NEW YORK, NY - JULY 07: Jeff Niemann #34 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on July 7, 2011 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images)
Contract Status: $903 thousand in 2011, entering Arb 1 this offseason. Three seasons of team control left.
Rest of Season Projection: 4.36 ERA, 4.32 FIP
Trade Value: $2-10 million, one "B" or "C" grade prospect.
Jeff Niemann falls this low simply because he's really, really difficult to project. He still has three seasons of team control left, but how exactly is he going to fare during those seasons? He's injury-prone and hasn't appeared in more than 30 games in a season in the majors (or pitched more than 180 innings), and he simply hasn't been that good over the last few seasons. He's posted a 4.53 ERA so far this season - the worst of his major league career - but with a .306 BABIP and 70% strand rate, it's not necessarily because he's been "unlucky."
So how much can we really expect to get in return for an injury-prone starter that has had recent struggles with effectiveness? The team control is a nice bonus and he shouldn't be expensive next season, but the Rays wouldn't necessarily be "selling high" on him. As much as I'd like to trade Niemann and insert Alex Cobb in the rotation, there isn't much about Niemann that scream out, "Trade for me!'
Especially considering that Niemann has been effective in his few starts since returning from the DL, the Rays might be best served by holding onto him and shopping him in the offseason instead. If he could remain healthy the remainder of the season and lower his ERA some, then the Rays might actually be able to convince another team that he was worth acquiring.
Of course, there's also the possibility that Niemann continues to struggle over the remainder of the season and doesn't increase his trade value. In that case...well, the Rays aren't going to get much for him whether they trade him now or later. They might as well keep him for now and keep their fingers crossed that the rest of the season goes well.