – LeBlanc, now in the minor leagues, is older than Latos and without the same front-of-the-rotation potential. His numbers, though comparable to the ones Davis has, don't scream 'lock me up,' so a deal seems unlikely.
  • Jhoulys Chacin, Rockies (23) – The Rockies were aggressive with extensions this offseason, locking up Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, and others. Chacin, who struck out a batter per inning in 2010, wouldn't cost nearly as much as his more experienced teammates.
  • Mike Leake, Reds (23) – If one organization was as extension happy as the Rockies this offseason it was the Reds. Leake struggled down the stretch last year and just barely made Cincinnati's rotation. They'll likely let the 2009 first rounder prove himself before committing eight figures to him.
  • Jon Niese, Mets (24) – Niese has comparable numbers to Davis, with slightly more strikeouts per inning (7.4 K/9) and a higher ERA (4.33).
  • Brian Matusz, Orioles (24) – Matusz compares to Davis statistically, but he could establish himself as a front-of-the-rotation starter with a breakout 2011 season, so he may be reluctant to lock himself in to pre-set salaries.
  • Mitch Talbot, Indians (27) - Talbot has poor walk (4.3 BB/9) and strikeout (5.0 K/9) numbers so far in his career, so he doesn't seem like a likely extension candidate. The Indians did extend Fausto Carmona, who doesn't get many strikeouts, but they may prefer to let Talbot prove himself further before committing to him.
  • Brett Cecil, Blue Jays (24) and Madison Bumgarner, Giants (21) both impressed in 2010. They're possible super two players, which means they may go to arbitration four times, once more than the starters above. If either Cecil or Bumgarner signed an extension, it wouldn't be completely parallel to the Davis deal.

It's possible that none of these pitchers will sign extensions, since long-term contracts for starters with fewer than two years of service time are uncommon. Some players don't mind going year to year in anticipation of big arbitration paydays and many teams prefer not to commit eight-figure deals to relatively unproven pitchers.

But some small market clubs, like the Athletics, Indians and Rays, have successfully completed a number of multiyear contracts for emerging pitchers. Teams looking to spend now and save later could take note and approach their best sophomore arms about long-term deals.


The Mets’ 2011 Rotation

It seems like an odd thing to say about a team currently sitting at 67-71, but next year's version of the New York Mets may not have room at the inn for additional acquisitions.

Currently starting for the Mets are four pitchers who have certainly performed well enough to be relied upon in 2011, while a fifth, currently auditioning, has the best stuff of any of them. Furthermore, all five are under team control for next year.

Let's break the staff down:

Next year's Opening Day starter is likely to be Johan Santana, who has weathered an alarming early-season slide to become the Santana the Mets expected when they signed him to a six-year, $137.5MM contract after trading for him in in February 2008. Through the end of June, Santana pitched to a respectable 3.55 ERA, but that masked a strikeout rate on the season of just 5.7 K/9, down more than two per nine from his 2008-2009 levels.

Since July 1, however, Santana has a 2.37 ERA, with a far stronger 7.4 K/9. It appears that temporary dip may have been Santana recovering from elbow surgery – Santana appears to believe that's the case. It is certainly a relief to the Mets, who owe Santana $22.5MM in 2011, $24MM in 2012 and $25MM in 2013.

Meanwhile, the best ERA among the starters belongs not to Santana, but to R.A. Dickey, who actually began the year in Triple-A. And while it is tempting to believe a 2.91 ERA from a 35-year-old pitcher who entered the season with a career 5.43 ERA is a fluke, there are plenty of reasons to believe otherwise in this case.

For one thing, Dickey has only been relying on his knuckleball for five years and his minor league performance has improved steadily since. For another, his peripherals are quite good, particularly his 2.2 walks per nine innings, despite throwing a huge majority of knucklers, a notoriously hard pitch to control.

With his limited time in the major leagues, Dickey has yet to accrue enough service time for free agency, so the Mets control him merely by offering arbitration. The smart money here is on the two sides agreeing to a multi-year deal that avoids arbitration and provides Dickey with some security. Remember: Phil Niekro had 12 200-plus inning seasons after age 35. The clock is different with knuckleball pitchers.

Another mainstay for 2011 is Jon Niese, who has impressed all year long and now has a 3.85 ERA with 3.0 walks and 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings. His numbers are actually skewed by three recent poor starts; the Mets have left Niese in games until he looked fatigued, rather than managing his workload more cautiously. 

The fourth horseman for the Mets is Mike Pelfrey, who seems to constantly be disappointing people who are waiting for him to be something other than a reliable innings-eater. Pelfrey's fluctuating ERA- 3.72 in 2008, 5.03 in 2009, 3.96 in 2010- is almost entirely a function of luck and defense, with peripherals staying ludicrously consistent in all three seasons. Even during his 10-2, 2.93 ERA start in 2010, his strikeout rate never reached six per nine innings. Pelfrey will almost certainly be offered arbitration and remain in the rotation in 2011.

That leaves the fifth spot, and Jenrry Mejia, the 20-year-old with the blazing fastball and intermittent command of his secondary pitches, aims to fill the role. He made his first major league start last Saturday, after his lone Triple-A start.

It is nearly impossible to know exactly what Mejia can give the Mets in 2011. His upside is certainly high, with terrific movement on his curveball and changeup to go along with a major league fastball that sits in the mid-nineties. But he is also an inexperienced pitcher with no track record of starting success, aside from a combined 17 starts above Single-A.

Still, with plenty of other holes and signals from the team that very little money will be spent this offseason, Mejia will likely get the opportunity to learn on the job.

One can imagine the only opportunities New York will have for starters in 2011 will be in the area of organizational depth. If Mejia falters, or one of the other four pitchers gets injured, the only Plan Bs available right now are the underwhelming Dillon Gee (who starts tonight) and Tobi Stoner, or the much-maligned Oliver Perez, who will head to the Mexican League after the season and try to find his fastball.


Mets Willing To Rent Lee From Mariners

The Mets are willing to deal for Cliff Lee without requiring a negotiating window to sign him to an extension, a source with knowledge of the team's thinking told Mark Hale of the New York Post.  Two years ago, when the Mets agreed to trade for Johan Santana, they secured a 72-hour negotiating window with the ace.

The source also told Hale that the club would be unlikely to trade Jenrry Mejia, Jonathon Niese, or Ike Davis for Lee.  Without those three in a deal, the Mets could offer the M's a package built around prospects such as Ruben Tejada, Fernando Martinez, Wilmer Flores, Jeurys Familia, and Josh Thole.

Meanwhile, several Mets officials said that the Mariners have not yet made Lee available, according to Andy Martino of the Daily News.  The same officials say that there are no untouchables in the minor league system, though Angel Pagan is now "virtually untouchable" with Carlos Beltran's health so uncertain.



Mets Notes: Santana, Millwood, Westbrook, Beltran

While we ponder if the Jerry Seinfeld/Lady Gaga feud will reach the heights of Seinfeld's rivalry with Newman, here are a few news items concerning the Big Apple's NL side…

  • Bob Klapisch of FOXSports.com wonders if the Mets should be worried about Johan Santana given a few shaky starts and some declining peripheral numbers.  Klapisch notes that the Mets might look at Cliff Lee if they're worried about not having a top-tier ace to match against other clubs' best arms.  It's way too soon to panic about Santana given his still-solid 3.31 ERA and 2.00 K-BB ratio, though when a team has at least $88MM invested in a pitcher through 2013, it's probably not wrong to be concerned about any dip in form.
  • Klapisch also quotes senior team officials who say that Jon Niese wouldn't be moved in a hypothetical Lee deal, and an unnamed Mets player who doesn't think adding Kevin Millwood or Jake Westbrook would help the team.
  • ESPNNewYork.com's Andrew Marchand writes that with Angel Pagan playing so well in place of the injured Carlos Beltran, the dispute between the Mets and Beltran's agent Scott Boras over "the timing and authorization of Beltran's offseason knee surgery" could be "a converging storm."  Beltran is owed approximately $28MM over the rest of this season and 2011, and it was announced today that he is expected back playing by July 15.
  • Jenrry Mejia's demotion to Double-A and conversion back into starting pitching means the Mets will probably get an extra year of control over his rights, says Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com.

Mets May Not Have Shot At Washburn

Mets fans are already in near-revolt mode, so the tweet from Jon Morosi that the Mets likely don't "have a real shot" at Jarrod Washburn will only stoke the fires further.

It isn't necessarily clear that the Mets should want Washburn, of course. He was a disaster in Detroit, posting a 7.33 ERA in 43 innings with unimpressive peripheral stats (16 walks, 21 strikeouts). Now 35, he's projected by ZIPS for a 4.59 ERA in 2010, though if his stint with the Tigers meant his production has fallen off a cliff, he won't approach that.

For comparison, ZIPS has Jon Niese projected with a 4.57 ERA, with Nelson Figueroa checking in at 5.06. While the Mets could have used some additional pitching, it isn't clear that Washburn is enough of an upgrade to justify a contract.


Are Mets Too Injured To Deal?

It is a given that with the news today that J.J. Putz will miss upwards of the next three months, Jose Reyes out an undetermined length of time, and Carlos Delgado still far from resuming baseball activity, that the Mets will be at the center of any number of rumors. But what is unclear at this point is just how New York can make deals, with the depth an organization would trade now missing from the Mets.

After all, it was assumed that any deal the Mets would make for either Nick Johnson of the Nationals or Aubrey Huff of the Orioles would include hard-throwing Bobby Parnell. That's right, the same Bobby Parnell who is taking over the eighth inning for Putz. He's no longer an extra arm.

The same is true of minor-league shortstop Ruben Tejeda, batting .281/.381/.377 as a 19-year-old at Double-A. The Mets can't afford to deal him, with Reyes, Ramon Martinez and Argenis Reyes all on the shelf. He's next in line to play shortstop.

So who would go? Jonathon Niese and his 8.05 Triple-A ERA? Nick Evans, hitting .200 at Double-A Binghamton after an .093 start at Triple-A Buffalo got him demoted? The Mets have holes, but they may have an even harder time cobbling together a package to fix those holes.


Edes On Francoeur, Nick Johnson, Valverde

8:10pm: David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the Red Sox-Francoeur rumor:

Talked to someone in Braves organization who sort of dismissed the Red Sox rumor. Said he hadn’t heard one thing about them having any serious interest in Francoeur or scouting him recently.

9:01am: Yahoo's Gordon Edes wrote about many different trade scenarios in his column last night.

  • Edes seconds Ken Rosenthal's rumor that the Red Sox have been scouting Jeff Francoeur.
  • The Nationals have been scouting the Mets' Triple and Double A teams, trying to figure out a possible return for Nick Johnson.  Names of interest for Washington: Jon Niese, Mike Antonini, Eddie Kunz, and big leaguer Bobby Parnell.  The Red Sox also had interest in Johnson, but not for the price of Michael Bowden.  Back to the Mets – Joel Sherman of the New York Post has a list of available players they could consider aside from Johnson, including Jermaine Dye, Ben Francisco, Adam LaRoche, and Eric Hinske.
  • Edes likes the fit of Jose Valverde with the Rays, but speculates that the Astros could ask for Wade Davis in return.  Six years of Davis would be a huge price to pay for a few months of Valverde plus possible draft picks.  Edes also likes Mark DeRosa for Tampa Bay, but they seem well-equipped to handle Akinori Iwamura's injury with internal options.
  • Edes names the Phillies, Brewers, Royals, and Twins as possible suitors for Brad Penny.  Edes adds that the Phillies "are already making plans for life without Brett Myers" after this season.
  • The shortstop market includes Jack Wilson and perhaps John McDonald, but could become more interesting for a team like Boston if the Indians make Jhonny Peralta available.

Mets Rotation Plans

12:20pm: MLB.com’s Marty Noble writes:

The possibility of the Mets signing a lesser alternative isn’t precluded, but the club is unlikely to act on picking up another starter until it’s satisfied it has done all that is possible — and financially feasible — to bring in Lowe.

Noble says the Mets sense Lowe’s price tag is $16-17MM per year.

8:37am: Ken Davidoff of Newsday lays out the Mets’ plans for their starting rotation.

For Oliver Perez‘s slot, the Mets want to either re-sign Perez or sign Derek LoweRandy Wolf, Jon Garland, and possibly Tim Redding are the backup plans to these two.

The fifth starter job has sparked an internal debate – it could be given to Jon Niese, or the Mets could bring in competition with pitchers like Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, or Eric Milton.  This decision will not be made this month.


Sherman’s Latest: Lowe, Saito, Teixeira

The latest from Joel Sherman of the New York Post.

  • Mets GM Omar Minaya recently admitted he did not expect to pursue A.J. Burnett or Derek Lowe, saying, "I’m probably not going to be in there right now, financially.  Not after spending all the money that I did on K-Rod."  Sherman isn’t sold, though – he thinks Lowe’s price could drop and give the Mets a shot.
  • The Dodgers haven’t received a counter-offer to their two-year, $45MM proposal, so they won’t be making another bid.  Sherman adds that they are planning to non-tender Takashi Saito.
  • The A’s remain the frontrunners for Rafael Furcal.
  • Sherman says the Nationals have bid seven years and $140MM for Mark TeixeiraThat offer was reported on Wednesday to be eight years, $160MM.  Sherman says the backup plans are Adam Dunn and Orlando Hudson.  I believe the Hudson link is new.
  • The Mariners had tried to pry Jonathan Niese from the Mets for J.J. Putz.  Sherman also notes strong interest in Aaron Heilman.  He says the Mets and Cubs did not discuss Jason Marquis, contrary to reports.

Mets Bullpen Rumors

The Mets signed Francisco Rodriguez yesterday, but GM Omar Minaya is not done tinkering with his bullpen.  SI.com’s Jon Heyman says Matt Capps, Huston Street, and others are on the radar as setup possibilities.  However, teams are asking for Jon Niese and the Mets don’t want to give him up.  Heyman adds that the Mets have talked to the Mariners and Cubs about relief help as well.