Seattle Mariners Off-Season Roster Crunch: Wade LeBlanc
One of the biggest surprises of the 89 wins 2018 Mariners team was the quality year they received from journeyman left-handed pitcher, Wade LeBlanc.
In fact, LeBlanc was so good that the Mariners rewarded him with an extension of sorts, though one that was extremely team-friendly. The extension basically works as follows: LeBlanc is pitching 2019 for a salary of $450,000 with a series of 3 option years after that.
The 3 options are all vesting options, with the caveat that if LeBlanc can throw 160 innings in 2019, his $5 million team option becomes guaranteed. Entering his start against Toronto on Friday, LeBlanc was only at 98 innings, meaning his chances to get to 160 innings are slim.
This also means the Mariners will likely get to decide whether or not they want to opt into what is basically a 1-year, $5 million deal with two options similar to this option. In the grand scheme of things, $5 million to an MLB baseball team isn’t a tough pill to swallow. But a spot on a 25 man roster is valuable and a spot in a rotation is even more so.
2019 hasn’t been kind to LeBlanc, who has struggled with a 5.25 FIP, a 1.37 WHIP, and averaging nearly 2 home runs per nine innings pitched. All of these numbers are bad, and a far cry from his 2018 marks of 4.28 FIP, 1.18 WHIP, and 1.3 HR/9.
The Mariners may be showing their hand towards their plans with LeBlanc in 2020. They have deployed an opener for most of his appearances this season, suggesting they don’t believe he can get through the meat of order 3 times with regularity.
The real issue is that if LeBlanc is likely going to get bounced from the rotation at some point in 2020, is it worth paying a soft-tossing lefty reliever $5 million to throw 60 innings? No. But LeBlanc does have one thing going for him: he has a reputation as a great mentor in the clubhouse, specifically to young lefty Marco Gonzales.
This relationship is unlikely to tip the scales strongly, but it is a factor that needs to be considered. The Mariners could absorb the option for one season, but if 2020 is about moving yourself forward, paying a 35-year-old #5 starter for what could be as a little as 50 innings isn’t a good investment.
Perhaps you can decline the option and work out a lesser deal for Wade. But for now, LeBlanc’s option remains one of the more interesting roster decisions the team will need to make shortly after the postseason ends.