According to Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto worked to finalize a trade that would’ve sent Leake to the Arizona Diamondbacks. That trade obviously never materialized.
It was recently reported that the deal Dipoto brought to the ownership’s table would not fit their financial agenda.
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 $6.5 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 $26 million.
If ownership isn’t willing to eat a reasonable chunk of that money, Seattle is going to have a difficult time moving Mike Leake for anything more than a begrudged “thank you” mumbled under a contending front office’s breath.
It’s a lot of money for a guy with a 4.60 ERA, a 95 ERA+, and who’s currently on pace to post just a 1.6 WAR season. Leake’s 4.99 FIP doesn’t really help his case too much either.
All that being said, as previously mentioned at Lookout Landing, Leake’s value really isn’t in his statistics. His value comes by way of eating a ton of innings and saving a bullpen down the stretch. That can be quite valuable to teams such as the Padres and Braves trying to limit the inning being placed on young starting pitchers.
So why would the Padres be interested in Leake?
Well, for starters, no pun intended (I have no remorse), San Diego has few young starting pitchers who have racked up a decent amount of miles on their arms this year. Chris Paddack is the most noteworthy guy, having pitched a fantastic 90 innings in this, his rookie campaign. Cal Quantrill and Dinelson Lamet are a couple other young arms Padres brass will want to avoid churning into the ground.
Leake makes a lot of sense for San Diego in terms of stability and reliability moving forward.
So what would a return look like?
Well, frankly, there’s a number of ways to go about this. San Diego has been quite public that they expect 2020 to be the year they expect to turn the corner. They’ve been connected to Noah Syndergaard for over a year now in the hopes he anchors their competitive rotation.
Leake obviously isn’t close to Syndergaard, but most maintain he’s a good backend of the rotation option.
Knowing they’re looking to compete, tacking on a controllable piece could entice the Padres to up the return.
Let’s take a look.
Seattle sends Leake and very little money to San Diego for a lower end prospect.
In this scenario, Seattle would be looking for a lottery ticket, if that’s something organizations “look” for. There’s a plethora of names that could make sense given the circumstances.
Seattle Receives: OF Junior Perez
Perez, 18, was signed in 2016 out of the Dominican Republic. He wasn’t highly sought after by any means, but has produced well so far in his young career. At 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, Perez is slashing .315/.390/.500 this season in Rookie Ball with three home runs in 92 at-bats.
Perez moves well and can steal some bases when he gets on base. The swing can get a bit long according to reports, but unfortunately there isn’t even any video of Perez.
According to a source close to the Mariners, organizational scouts close to the team were connected to Perez in 2014 before he eventually signed with San Diego.
Seattle sends Leake and $21 million (withholding the $5 million 2021 buyout) to San Diego for a prospect.
This is the scenario Mariners fans should be hoping for. If Seattle ownership is willing to eat every single dollar of Leake’s contract prior to 2021, it sets the team up to spend in two years, while also acquiring a reasonable prospect.
When Homer Bailey was acquired by the Athletics, he was sporting a 4.80 ERA, a 98 ERA+, and a 4.48 FIP with the Royals. These numbers compare nicely to Leake. Bailey is also owed $5 million by the Athletics moving forward for 2020, so it’s incredibly easy to draw parallels.
Oakland surrendered their 16th best prospect according to MLBPipeline for Bailey. SS Kevin Merrell is rated a 40 FV by Fangraphs as a speed-contact slap hitter with up-the-middle range and versatility.
So what would that look like from San Diego?
Seattle Receives: 3B Ty France
Listen, I’ll be the first to admit this may be steep. France, 25, is absolutely pummeling AAA this year to the tune of a .367/.458/.744 slash with 19 bombs. He’s received a cup of coffee at the big league level this season slashing .235/.290/.357 with a couple dingers.
At first glance, you’d think, yeah, no way a Mike Leake nets you that kind of production. Truth be told, this recent surge from France came out of nowhere to a certain degree. He hit .267 in 2018 and .278 in 2017. Furthermore, he popped just 27 home runs those two seasons combined. France is also a well-below average runner with pretty fringy defense. But that bat is waking up.
Like Merrill, France is graded a 40 FV by Fangraphs and barely cracks the Padres Top 30 prospects.
San Diego also has nowhere for him to play. He’s stuck behind a glut of extremely talented infielders in Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., Luis Urias, Wil Myers (arguably), Xavier Edwards, Esteury Ruiz, Hudson Potts, Owen Miller, and Gabriel Arias. There are just several better, more well-rounded options than France coming through the system.
Dipoto has always had an affinity for players that seem to be turning a corner. France may be the perfect option to throw out there at third base if the team finds a way to move struggling incumbent Kyle Seager.
Realistically, France probably isn’t a long-term solution. He’s hot as hell in 2019, but the track record and lack of tools doesn’t suggest a surefire success story here. But he’s just the kind of success story Dipoto likes to take his chances on.
France reminds me a great deal of Michael Chavis of the Boston Red Sox. He too is fringy at the hot corner, but you don’t see the Sox sending his bat down any time soon. In fact, they shuck him into left field or DH the bat if they have to to make it work.
France ranks as the 27th best prospect in the Padres system according to MLBPipeline and the 24th best prospect according to Baseball America.
Seattle sends Leake, $21 million (withholding 2021 buyout), and LHP Roenis Elias to San Diego for a prospect.
The Padres really don’t have any reliable southpaw options coming out of the bullpen right now. If their goal is to compete in 2020, a reasonably affordable lefty like Elias will be necessary. Elias is controllable through next season and will likely only garner $2-$3 million in arbitration.
Seattle Receives: RHP Michael Baez
Baez, 22, is a very large starting pitcher. At 6-foot-8, 225 pounds, he’s an imposing figure on the bump. As with most starting pitchers of this stature, Baez is still fighting his mechanics, gradually working to discover how to consistently throw strikes. With inconsistent mechanics and arm speeds/slots, Baez’s fastball can range anywhere from the low 90s to the upper 90s. It really just depends how comfortable he’s feeling on any given day. Baez is still working to find his secondary offerings as well, mechanics again being the biggest culprit. Baez has an above average changeup that he does have a good feel for, while the slider and curveball have shown promise of plus offerings with refinement.
Some question whether he’ll be able to remain a rotation option moving forward. A move to the pen’ could allow his stuff to play up to pretty impressive levels.
2019 has been a promising turn for Baez. In 27 innings at AA Amarillo, Baez has compiled a 2.00 ERA to go alongside a 1.22 WHIP. Walks have still been a bit of a concern, issuing eleven free passes, though the enormous 38 strikeout figure he’s posted certainly balance out the issue to a certain degree.
Some believe there’s a Dellin Betances-type reliever in Baez.
Baez currently ranks as the Padres 11th best prospect according to Baseball America, and the 5th best prospect according to MLBPipeline.
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 1⁄3of 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, allowing them to utilize him basically for free is a luxury.
Leake has been pretty public about wanting to play for a contender as he’s cycling down toward the end of his career. He’s not long for Seattle in one way or another. Whether it’s now or this offseason, it’s hard to imagine Leake playing baseball for the Seattle Mariners in 2020.