As the Mets head into the All Star Break and closer toward the trading deadline, Sandy Alderson and company will presumably be in search of bullpen help. To do that, the Mets will either need to take on salary or give up a player. One of those players might be Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
Trading the Mets young center-fielder probably wasn’t a thought just a couple of months ago, but now it can’t be ruled out. After a rollicking start to his Major League career, in which he hit .310/.383/.434 over his first 129 plate appearances, Nieuwenhuis has struggled, batting just .200/.241/.413 over his last 80 PA. As of late, Kirk has had trouble catching up to fastballs and and is just 10-58 against southpaws. Then there are the strikeouts.
Nieuwenhuis has always been strike out prone, fanning in 22.9% of his minor league plate appearances. With the Mets so far, he’s whiffed 83 times in 275 PA, a 30.2% clip. That number is quite alarming as is the dip in his walk rate. In the minors, Kirk walked at a 9.5% rate, and as high as 14.5% in 2011 at Buffalo. This year, he is walking at an 8.0% rate.
Nieuwenhuis has shown an ability to hit and improve at every level, so there is no reason to think he won’t improve with more playing time at the Majors. He also plays above average defense in center field, is under team control for the foreseeable future and the team’s other center fielder, Andres Torres, is injury-prone. So why would the Mets consider trading Captain Kirk?
While some closers, like Francisco Rodriguez, might be available for their salaries and/or a low-level prospect, others, such as Jonathan Broxton, might cost a Major League player. Whether the Mets would be willing to part with any player currently on the big league roster has yet to be determined, but Nieuwenhuis is an interesting option for a few different reasons. First, he has struggled mightily against lefties and has essentially become a platoon player in center with Torres. Second, when Jason Bay returns after the ASB, Terry Collins has already said that he will start in left field, meaning the outfield will get more crowded. Finally, although he’s struggled since his promotion to Buffalo, Matt Den Dekker, who is just three days younger than Kirk, is looming, a better defender, and also a lefty.
Trading a young player like Nieuwenhuis for a rental like Broxton involves risk. The Mets would be gambling that Broxton stays healthy and performs as he has in Kansas City, that Nieuwenhuis doesn’t improve, that Torres stays healthy and that Den Dekker could step in at some point next year. Whether Alderson and company want to take this risk remains to be seen, but Nieuwenhuis does make for an interesting trade chip.