7:55pm: Niese can earn a $1.25MM base salary if he cracks the roster, per Ken Davidoff of the New York Post (Twitter links). The deal also includes $750K in potential incentives, with separate packages that would allow him to earn to that amount whether he’s functioning as a starter or reliever. Manager Joe Girardi says that Niese will enter camp battling for a pen role, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch notes on Twitter.
5:26pm: The Yankees are poised to sign left-hander Jon Niese to a minor league contract, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports (Twitter link). The deal will become official when Niese passes a physical. Niese is represented by O’Connell Sports Management.
A fixture in the Mets rotation from 2010-15, Niese is coming off a rough, injury-plagued 2016 campaign. The Mets dealt Niese to the Pirates in a swap for Neil Walker last winter and the southpaw didn’t see much success in the black-and-gold, posting a 4.91 ERA, 6.5 K/9 and 1.87 K/BB rate over 110 innings as a Pirate. Niese was then dealt back to the Mets in August in exchange for Antonio Bastardo and pitched only 11 innings in his second stint with the Amazins before undergoing season-ending arthroscopic surgery on a torn left meniscus. The Mets declined Niese’s $10MM option for 2017, instead paying him a $500K buyout.
[Updated Yankees roster at Roster Resource]
Thirteen teams attended a workout Niese held earlier this month to demonstrate his health in the wake of his knee injury, and the Marlins also expressed some interest in Niese earlier this winter. Given his track record as a fairly steady and durable starter (3.86 ERA and 171 innings per year from 2010-15), it isn’t surprising that Niese drew a lot of looks as a potential bounce-back candidate.
Sherman reports that the Yankees see Niese as a candidate to both start or come out of the bullpen, and the 30-year-old could fill a need for New York in either department. Luis Severino, Chad Green, Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell and Adam Warren will be in competition for the fourth and fifth spots in the Yankees’ rotation this season, and Niese adds a more experienced element to that battle.
If used as a reliever, Niese would join Tommy Layne as the top left-handed options out of the pen, with closer Aroldis Chapman obviously being saved for end-game scenarios. The Yankees were linked to such notable lefty relievers as Boone Logan and Jerry Blevins earlier this offseason, though Niese comes at a lower price tag — both Logan and Blevins will earn $6.5MM in guaranteed money in 2017, with the potential for more if the Indians and Mets respectively exercise club options on each southpaw.
While Niese has never been much of a strikeout pitcher over his career, he does own an impressive 50.1% ground ball rate, which would serve him well pitching at Yankee Stadium. Of course, Niese’s problems in 2016 were largely caused by the long ball, as he saw his home run rate spike to a whopping 22.1% last season. While such a giant increase could’ve been an aberration, Niese’s home run rates have been on the rise in each of the last four seasons.