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40 in 40: Mike Leake

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The consistent veteran is more valuable than he might seem

Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Mike Leake is just about as steady as they come, though you’d be forgiven for having a less-than-stellar impression of him. The former eighth overall pick in the 2009 draft (selected just six spots after his new teammate, Dustin Ackley), Leake hasn’t been the superstar a team dreams of taking with its first round pick. The best fWAR he’s ever posted came in 2017, when he hit 3.1. That’s only a win or so above a league-average starting pitcher.

What Leake lacks in star power, however, he more than makes up for in consistency. Though that 3.1 fWAR season didn’t reach the soaring highs of fellow draftee Stephen Strasburg’s 5.7 fWAR season in 2017, Leake has been seemingly immune to the injuries and inconsistencies that have plagued Strasburg through his career.

Since 2012, Leake’s third MLB season and arguably when the Cincinnati Reds took his training wheels off, Leake has made at least 30 starts every year. During that time, he’s never fallen below 1.4 fWAR, though has mostly stayed at 2.0 fWAR and above. When trying to plan out an MLB roster in a sport defined by chaos, “sure things” like Leake are few and far between.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

It makes sense, then, that Leake’s name has surfaced in the tumultuous Mariners trade rumors this offseason.

It has been two months since Leake was cryptically said to be “mulling other potential options”. As for whether those options meant a different trade destination, or the possibility of Leake deciding to stay in Seattle, it’s hard to say. Leake’s no-trade clause offers him a mild amount of influence on who his next employer will be.

Even if it would make sense, I would be fairly sad if the Mariners traded Leake this season. For one thing, the team doesn’t have to trade him. Leake is signed through at least 2020, and carries a 2021 mutual option that he would seem unlikely to decline, should his team wish to keep him. That puts him squarely within the Mariners’ purported window of re-entering contention in 2020 and 2021. Leake will be 33 years old in 2021, and doesn’t appear to be headed for a substantial drop off in performance.

Perhaps as important as Leake’s consistency is his experience. Much fanfare is often made about the importance of having a “veteran presence” on a roster, impossible as that contribution is to quantify. With Leake, though, there is at least one suggestion that his presence may have actually had a tangible impact, as Brent Strecker wrote about last month. Marco Gonzales credited Leake with being “the most important guy” involved in the mentoring process that led to his breakout 2018.

“That was the culmination of really learning from other guys ... probably the most important guy that people may not know is Mike Leake,” Gonzales said. “(Leake is) a guy that just has balance and feel for all of his pitches. Being able to watch a Mike Leake bullpen every week, those are things that I really learned from and put into my own game.

Would Gonzales have had his same 2018 without having the example of 9th year veteran Mike Leake to follow? It’s impossible to know. Leake’s consistency and on-field contributions make him plenty valuable on their own. If it’s true that he played a significant part in Gonzales’ development, Leake becomes someone that I really want on this roster going forward, as the team focuses on retooling this year.

With Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson presumably making their debuts in 2018, perhaps Leake’s biggest role as a veteran example is yet to come. Maybe he won’t have an impact, but maybe he will. Even if Leake doesn’t deliver a glowing veteran presence, he has spent his entire career showing that his floor is plenty high enough to warrant a spot in the Mariners’ plans going forward.