I don’t think you should be surprised by any report these days, in part because crazy things pop up during trade season, and in part because I truly do believe the Chicago Cubs’ front office will consider almost anything (and then act very prudently).
None of that is to say that Jon Heyman’s latest is a surprise, but it’s another name to add to the pile of possible pitchers the Cubs could target before next week’s Trade Deadline. In Heyman’s article – a long, thoroughly interesting column on a range of rumor topics, including more on David Price and Cole Hamels – he mentions that the Cubs’ “like Mike Leake, but they aren’t as anxious as others to do rentals.” I’d probably amend that ending to “high-cost rentals,” because I don’t think the Cubs have any aversion whatsoever to rentals, in principle, if the price is reasonable and it makes the team better. Everyone prefers cost-controlled, multi-year players. The Cubs are no different. But the market offers what the market offers.
As for Leake, then, the implication is that, although the Cubs like him as a possible target, he might close enough to the upper tier of rentals, in terms of price, that the Cubs won’t pursue him aggressively.
We’ve talked about Leake a couple times already this trade season, and he might be among the most attractive rental targets for the Cubs, unless the price gets out of whack. Still just 27, Leake has posted a 3.78 ERA over 128.2 innings this year (3.94 FIP, 3.60 xFIP), continuing his stretch of consistently good, not great performance. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the year, and could do quite well given his steady, healthy performance and relative youth (he’s also, historically, one of the better hitting and fielding pitchers in the league). When I talk about the very intriguing middle tier of starting pitching on the free agent market after this season, it’s guys like Leake to which I’m referring.
But does he make sense as a rental for the Cubs? Well, based on projected performance, sure; but, again, it all comes down to cost. The Cubs have an increasingly crowded pitching market going for them, and their frequently-reported interest in David Price and Cole Hamels (true or not) could give them an angle to a better price on a guy like Leake (or Ian Kennedy or Mat Latos or Jeff Samardzija etc.). As I’ve said for weeks, I don’t see the Cubs giving up elite young talent for a rental – but they might not have to give up their elite talent for the right rental.
As with all of these guys, I’d simply say: keep it on your radar. I don’t know that the Cubs are closing any doors just yet, so we, too, should keep an open mind. There are a lot of ways for the Cubs to improve for August and on this year, be they obvious and sexy, or sneaky and clever.