by Paul West
In their first World Series appearance since 2000, the New York Mets silenced many detractors but they also had their primary flaws exposed. One of their biggest flaws is the lack of a reliable bridge between their elite starting pitching and Jeurys Familia, their newly elite closer. They also need help in the area of lefthanded relief, as previously auditioned lefty specialists have been frustrating at times. Talk is spreading of the Mets pursuing the likes of Joakim Soria and even Aroldis Chapman; these would be solid options, but they have an option in their own clubhouse that seems worth pursuing. That option is veteran lefty Jonathon Niese.
Niese has had impressive stretches as a mid-rotation starter, keeping hitters off balance with sweeping breaking balls. But even in his better outings, he tends to struggle after a couple of times through the order and is almost guaranteed not to make it through nine innings. Many teams would be glad to have him as a third or fourth starter, which is why he was dangled as trade bait when the Mets were looking for a bat.
During the Mets’ World Series run, Niese was bounced into long relief as their aces turned out one epic start after another and the middle relief continued to struggle. It could be argued that one of Terry Collins‘ biggest tactical misjudgments this postseason was not allowing Niese and Bartolo Colon to go deeper into relief appearances in which they performed capably. This, along with the continued development of the Big Four, begs the question: why not convert Niese into full-time long relief?
When Niese pitches well, he can pitch against almost any lineup. He can also get through most lineups at least once, making him a perfect long relief option. The fact that he’s a lefty makes it a two-for-one deal, as lefty relief is one area the Mets need to address. He’s a dogged competitor, and knowing he doesn’t have to make it through an entire start might allow him to max out once through the lineup and pitch more consistently near his ceiling. Moreover, this would allow the Mets to pursue help in other areas of need without creating package deals or shuffling a well-bonded clubhouse too much.
Niese might not prove to be the answer in long relief. But the market in long relief isn’t exactly deep, and in Niese, the Mets have an option sitting in their laps that’s as interesting as half of what they might trade for.