Jeff Niemann has been the subject of a number of trade rumors for years now, and the possibility of the Tall Texan being dealt has resurfaced once again. The Colorado Rockies have recently shown interest in the 30-year-old right-hander:
The Rockies, searching for starting pitching, have checked in with the Rays about Jeff Niemann and others. No talks advanced, as of yet.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) February 23, 2013
Niemann is currently battling Roberto Hernandez for the fifth spot in Tampa's starting rotation. If he is to lose the battle to Hernandez, the Rays only have two options: trading him or putting him in the bullpen as a long reliever.
The problem with putting him in the 'pen is that he simply doesn't have the knack for it. That being said, if Jeff Niemann—who's out of options—doesn't get the No. 5 slot in the rotation, the Rays could find themselves in a bad situation.
This probably won't be the case, though, as Niemann appears to be in a comfortable lead for the gig. He's put up a 2.13 ERA in 12.2 innings, while Hernandez has posted a 3.60 ERA in 15 innings.
If things continue this way, the Rays will likely just use Hernandez as a ground-ball specialist/long reliever and Niemann will be in the rotation.
If I was general manager Andrew Friedman, I would have other plans.
The Rays' backup catching role is a huge weakness on the team. The catching position is one that lacks talent in the organization, and the best way to address that issue fast is via trade.
Niemann is probably the best trade piece the Rays have at the moment, in terms of players that they might be willing to trade. He's a major league quality pitcher who can boost most rotations in baseball. He also has experience and has proven he can be very good at times.
With great starting pitching depth and awful catching depth, it would make a lot of sense to deal Niemann. With three major league ready pitchers (Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Hernadez) available to take the fifth spot in the rotation, the Rays could use another quality catcher far more than they could use Niemann.
With pitchers who can replace him and injury issues in all of the past three seasons, Niemann simply isn't worth $3 million to the Rays. His proneness to injury will obviously hurt his trade value, but Tampa should still be able to boost their roster with someone like Ramon Hernandez or Yorvit Torrealba from Colorado.
Both Hernandez (36 years old) and Torrealba (34 years old) are catchers that the Rockies might be willing to trade. The Rockies have four backstops in camp right now (Wilin Rosario is the team's primary one), and are both desperately in need of starting pitching and interested in Niemann.
They can't have both Hernandez and Torrealba on their Opening Day roster, but the Rays would take either over the Lobaton/Chirinos/Gimenez trio. Another experienced catcher to back up Jose Molina would be a great addition to the club.
There's really no reason why a Rays-Rockies Jeff Niemann trade shouldn't work.