The Pirates have a wave of pitching prospects reaching the majors right now. Chad Kuhl will be making his third MLB start this weekend. Steven Brault just made his debut last night. Tyler Glasnow will arrive tomorrow to pitch in St. Louis. Jameson Taillon is expected to return from the disabled list right after the All-Star break.
The thing about those prospects is that most of them are looking ready for the majors. Kuhl and Brault have shown good signs, and while they don’t have a high upside, they can be legit MLB starters. Taillon has also shown some good things, with a much higher upside than the other two. Glasnow has the highest upside of the group, although we’ll have to see where his control is at in tomorrow’s start, as that has been shaky in the past month.
Add to this the pending return of Gerrit Cole, the fact that they’re probably not trading and unable to trade Francisco Liriano, and Jeff Locke pitching well lately, and you’ve got a lot of rotation options. So it would make sense if they were shopping some of the veteran options around, looking toward the young guys to take over.
It appears that is exactly what they are doing. Rob Biertempfel reports that the Pirates have been contacting other clubs to get an idea of what Niese could bring in return. That doesn’t make a trade sound imminent, but it does appear they’re open to that possibility, and to moving on to the younger guys.
You might think that Niese has no trade value right now, with his 4.87 ERA and 4.33 xFIP. However, let’s not forget J.A. Happ last year, who had a 4.64 ERA and a 4.15 xFIP before being traded to the Pirates. Happ was three years older than Niese is now, didn’t have the same career track record as Niese, and was owed the remainder of his $6.7 M salary. To the latter point, Niese is owed the remainder of his $9 M salary, plus a $500,000 buyout next year.
The options are what still give Niese value. If a team believes he can turn things around in the final two months, just like Happ did last year, then they get a pretty good value at $10 M next year, with a $10.5 M option in 2018. If Niese doesn’t turn it around, they won’t be on the hook for much beyond the 2016 season.
The Pirates wouldn’t get the same type of return that they sent to the Mets, getting immediate help back. At this point, they’ve lost value in the deal. But they haven’t lost all of their value. Getting a prospect who can provide additional depth, or a few lower level lottery tickets wouldn’t be out of the question. Every year there are teams that desperately need pitching at the deadline. There are already a few teams who fit that bill around the league right now. So if the Pirates did want to move on from Niese and go with the prospects, I think they’d be able to get a return for him, at least getting a depth option now, or a few guys who might grow beyond that in the lower levels.