There are two ways a trade happens. The first is when two teams disagree greatly over how good or valuable a player is. These are the exciting ones that feature swaps like, hypothetically, three years of Shelby Miller traded for each and every Diamondbacks minor leaguer. These trades are great, not least because they generate the #good #content.
The other category of trades is a little more mellow, but for my money, more existentially satisfying. It's when team A needs something that team B has a lot of, and vice versa, and they make a mutually beneficial swap. Less hot takes, definitely, but a very satisfying feeling of the market doing what it's supposed to and teams acting in an intelligent way. The Winter Meetings closed today with one of these trades, in which the Mets sent Jon Niese to the Pirates in exchange for Neil Walker.
After failing to sign Ben Zobrist, the Mets were faced with the choice of making a trade, signing a free agent, or giving Wilmer Flores and a maybe-major league-ready Dilson Herrera the body of playing time at second base. While Flores and Herrera aren't terrible, the Mets are currently projected to be just a few WAR worse than the Nationals in the NL East, meaning they're at a point where even slight upgrades can have a big impact on their odds of making the playoffs.
And Walker seems like more than just a slight upgrade. The Steamer projection system, available at FanGraphs, pegs him at 2.6 WAR per 600 PA. Steamer is also fairly bullish on Flores, putting him at about 2.8 WAR/600, but a lot of that is tied up in his glove, while Walker's value comes primarily from his bat, meaning that they will likely complement each other nicely. Bringing in Walker will also free Flores up to play SS more, taking playing time away from Ruben Tejada (1.2 WAR/600), so all in all, this pushes the Mets up by a win or two at a time when they could definitely use such a bump.
They lost Niese, signed through 2018 at about $10 million per year, but he was probably the Mets' sixth- or seventh- best starter, and therefore an eminently tradeable asset. Barring an extension, Walker isn't a long-term solution, as he's in his last year of arbitration and projected to make $10.7 mm in 2016, per MLB Trade Rumors' Arbitration Projections. The Mets shouldn't mind too much, though, with Herrera looking like the second baseman of 2017 and beyond. For the upcoming season, the Mets went from having a mediocre player at a position where they had a surplus to having an above-average player where they had a need, all without adding anything in salary. Especially if this move lets them sign a free agent at another position, this looks like a great trade for the Mets.
But this is also a good trade for the Pirates, which is why I like this category. Everyone can feel good about what happened today! Pittsburgh, pushing toward the top of an even more crowded NL division, also needs every edge it can get for 2016 and beyond. Like the Mets, the Pirates were trading from a surplus, as Jung-Ho Kang (projected 2.4 WAR/600), Jordy Mercer (1.4 WAR/600), and Josh Harrison (2.5 WAR/600) are essentially a full infield on their own. The biggest playing time beneficiary of this move will probably be Mercer, and while he's definitely worse than Walker, it's not by a huge margin, which made Walker expendable.
Although this move definitely cuts into their infield depth a substantial amount, the Pirates aren't a team that can afford the luxury of a surplus. If they were, maybe they would be signing a free agent pitcher instead, but as they aren't, Jon Niese it is. They were desperate for a starter, as they wait for promising minor leaguers Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon to reach the majors, and are presumably also happy about the two extra years of team control they gained in exchanging Walker for Niese. Beyond that, however, it's not hard to see some potential in Niese.
He admittedly didn't look great in 2015, with a 112 ERA-/114 FIP-, but that was driven primarily by a career-high 14.3% HR/FB rate, and his career averages are 106/100. A precisely average starting pitcher is something the Pirates could definitely use. And that's ignoring the seemingly mystical powers of Ray Searage! If the Pirates do have a real ability to make the most of mediocre groundballers like Niese, this swap looks even better.
While sending away a homegrown hero like Walker has to hurt, it's a necessary move for budget-constrained teams like the Pirates, and they did well to get back multiple years of a roughly average starting pitcher. So both sides should feel good about what happened today. After a Winter Meetings filled with shock, a quiet and balanced trade was a pleasant way to end them, and I imagine both the Mets and Pirates feel the same.
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Henry Druschel is a Contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @henrydruschel.