Saturday, December 17, 2011

Don't Trade Jonathon Niese!

On Friday, a story broke about the possibility of trading Jonathon Niese to the Colorado Rockies for outfielder Seth Smith.  Fortunately, that trade will not become a reality, as earlier today, Jerry Crasnick of and Baseball America tweeted that the Mets have no interest in sending Niese to Colorado for Smith.

Of course, looking at Jerry Crasnick's tweet on the topic suggests the Mets wouldn't trade Niese to Colorado in a package involving Smith.  It doesn't say the Mets wouldn't trade him to the Rockies in a Smith-less deal.

Trading Niese at all right now would be foolish.  A player like Seth Smith, who will turn 30 before the 2012 season ends, does not give the Mets the production at an outfield position they need.  Since becoming an everyday player in 2009, Smith has averaged 24 doubles, 16 HR and 55 RBI per season, while hitting .275 with a .346 on-base percentage.  He has also played an average of 138 games a year over the past three seasons.

By comparison, Lucas Duda has played in 129 games in the major leagues since his first call-up in 2010.  In those 129 games (which are nine fewer than Smith has averaged per season since 2009), Duda has combined to hit .273 with a .347 on-base percentage, picking up 27 doubles, 14 HR and 63 RBI along the way.  Seems like the same player, doesn't it?  The only difference is that Duda is giving the Mets Seth Smith-type numbers at age 25, before entering the prime of his career, while Smith has already entered his peak years and has been achieving his numbers in a hitters' park.  Duda has played half of his games at cavernous Citi Field.

Although Niese has spent time on the disabled list in 2010 and 2011, he has still averaged 28 starts per season over the past two years.  Before getting hurt, he made great strides in 2011.  Niese increased his strikeout rate (7.7 K/9 IP in 2010, 7.9 K/9 IP in 2011) while showing better command of his pitches (3.2 BB/9 IP in 2010, 2.5 BB/9 IP in 2011).  He also did a better job of keeping the ball in the park, reducing his home runs allowed from 20 in 2010 to 14 in 2011.

Jonathon Niese is the type of pitcher the Mets have given up on too soon in the past.  Rick Aguilera did fairly well (37-27, 3.58 ERA) in his four and a half seasons in New York.  Kevin Tapani was also a promising prospect in the Mets organization.  Both pitchers were traded to Minnesota while they were still in their twenties.  Aguilera went on to become the Twins' all-time saves leader (recently surpassed by Joe Nathan and Tapani won 143 games in a 13-year career in the big leagues.

Even a player like Pete Schourek, whom the Mets gave up on after three seasons in New York, went on to surprise the non-believers.  In 1994, he went 7-2 for the Cincinnati Reds, who claimed him off waivers.  He followed that up by going 18-5 in 1995, leading the Reds to a division title and finishing second to Greg Maddux for the National League Cy Young Award.

It's been quite some time since the Mets have let a homegrown pitcher develop in the big leagues.  Not since Bobby Jones has the organization produced a pitcher that had some success in the major leagues as a member of the Mets.  Unfortunately, Jones last pitched for the Mets over a decade ago.  The team has failed to develop and keep one of its own pitchers ever since, choosing to fill its starting rotation with free agent acquisitions and players acquired via the trade market.  The one recent exception has been Mike Pelfrey, and he's only become the first Mets pitcher to give up more hits than innings pitched in six different seasons.

Jonathon Niese has the potential to become the next great homegrown pitcher for the Mets.  He also has the potential to be traded to a player of Seth Smith's caliber.  After so many failures with trading away young pitching talent too soon, shouldn't the Mets give Niese a chance? 

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