Somewhat lost in the hubbub of Randy Levine's scorching comments this weekend was the addition of Jon Niese. The former Met and Pirate has joined the Yankees on a minor league contract.
Niese, a southpaw, started last season with Pittsburgh and was a disaster before being traded back to his original team, the Mets. His season was cut short in late August when he had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Perhaps the tear had something to do with his 5.50 ERA and 5.62 FIP, as Niese was a solid back of the rotation pitcher with the Mets for a few years. From 2010 through 2015, Niese's tenure as a full season starter in Queens, he posted a 3.86 ERA and 3.84 FIP in over 1,000 innings.
There are two big league roles that Niese will have a chance to earn in camp. One is in the back-end of the rotation. The veteran will be competing with some of the Yankees' younger options for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation, like Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, and Chad Green. If that doesn't work out, perhaps the 30 year-old becomes a bullpen option. The Yankees already have one situational lefty, Tommy Lane, but could utilize Niese in such a role if something awry occurs with Layne. Given Niese's history as a starter, he could also serve as a long reliever.
It's farfetched to think that Niese could return to his old form in 2017, which is why he signed a minor league deal. Maybe the Yankees get lucky and he does revert to his past self, but it's unlikely. His poor performance and surgically repaired knee make it difficult to foresee anything good coming out of this deal. Turning to the projections systems doesn't portray a rosy outlook, either. Steamer and ZiPS both project a mid-4 ERA and FIP for Niese.
Despite his shortcomings, this is a low risk addition. Signing Niese to a minor league deal will allow the Yankees to cut bait before he could significantly hurt the team with his performance. Hell, he might not even get the chance to throw one pitch with the Yankees all season. Basically, the Yankees have purchased all of the upside (a decent back-end starter) while minimizing risk. If all goes well, great. If not, it'll be easy to move on.