Over the last month, I've given Mike Leake a lot of guff around here for being just a little above-average in his career. After talking it over with my therapist, though, I've determined that I was upset that Leake wasn't David Price, Johnny Cueto, or Cole Hamels. I realize that's unfair. Leake might be pretty okay, after all, even if I was hoping to be spoiled.
But he is long-term okay? Should the Giants be looking at this as two to three months of Leake plus the exclusive negotiating window at the end of the season? We have a Gammo bomb to thank for this wild speculation:
Giants think they can sign and keep Leake— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) July 31, 2015
Wheeeeeeee. If the Giants came out and said, "Well, obviously this is a rental because we certainly can't afford Mike Leake. I mean, c'mon, we're not made out of money," that would probably be bigger news. I would sure hope they would think they can sign and keep him.
The Giants have loved Leake for a long time, so the can-we-keep-him talk isn't much of a surprise. Let's take a quick look at the pros and cons.
The advantages of signing Leake long-term
The rotation for next year, as of now:
Clayton Blackburn? Ty Blach?
There's a clear need for a starter, then, especially because Peavy and Cain should give you doubts above and beyond the typical pitcher doubts. Leake would be a reasonable option for something like Ricky Nolasco (four years, $49 million) or Ervin Santana (four years, $54 million) money. Probably a tick more, after adjusting for market inflation. The Giants would get to keep their draft pick, and it wouldn't be a roster-melting sum of money.
Over his last three years, he's been pretty solid. Here's his average season:
The FIP suggests that Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart were of significant help to him over the years, as both are/were excellent fielders up the middle. It's not exactly the kind of pitching you see in your mind's eye when you close your eyes and dream about baseball, but it's valuable.
And as pointed out in this extensive look at Leake, he's consistently throwing harder than he used to. While that's not always the best thing for a sinkerballer, it's working as well as it ever has, and it gives hope that there's still room for improvement. He's just five months older than Chris Heston, after all.
One thing that stands out about Leake is that for a sinkerballer, he gives up more home runs than you might expect, averaging a little more than 20 per season. So that FIP up there might give you pause, but note that his xFIP is lower than his ERA. He didn't really get a lot of breaks in the NL Central; he'll get quite a few in the NL West. The Giants have three games in Texas, three in Arizona, and four in Colorado left in the year -- other than that, it's all neutral-to-offense suppressing. The Giants will get a pretty fair look at how his sinker plays in the NL West.
The disadvantages of signing Mike Leake
Mostly, opportunity cost. For example, when the Giants signed Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong this offseason, that meant they couldn't sign James Shields when his price dropped. That turned out to be a good thing, but next time it might cost the Giants. Norichika Aoki is having a nice season, but the reason the Giants aren't interested in Justin Upton is because they wouldn't have anywhere to put him. Aoki's preventing the Giants from getting a (debatable) improvement.
That rotation up there of Bumgarner/Heston/Cain/Peavy isn't terribly fearsome. It's what the Giants have now, and it's okay, with a little bit of upside, but not much. Leake would continue the pretty-okay theme.
This is the offseason of the super-starter, though. Price, Cueto, and Zack Greinke are all free agents. Jordan Zimmermann is available and outstanding; Doug Fister is available at a discount. Look at all these fabulous prizes!
And the Giants could end up with Mike Leake. Which is fine. But, yeah. He's the player you get when the Cole Hamels deal falls through, always and forever. In a rotation situation with two or three open spots, he's ideal. In a rotation situation where you have one ding-danged shot at making an impact, it's a little trickier to get behind.
The Giants don't have to decide now. They do have a young, cost-controlled infield that would really help Leake out, defensively. They get to see how he responds to the spacious parks of the NL West. They get to lease him, basically, and see if they can imagine him as a long-term solution. He just might be, although be wary of just how much the Giants could improve the team if he were around for next season.