According to Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, In the days leading up to his start and even into the evening hours on Tuesday, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto worked to finalize a trade that would’ve sent Leake to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The trade obviously didn’t get too close to finalizing, as Leake would end up starting last night, ironically driving up his trade value by throwing a complete game, allowing just one earned run.
So what is Leake’s value? At the surface level, he doesn’t look like a guy worth a great deal. But upon diving a little deeper, you may be surprised...
Mike Leake's last two starts: 2-0, 1.69 ERA (16 ip, 11 hits, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7 SO). That should help his trade value.— Larry Stone (@StoneLarry) June 6, 2019
Leake is currently signed through 2020 and is owed $15 million next season. He is set to make $16 million this year, so he is still owed roughly $10 million for the rest of this campaign. Add in a $5 million buyout for his mutual option in 2021, and in whole, you’ve got a guy with a year and a half left on his deal worth roughly $30 million.
That’s a lot of money for a guy with a 4.30 ERA and who’s currently on pace to post a 0.6 WAR season. Leake is currently running a 5.31 FIP, as well as posting the highest HR/9 of his career - 1.98. So by that logic, he’s probably pitched a little worse than his 4.30 ERA suggests.
But frankly, a lot of his value doesn’t lay in posting sensational numbers. His value is in being a guy who you can count on to throw 185+ innings and save bullpen usage. Some of Leake’s poor numbers look the way they do because he’s a sacrificial arm some days. Servais has been far more willing to leave him out there when he doesn’t have good stuff in an effort to carve out five innings of work. Leake is a veteran, and Servais knows a terrible start or two won’t effect his confidence going into his next outing.
So why would the Diamondbacks be interested in Leake?
Well, for starters, no pun intended, Arizona has struggled to find five guys to throw onto the bump on a regular basis. Zach Greinke and Robbie Ray have both started 13 games. Merrill Kelly has started 12 games. But this is Kelly’s first year in MLB since 2014 after spending the last four seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization. He only threw 151 innings last season.
Beyond those three, Luke Weaver has started eleven contests, but he’s currently sidelined with a UCL sprain - an injury that could conceivably keep him out all year.
Zack Godley has struggled, Taijuan Walker is a ways off, and Taylor Clarke and Jon Duplantier are both young and on presumed innings limits.
Leake makes a lot of sense for Arizona in terms of stability and reliability moving forward.
So what would a return look like?
Well there’s two ways Seattle can go about this. We’ll look at both.
Seattle sends Leake and very little money to Arizona for a lower end prospect.
In this scenario, Seattle would be looking for a little more than a lottery ticket. There’s a plethora of names that could make sense given the circumstances, but I’ll examine three for this exercise.
2B/OF Jamie Westbrook
Westbrook is a 24 year old utility player currently playing at AA Jackson. He’s primarily played the outfield, but has plenty of career experience at second base as well.
Westbrook would represent Dipoto’s favorite type of player - an older prospect who seems to have recently figured things out. Having hit 24 home runs and slashing .285/.341/.483 over the past two seasons, Westbrook could conceivably be a good target for Mariners brass.
SP Justin Donatella
Donatella is another 24 year old, although he’s currently occupying a spot at AAA Reno. Donatella has struggled this season, posting a 6.80 ERA in 47 innings. In 2018, he had a much stronger campaign, posting a 3.48 ERA in 130 innings at AA Jackson.
Armed with a low 90s running fastball and above average slider, Donatella is a ground ball pitcher so long as he keeps the ball down in the zone. He’s fit a Trevor Cahill mold and could have a 4/5 rotation ceiling.
Donatella finds himself in a bit of a numbers crunch. He’s probably the 5th best option at AAA Reno and currently isn’t on the 40-man roster. If he can straighten things out a bit in Tacoma, he’d be a prime option to get a cup of coffee in September or even sooner considering Seattle’s issues with rotation depth.
IF L.T. Tolbert
Tolbert is a utility infielder who can play a number of positions. At 23 years old, he is a little long in the tooth for the A-ball Midwest League, but he represents a high-achieving player Dipoto may covet. Currently slashing .344/.423/.475, Tolbert was a 13th round pick in 2018. Tolbert could be sent to Modesto to continue his development.
Said to have reasonable promise with natural loft in his swing, Tolbert can comfortably play all over the field. See: Shawn O’Malley.
Seattle sends Mike Leake and ~$20-$25 million to Arizona for a higher ceiling prospect.
Again, let’s identify three names who makes sense in this scenario.
3B Drew Ellis
Ellis is a power-first corner bat currently playing at AA Jackson. Currently slashing .259/.359/.386 with 3 home runs, Ellis is off to a bit of a slow start, but his bat is legit.
In order for Ellis to reach his true potential, he’ll have to cut down on the strikeouts, something that is a problem for most younger power hitting prospects. His 25.5 K% isn’t terribly alarming, though you’d like to see him drive the ball a bit more considering his .348 BABIP.
At 23 years old, Ellis is right where he should be in his development cycle and could conceivably turn himself into an average bat, average fielder with a power carrying tool 3B at the big league level.
Currently the 21st best prospect in Arizona’s system according Baseball America, Ellis would likely slot into the Top 15 for Seattle.
SS Blaze Alexander
This is my second time highlighting a player named Blaze in the last three days and I will not apologize for it.
Just 19 years old, Alexander is a slick fielding shortstop with a huge arm. The bat will come as he grows into his body and adds strength. He’s got some swing and miss at this point in his career, but is reported to be a bright hitter who makes adjustments on the go.
Currently slashing .239/.333/.367, Alexander would immediately slot in with Noelvi Marte as strong shortstop prospects in a system where depth on the left side of the infield is pretty futile.
Alexander is the 10th best prospect in Arizona’s system according to Baseball America, and would likely be a Top 10 prospect in Seattle as well.
SP Emilio Vargas
Vargas is currently the most advanced of the players mentioned above. At 22 years old, he’s currently in the rotation at AA Jackson posting solid, not stellar numbers. His 5.50 ERA is not encouraging in a vacuum, but having only issued five walks in seven starts, Vargas fits the bill as a Dipoto guy.
A fastball-slider pitcher, Vargas relies on control over stuff. A low-90s fastball and well-controlled breaking ball have done wonders for several starters over the years and Vargas hopes to follow a similar path.
Currently the 25th best prospect in the system according to Baseball America, Vargas would represent one of the better starting pitching prospects in Seattle’s system.
Back in August 2017, the St. Louis Cardinals sent Leake, $17,000,000, and international bonus money to Seattle for shortstop prospect Rayder Ascanio. That $17 million represented roughly 1⁄3 of what was remaining on Leake’s deal. Ascanio ranked toward the back of most Seattle Top 30 prospect lists.
It could be that I am overvaluing a reliable starting pitcher like Leake in these deals, but for the most part, I think I’m close. Sending the rights to a stable innings eater to a contender, allowing them to utilize him basically for free is a huge luxury.
It’ll be interesting to see if Leake ends up making his next start, or if he’ll even be a Mariner one week from today. His trade value has certainly never been higher.