According to a rumor from earlier today, the Colorado Rockies have inquired about Jeff Niemann:
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
It doesn't sound like talks are serious between the two teams -- far from it, in fact -- but this rumor caught my eye as noteworthy for a few reasons.
First, the Rays would solve some roster problems by trading Niemann. The Rays seem ambivalent about granting Niemann a spot in the starting rotation; Joe Maddon has already said that Price, Moore, Hellickson, and Cobb have the first four rotation spots locked up, and there have been heavy hints that they're looking at Roberto Hernandez for that final rotation spot. If this were the case, the Rays would be forced to use Niemann out of the bullpen, a role that they've long claimed he's not suited for due to his height and mechanics.
Of course, maybe the Rays feel Niemann's injury-prone body can't handle the stress of starting any longer. Maybe they still plan to use Niemann out of the rotation, but they're talking up Hernandez in order to boost his self esteem for when he's inevitably moved to the bullpen. Who knows? It's always tough to tell exactly what Maddon and Friedman are thinking.
But by trading Niemann, the Rays would open the door to allow another pitcher into the starting rotation: Hernandez, Chris Archer, Mike Montgomery, or Jake Odorizzi. It's not like they don't have the pitching depth, and considering Niemann's potential (when healthy), they could bring back a decent piece.
Second, if the Rays are looking to deal Niemann, the Rockies could be a good trade fit. The Rockies desperately need quality starting pitchers, and they have depth at catcher that they could be willing to move. I don't feel any of their catchers by themselves would be a good fit as a return for Niemann, but if the Rockies are desperate enough for pitching, maybe the Rays could talk them into a better return.
The only catch is that by dealing Niemann now, the Rays would likely be selling low. Niemann's injury history is surely a big turn-off for other teams, and he only threw 38 innings last year. Granted, he was on top of his game over that stretch and looked like an ace starter (3.08 ERA and 3.09 FIP)...so maybe another team is willing to take a big gamble on him?
I like The Big Nyquil a lot, and when healthy, he can be one of the best pitchers on the Rays. At the same time, though, he's turning 30 years old this week, and he's yet to get through a full season without having some sort of injury or struggling with his mechanics. If the Rays can get a good price for him, they should make the move and let some of their youth step in.