Remember when it was assumed that the Giants would keep Mike Leake? They had the money, they had the need, and it looked like the perfect marriage of player, ballpark, and situation. The Giants didn't trade one of their best pitching prospects for eight weeks of a third starter in a doomed season. They traded one of their best pitching prospects for a blind date that could lead to a long-term relationship.
And now the Giants have Johnny Cueto and the Cardinals have Leake. Weird. The offseason is a first-year film school student writing a dumb screenplay based entirely on a series of ludicrous twists. A dumb, compelling screenplay.
So Leake will be with the Cardinals for five seasons, which will give him the chance to lose to the Giants and Tim Lincecum in the 2018 and 2020 NLCS, but the deal -- five years, $80 million -- isn't entirely ludicrous for a proven innings-eater. It's a little ludicrous, but these are the rates these fellas are going for these days.
Which brings us to the question posed in the headline. Leake got 5/$80 million. Jeff Samardzija got 5/$90 million. The extra two million every year will buy you about a third of an Alejandro De Aza, so let's pretend that Leake and Samardzija are on roughly the same deal.
Would you rather have Mike Leake for five years, $80 million, or Jeff Samardzija for five years, $90 million?
You get to keep Cueto in either scenario, of course. This is more of a personality test than anything. Do you like the steadiness of Leake, or the wish-on-a-rainbow potential of Samardzija?
According to FanGraphs, Samardzija is the better pitcher and has been for a few years. His worst fWAR over the past four years -- 2.7 -- is better than Leake's career high. And in a way, that's perfect, because FanGraphs' WAR is something of an abstraction. It's based on what a pitcher did (strikeouts, home runs, walks), and it assumes that whatever differences there might be with his ERA have something to do with defense or luck.
According to Baseball Reference, Samardzija is merely an average starter, averaging 1.7 WAR to Leake's 1.9 since 2012. Except Leake is almost three years younger than Samardzija. Even though Samardzija's innings have been limited because of his footballing and relieving, Leake still might have the fresher arm.
With Samardzija, you have 95 mph and the potential for more. A's fans saw that more when he made the All-Star team in 2014.
With Leake, you have the potential for, hey, yeah, alright, pretty nice. Pitchers don't make a lot of All-Star Games with that, but they help teams win.
This is a great argument to have. Steady vs. volatile. Dependable vs. erratic brilliance. They both cost scores of millions, so it's really a personal preference.
Oh, one last kicker: Samardzija cost the Giants their first-round pick. Considering their starting second baseman was a low-first-round pick, and considering their best trade chip was also a low-first-round pick, that's not a small consideration.
So who would you rather have? Leake and the draft pick at 5/$80m, or Samardzija for $10 million more? Tick tock, tick tock.