Question: Should the Mets trade Jon Niese?

Michael Baron , Contributor

Jon Niese went 13-9 with a 3.40 ERA in 30 starts over 190 1/3 innings in 2012 – last night was his final start of the season.

In April, Niese signed a five-year, $25.5 million contract extension through 2016. He earned $769,500 in 2012, will earn $3 million in 2013, $5 million in 2014, $7 million in 2015, and $9 million in 2016. The team holds two options on Niese – his option for 2017 is for $10 million and his option for 2018 is for $11 million.

Earlier this month, Andy McCullough of the Star Ledger said “Baseball officials outside the organization believe Niese could elicit a quality return on the trade market.”

There’s no debating Niese put together a breakout season this year. He put all the doubts about his durability, stamina, and fitness to bed and showed he is progressing to be a front line starting pitcher. His performance speaks to those physical improvements, but he also adjusted his approach to pitching, and trusted his entire repertoire for the first time in his career and was dominant at times over the course of this season. He has developed a pitching identity and has learned to pitch without his best stuff – all of that is very hard to come by in a young pitcher. When all of that is put together, there probably are very few teams who wouldn’t be interested in a left-handed pitcher who provides length and throws hard and knows how to work both sides of the plate with all of his pitches.

The question is, should the Mets consider trading Niese now that he has pitching value?

First off, if they do trade Niese, I can’t envision them making a deal for anyone who cannot immediately help the team at a high level. I envision that, if they do decide to deal Niese, they will attempt to net at least one outfielder who is under control for a while. There would be a benefit to acquire top prospects who are in position to help shortly, but while the upside of those players could conceivably be better than someone they get who is already at the Major League level, the Mets need way more certainty than that in the immediate term.

The Mets theoretically have starting pitching depth heading into next season. However, Zack Wheeler isn’t in the big leagues yet and at least needs to start his season in the Minor Leagues in 2013. Johan Santana’s ability to contribute consistently and effectively is once again a big question mark, and it’s unreasonable to expect R.A. Dickey to pitch at a Cy Young-caliber level next season. It’s not to say Dickey won’t be very good next year, but he’s in another world right now. In addition, it’s not clear how either Jeurys Familia or Jenrry Mejia will fit into the puzzle (although they’ve been profiled as relievers in the long-term) either. With all of that said, maybe the Mets don’t have the starting pitching depth it appears they have, and so trading Niese could cause more harm than good, at least for the moment.

If it all breaks right, yeah the Mets will have excess on paper in their rotation. But, we’ve been saying that for years with this club in general. Besides, I don’t think a team canĀ ever have enough starting pitching – after all, it’s the absolute foundation for success in baseball. It’s also hard to find young, quality left-handed starting pitching who are under control in team-friendly contracts such as Niese. I believe Niese is part of a solid and exciting foundation built around young, hard throwing starting pitchers, and trading part of that foundation – even if it can be considered ‘excess’ – could be an unwise move for the franchise’s future.

I don’t necessarily know how the Mets can get better via the trade route without sacrificing some of their better talent on the big league roster, but I can’t believe the Mets would be a better teamĀ without Niese…