It’s possible that Mike Leake will no longer be a Seattle Mariner by the time I finish writing this sentence. Okay, I’m done and he hasn’t been traded but my point still stands.
After nearly being dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks last week, Mike Leake‘s time in Seattle appears to be all but over. It’s just a matter of timing and finding the right deal. Today, we’re going to attempt to find that deal as we reboot our Trade-a-Day series from last year, and boy, is this one a doozy.
So, yeah, I’m sending Leake back to the team that traded him to the Emerald City amidst a wild card race just two seasons ago. This year, the Cardinals could use him and the stability he provides to any rotation.
With injury concerns swirling around Michael Wacha, Miles Mikolas, and the aging Adam Wainwright, St. Louis’ rotation is riddled with uncertainty. For years, Leake has been one of the most durable pitchers in the MLB, eclipsing 175+ innings in each season since 2012. Leake isn’t necessarily an upgrade from a talent standpoint, but his presence would stop the bleeding a bit.
Sitting at just 31-32, but only four games out of the second wild card, this is the kind of “one toe in” move the Cardinals could realistically make to stay competitive in 2019 without sacrificing top-end prospect capital or payroll flexibility.
This deal does get a little tricky in terms of finances, however, so let’s get into that. The thing that makes Leake so attractive on the open market is that $5 million of his $16 million AAV is paid down each year and is only costing the Mariners $11 million per season.
However, the organization making that annual $5 million payment to Seattle would be the St. Louis Cardinals. So unlike any other team that would potentially add Leake this season, St. Louis would essentially be adding Leake’s full contract to their books.
To help offset this money, however, I have the Mariners taking on the contract of 33-year-old outfielder Dexter Fowler. After a disastrous 2018 season, Fowler has bounced back nicely with a .243/.363/.379 slash line.
Past 2019, Fowler still has two years left on his contract at $16.5 million each fully guaranteed. So while Fowler may be having himself a decent year, it’s a deal the Cardinals would absolutely ship off in a heartbeat if the opportunity presented itself to them, especially after the horrors of last season.
Of course, what makes things even more complicated is that both Fowler and Leake have full no-trade clauses. There shouldn’t be too much of a struggle to get Leake, who’s been vocal about his not-so-certain future in Seattle, to waive his clause and have an opportunity to compete for a playoff spot. But why would Fowler waive his to go from a potential playoff contender and play for the Mariners, a team destined to land a bottom-ten record in the entire league?
To be honest, I don’t really have the answer to that (sick journalism, dude). Perhaps you sell him on the idea that he’ll get more opportunity to play in Seattle and continue building his stock back up in hopes of being traded to another contender in the near future. It’s also possible that Fowler could be immediately flipped to a team of his liking right after this deal were to be completed.
In any situation, the hope would be that Fowler isn’t a Mariner for too long. You don’t want him taking a roster spot and playing time from the likes of a Jake Fraley or Braden Bishop heading into the latter half of this season.
If you’re the Cardinals, however, this looks like a pretty sweet deal on paper. Unlike Fowler, the final year on Leake’s deal has an $18 million mutual option with a $5 million buyout. So, they’re really only on the hook for one full season of Leake at $16 million.
Initially, St. Louis would break even on payroll allocation for 2019 and 2020, but could potentially save $10 million in 2021 payroll by dumping Fowler if they choose to buy Leake out when the time comes.
On the flip-side, this means that the Mariners would be adding an additional $5 million to their payroll this year and next, and another $10 million in 2021, by adding Fowler. That wouldn’t float Jerry Dipoto’s boat in real trade discussions, so I’m having the Cardinals throw in a little cash, but not enough to make the deal an entire wash on both sides. Yes, I’m purposely being ambiguous about it.
In the end, the Mariners are adding future payroll one way or another in this trade, though they’re getting another potential trade chip in Fowler and a decent prospect for their troubles. That prospect would be 22-year-old outfielder Justin Toerner. You won’t find Toerner on any top prospects list, but he’s having a fantastic season for High-A Palm Beach, slashing .296/.409/.398 with four home runs, 29 RBIs, and four steals.
Selected in the 28th round of last year’s draft, the Cal State Northridge product is an average outfield defender with an above-average arm. For now, Toerner is still projected to be a career farmhand with hazy MLB aspirations. But if the hit tool sticks and shows out as it has thus far in his pro career, Toerner has a chance to transcend those projections and rise through the organizational ranks rather quickly.
Whenever the Mariners do trade Leake, they’re not going to get a whole lot of value. But in this deal specifically, they get a prospect that fits the mold of what they’ve targeted in the past and take on a veteran contract that could get them more on the market later on. At the very least, it stays on brand and keeps their options open.