Of the many surprising narratives to jump out of 2018, none may have been more out of nowhere than Wade LeBlanc. With the risk of regression always looming, do the Mariners see a future with LeBlanc, and if so, in what role?
On July 3, the Mariners signed LeBlanc to an option-heavy extension that, at the very least, guarantees him a spot on their roster in 2019. It’s an extremely team-friendly deal, but one that LeBlanc happily welcomes considering how close he was to exiting the MLB for good.
The Mariners signed LeBlanc after he was cut by the Yankees in the middle of Spring Training. It was a big league deal, though the M’s initially saw him as no more than an occasional long relief pitcher who could start in a pinch.
Well, that pinch came in a hurry after Erasmo Ramirez quickly found himself on the disabled list. Making his first start at the beginning of May, LeBlanc finished the month allowing just six runs in six starts. He wasn’t flashy by any means, but he gave the Mariners solid innings. For that, he stuck.
Despite a few hiccups sprinkled here and there, LeBlanc never fell to the regression we all assumed was coming. Some will say he’s been the Mariners’ best pitcher this season, and that may not be as far-fetched as one may think. In the very least, I think everyone can agree that LeBlanc was the Mariners’ most consistent pitcher.
Still, LeBlanc feels like one of the most likely Mariners to hit a wall in 2019. Thankfully, his deal is so team-friendly that they’re not handcuffed in any way in the event that does happen. However, certain decisions this offseason may hinge upon LeBlanc’s role going forward.
While LeBlanc has been spectacular this season, it’s not ridiculous to question whether or not the Mariners are comfortable with guaranteeing him a spot in their rotation. Given the doubt infused in what I’ve written up to this point, they shouldn’t be… at least, not fully.
There is no question that LeBlanc has greatly overachieved in 2018. Yet, this has only been his third full season as a starter, and his first in nearly a decade. In terms of fWAR, three of his four best seasons have come as a full-time starter.
Perhaps the rotation is where LeBlanc has always belonged and he’s a late bloomer a la Rich Hill. Therefore, it’s not of the question that LeBlanc may continue to be a sturdy pitcher with the light threat of being a rare, occasional mess.
The Mariners have another option with LeBlanc: sell high on him while they have the chance. However, while LeBlanc would likely have a market out there for him, it’s hard to gauge what his actual value would be.
Given how well he’s pitched this season plus his insanely team-friendly contract, he could land the Mariners a decent piece or two in a deal. Such a deal, though, may have been a better fit in a stale market similar to last year’s. With some serious talent out on the free agent market this offseason, teams will likely not revert to the desperation we witnessed last Winter.
But the Mariners have the option to look for a deal, and they should at least listen if the phone rings. If not, LeBlanc truly isn’t doing any harm being a part of the roster. It’s just how he may affect their approach to, say, the starting pitching market in free agency.
It’s also possible that, due to his cheap contract and flexibility, he’ll have no effect on anything whatsoever.
In any case, Wade LeBlanc makes the Mariners better. Whether it’s as a trade chip or their fifth starter, signing him last March was one of the better moves of Jerry Dipoto’s tenure.