At some point today, Jon Niese is going to hold a workout for teams interested in signing him. Niese needs to do this workout because: (1) he’s coming off knee surgery; and (2) he was terrible last year. Absolutely terrible. And yet, despite that, the Mets should be interested in re-signing him.
Let’s get the obvious reasons why the Mets shouldn’t be interested out of the way first. He’s a malcontent that would likely complain about the weather in San Diego. He always has an excuse for when he fails. He’d blame the pitch the catcher for the pitch he called. He’d blame the designer of the ballpark for the configuration of the outfield walls. He’d blame God for the wind patterns. He’d do all of that before admitting he hung a pitch that was hit into the second deck. More than any of this, Niese was just horrible last year. Typically, you don’t want players like this.
That is unless they are really cheap, and they have something to prove.
Niese should be both. Working in reverse, Niese, perhaps for the first time in his major league career, has something to prove. He’s coming off a year with a 5.50 ERA and a 1.587 WHIP. Quite possibly, he was the worst pitcher in all of baseball, certainly the worst starting pitcher. Because Niese is who he is, he’ll probably give you a million reasons why this happened. I’m sure he’ll say PNC Park was not suited for him, or Ray Searage was not as good a pitching coach as Dan Warthen. The Pirates probably didn’t shift as well as the Mets did. He’ll certainly blame his knee injury. At least with the knee injury, there may be an actual valid excuse, and it could be reason to buy low on Niese.
Before being traded to the Pirates, Niese was 61-61 with a 3.91 ERA, a 1.361 WHIP, and a 95 ERA+. Basically, he was a fifth starter who constantly tricked the Mets into thinking he could be more than that. It’s partially why Sandy Alderson gave him a contract extension. It’s why the Pirates traded Neil Walker to get him. Maybe he fulfills that promise one day. Likely, he doesn’t. Still, Niese has already shown he’s a quality major league pitcher.
He’s a major league pitcher that is going to come cheap. With teams seemingly being devoid of interest in him during the offseason, Niese is likely going to garner little more than a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. Essentially, Niese is going to go to a team where he has an opportunity to either make the team out of Spring Training or be one of the first call-ups should a pitcher get injured or be ineffective. That being said, signing Niese is theoretically no different than the Mets recent signing of Tom Gorzelanny, or back in 2006, when they signed Darren Oliver.
For the Mets, Niese could be an intriguing bullpen arm who surprisingly showed during the 2015 postseason, he can get the big out. He may have a second act to his career as a reliever much in the same way Oliver Perez has. By focusing on one or two pitches, he could be a reliable bullpen arm like Oliver. Or maybe, he could just be more starting pitching depth for a Mets team relying on three pitchers coming off season ending surgery and two unproven starters behind them.
Maybe just maybe, the Mets should offer Niese a minor league deal to come back to the team. It isn’t the worst idea in the world.
If you look at the initial reactions to the Tom Gorzelanny signing, it was met with some anger and derision from Mets fans. It has led to a meme where Mets fans have begun to compare him to sloth from the Goonies:
— Joe Barbito (@barbitosfritos) February 3, 2017
Obviously, this anger comes from Mets fans wanting the team to do more to sign free agent relievers to fill the obvious holes in the Mets bullpen. Namely, Mets fans wanted the team to go out and sign Jerry Blevins, who for some strange reason remains on the free agent market. Because the Mets signed Gorzelanny and not Blevins, Mets fans have understandably overreacted. They shouldn’t.
Because this is a minor league deal, the Mets are not obligated to carry Gorzelanny on the Opening Day roster like they were Antonio Bastardo last season. Essentially, if Gorzelanny does not show the Mets he is not capable of being a part of their bullpen, they can leave him in the minor leagues as depth.
Now, if Gorzelanny does show he can be a solid contributor out of the bullpen, the Mets only owe him $1 million with incentives that could increase his salary to $2.8 million. Essentially, this is a low risk, potentially high reward signing.
And there is reason to believe Gorzelanny can be a solid contributor in 2017. For his career, he has limited left-handed batters to a .229/.302/.356 batting line. For the sake of comparison, Blevins allowed left-handed batters to hit .255/.313/.324 off of him last year. Now, Blevins has historically been better than that against left-handed batters. However, the Mets are looking to replace Blevins’ 2016 production, and judging from Gorzelanny’s career splits, he is more than capable of that.
Another reason to believe in Gorzelanny is his repertoire. He primarily relies upon a low 90s sinker and a low 80s slider. While he also can throw a change-up and a curveball, while he has gotten older he has more and more relied on his sinker and slider. As we have seen with pitchers like Addison Reed and Fernando Salas, Dan Warthen has been successful working with them to get better results with those pitches as they have had in prior stops. It also doesn’t hurt that Travis d’Arnaud and Rene Rivera are excellent pitch framers that will be able to help Gorzelanny get into pitcher’s counts and get him that borderline called third strike.
Also, consider some of the success he has had against some of the left-handed batters he is sure to see during the 2017 season:
On the other hand, it might not work out. But if it doesn’t, so what? It’s a classic example of nothing ventured, nothing gained. The million Gorzelanny is potentially earning should not stand in the way of the Mets re-signing Blevins and/or signing another free agent reliever.
And in fact, it didn’t. Not too long after the Mets signed Gorzelanny, the Mets then re-signed both Fernando Salas and Blevins.
Still, Gorzelanny wasn’t the guy Mets fans wanted, but he could become the guy the Mets fans want on the mound against a left-handed batter this October.