Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

mike leake redsWith so many options available on the free agent market this offseason, it’s easy for guys to get lost in the narrative shuffle, even if no one is being overlooked by the, well, actual baseball teams. Some arms – Wei-Yin Chen, Yovani Gallardo, Hisashi Iwakuma, for a few examples – don’t get discussed around here too much because we’ve not gotten the sense that the Cubs could be involved at this time, or they’re not a great fit (and/or it’s a really strong bet that the player is going elsewhere).

Others, like Mike Leake, do get discussed a little, but fall off the radar periodically thanks to the deluge of information on other arms.

But let’s get Leake back on the radar for a moment:

Your obligatory note: the Cubs have checked in on/will check in on virtually all available options. But when Kaplan mentions those three together, specifically, it’s worth discussing.

We’ve heard about the Cubs’ interest in Samardzija and Lackey for quite some time, but, although there were rumors of interest in Leake going back to the Trade Deadline, Leake’s is not a name that has come up yet much this offseason. That’s partly due to the perception that he really liked his time in San Francisco, and the Giants will probably be signing multiple starters this offseason.

It could also be partly due to the perception that, despite average-ish results, Leake is going to be well-paid this offseason because of his age, consistency, and lack of draft-pick compensation.

Michael wrote quite a bit about Leake earlier this offseason when he analyzed the 28-year-old righty as a possible fit for the Cubs, and I think he summed things up quite nicely:

In many ways, Leake reminds me of an older Kyle Hendricks with fewer strikeouts and more groundballs. Is that sexy? No. Could he be serviceable? I’d lean towards yes. The Cubs need starting pitching and more than one guy will need to be brought in – especially considering how quickly we saw the extreme back end depth disappear last season.

I wouldn’t be happy if the Cubs brought in only Leake, but I also don’t think that’s likely to happen. Paired with a higher profile signing or trade for a different starter, Leake could actually round out a rotation quite nicely. And I don’t want to underemphasize the fact that he is just 28 years old. And while he does not have a lot of untapped potential, he can be a somewhat dependable and economical cog in the rotation for multiple years. I am positive that many of you have your sights much higher, but Leake feels like he might fit on this team.

With Leake now popping up in connection to the Cubs, I’d strongly encourage you to read Michael’s deep dive if you missed it the first time around. There’s a lot to consider with respect to Leake, and I’m not going to re-hash all the performance analysis and projection here.

Leake does not knock your socks off, but not every helpful pitcher will. There’s a whole lot of value in a guy who can give you near-average or better results for 200 innings on a consistent basis.

How much value, of course, is the question, particularly when you compare it to other available options. Leake is expected by most to get a contract in the $70 to $80 million range, which may actually top what a guy like Samardzija gets, and could double what a guy like Lackey gets.

My gut says that Leake will be priced out of the range with which the Cubs are comfortable paying an average, limited-upside starter, even after considering his age and lack of draft pick compensation. The only caveat there – and it’s a big one – is that it’s possible the Cubs analytics crew and coaching staff have identified very specific thing(s) they believe Leake could be doing differently to tap into some additional velocity/movement/location, or a very specific change to his pitch mix/sequencing that could improve his overall results. I believe that’s sometimes why you see teams going above and beyond what you’d otherwise expect a pitcher to receive – it’s because they suspect that pitcher might be uniquely and additionally valuable if they got him in-house.

Me? I don’t see it with Leake, and publicly-discussed evaluations don’t see it, either. That doesn’t mean there isn’t upside beyond that of an average starter, of course, and, even if there isn’t, a 2.0 to 2.5 WAR starter as your four or five is perfectly solid. I’d probably rather roll the dice on Samardzija if the money was similar (let alone if Leake cost more), but Leake probably has the higher floor over the life of a four or five-year deal.

We’ll see if there winds up being more attaching the Cubs to Leake, and whether pursuing him would be part of a broader strategy (for example, spreading pitching money around the second tier of starters instead of going whole hog on one single pitcher).

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