For decades the winter meetings have been a hotbed of baseball activity. They are a massive job fair with young men and women dressed to the nines trying to find jobs from general manager to groundskeeper to broadcaster. In other quarters, back room deals are done that leave some fans rejoicing and some sad, angry or just scratching their heads in puzzlement.
Such a deal went down in Nashville yesterday as a part of this year’s winter meetings. The Pirates traded their second baseman and Pittsburgh native Neil Walker to the Mets for left-handed pitcher Jonathan Niese. Mets fans, who learned hours earlier that they wouldn’t get Ben Zobrist were mostly delighted to hear that Walker was coming to play second. They were happier still later in the evening to hear the Mets signed shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. Their infield was in dire straits with both Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada suffering serious leg injuries. Daniel Murphy made two critical errors in the World Series and hit so poorly that his departure from Flushing seems inevitable. Now those two vital positions are filled with good talented ball players. They may not be game changers like Yoenis Cespedes was but they will make the routine plays Murphy and Flores so often flubbed. And all they paid was Jonathan Niese, a lefty with a 61-61 career mark and an ERA near 4.0. Pirates fans are at least baffled if not outright angry. One tweeter called Niese “a six-foot pile of poop.” One phone caller said Niese was “Nothing.”
The Mets are getting the son of former Expos pitcher Tom Walker. Tom Walker planned to fly with Roberto Clemente from Puerto Rico to Nicaragua on New Year’s Eve, 1972 to deliver relief supplies to earthquake victims, but Clemente talked Walker out of making the trip, thus saving his life when the plane carrying Clemente crashed. Neil Walker, who is 30 now remembers how he went to many a game in old 3 Rivers Stadium, including the ill-starred 1994 All-Star game played right before the ruinous strike. At that game he got autographs of Frank Thomas and Ken Griffey JR. He was a first-round draft choice in 2004 and has only played with the Pirates up to now.
Niese, 29 was born Oct. 27, 1986, the day the Mets won game 7 of the World Series. They took him in the ninth round of the 2005 draft and he was pitching for them by by 2008. He allowed a home run to the first man he saw, Rickie Weeks of the Brewers. In their often inglorious history up to then no Met pitcher had given a home run to the first man he saw.
It’s a fact the Pirates need starting pitching. J. A. Happ was lost to free agency. A. J. Burnett called it a career. They have a proven stud in Gerrit Cole. Francisco Liriano is still around. So are Charlie Morton and Jeff locke. Niese’ best work was out of the bull pen during this postseason. He has never flourished as a starting pitcher. I can only guess the Pirates’ pitching coach ray Searage, a former Met feels he can do something with Niese, acting on the theory that a lefty with a pulse is a useful lefty. Ask Eric O’Flaherty about that theory before believing in it too strongly.
The other Met acquisition last night was Asdrubal Cabrera. He was signed at the minimum age of 16 by the Mariners in 2002. He turned 30 last month. He was an All-Star twice with the Indians, then played for the Nationals starting at midseason in 2013 and the Rays in 2015. He’ll be seen at Citi Field wearing a beaded necklace made for him by his wife Lismar.
Another trade went down at Opreyland last night which leaves fans of the Bronx Bombers bewildered and befuddled. One of the Yankees’ few effective pitchers, Justin Wilson was sent to the Tigers for two prospects. If it had been Jason Shreve, nobody would have said boo. There was little enough reaction the other day when Adam Warren went to the Cubs in the Starlin Castro deal. But Wilson seemed like a keeper, a lefty who worked the 7th innings leading to Delin Betances and Andrew Miller in the late innings.