Mike Leake Rumors

Trade Candidate(s): The Reds’ Starting Pitchers

The Reds’ hopes of challenging in the NL Central were dimmed by several major injuries this year, and this visit from the injury bug was particularly damaging to a team who already faced some big decisions in the offseason.  With just over $71MM committed to 10 players on the 2015 payroll, the mid-market Reds may be forced to save some money by moving a starting pitcher.  Though Cincinnati’s durable and deep rotation has been a big part of the club’s success in recent years, pitching seems like a natural area for payroll reduction simply due to the fact that three starters will enter their third year of arbitration eligibility.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Baltimore OriolesTwo pitchers who won’t be dealt are Homer Bailey and Tony Cingrani.  The Reds have already committed to Bailey in the form of a six-year, $105MM extension, and wouldn’t have been likely to move him even if Bailey hadn’t recently undergone forearm surgery.  Cingrani has also had injury problems, spending most of 2014 on the DL with shoulder problems.  Had Cingrani been able to build off of his impressive 2013 rookie season, the Reds would’ve felt at least a bit better about trading one of their more established starters (Bronson Arroyo wasn’t re-signed last winter in part because the Reds were comfortable with Cingrani).

It’s possible Cincinnati could trade multiple starters, though I’d suspect that the team wouldn’t want to lose too much pitching depth until they know Bailey and Cingrani are fully healthy.  The Reds would probably rather not have David Holmberg or Dylan Axelrod as full-time rotation members next year, top prospect Robert Stephenson still needs some seasoning (a 4.74 ERA in 136 2/3 IP at Double-A in 2014) and the newly-signed Raisel Iglesias could still wind up in the bullpen.

The Reds’ other four pitchers are all controlled only through 2015, so the team likely wouldn’t score a truly huge return in a trade but all carry value even as one-year pitchers.  The candidates…

Johnny Cueto: The Reds have a $10MM option on Cueto for 2015 that is sure to be exercised given how well Cueto has pitched.  After an injury-shorted 2013, Cueto bounced back in a major way by posting a 2.15 ERA, 8.9 K/9 and 3.73 K/BB rate over a league-leading 222 innings.

Cueto’s next contract will be in the nine-figure range, and it’s unclear if the Reds would be willing ink another major extension given how much money has been tied up in recent deals with Bailey, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips.  Cueto would net the biggest return in a trade, though moving their ace would seem to hint that the Reds are punting on 2015, which I doubt they’re prepared to do.  On the other hand, the Reds could trade Cueto for Major League parts (such what the Rays and Red Sox received for David Price, John Lackey and Jon Lester before last July’s trade deadline) and use a Cueto deal to reload rather than rebuild.

Keeping Cueto would give the Reds stability at the top of their rotation, and they could still explore dealing Cueto at next year’s trade deadline if they fall out of the race.  If they’re contending and wanted to keep Cueto, Cincinnati could then get a compensatory draft pick via the qualifying offer if he leaves in free agency after the 2015 season.

In a recent Insider-only piece, ESPN’s Buster Olney recently explored Cueto’s trade market and raised the possibility that the Reds could clear some payroll space by attaching Phillips, for example, to Cueto in a trade package.  With several notable starters available as free agents this winter, Olney believes some teams might prefer trading for a year of Cueto rather than making an expensive multiyear commitment for an ace on the open market.  Also, a contending team that potentially loses their ace in free agency (such as if Max Scherzer leaves the Tigers or James Shields leaves the Royals) could look to Cueto as a short-term replacement to keep their rotation strong for another run in 2015.

Mat Latos: Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports recently cited Latos as perhaps the likeliest of the Reds’ starters to be dealt, as both Latos and Cueto can make a case for commanding an extension larger than Bailey’s deal.  While Cueto is two years older than Latos, presumably the Reds would be more inclined to extend their homegrown product than they would Latos, who missed part of 2014 with an elbow injury.  Latos has a 3.25 ERA in 102 1/3 IP this year, though ERA indicators show that he hasn’t pitched quite that well (3.64 FIP, 4.00 xFIP, 4.08 SIERA) and both his ground ball and strikeout rates dropped significantly below his career averages.  The right-hander’s average fastball velocity also dropped to 90.7 mph, down from 92.5 mph in 2013.

The Reds already tested the market for Latos at the trade deadline, so I tend to agree with Rosenthal that if a Cincy starter is moved, it’ll probably be Latos.  His declined numbers could be explained by his elbow issues, and if fully healthy, Latos could be a standout front-of-the-rotation starter for several teams.  He earned $7.25MM in 2014 in the last year of a two-year extension, and he’ll be eligible for arbitration for a third and final time this winter.

Mike Leake: Another pitcher with a third arb year remaining, Leake will get a raise from his $5.925MM salary in 2014.  The right-hander has been a reliable rotation piece over his five Major League seasons, not missing many bats (career 6.1 K/9) but inducing a lot of grounders (49.8% ground ball rate) and eating a lot of innings, averaging 191 IP over the last three years.

Leake comes with the fewest question marks of any Cincinnati starter, lacking the injury histories of Cueto and Latos but also never pitching nearly as well as those two have at their peaks.  While Leake’s ceiling in the bigs may never surpass the “solid” level (he has an even 100 ERA+ over his career), this also means that the Reds could extend him at a much lower price than Cueto or Latos.  A Leake extension could look something like the five-year, $65MM deal the White Sox gave John Danks a few years ago, as Leake and Danks are decent comparables in terms of age and career numbers to that point in their careers, plus both had one arb year left before free agency.

The Reds put Leake and Latos on revocable waivers in August, possibly in a move to gauge trade interest for the upcoming offseason.  I’d guess there’s a better chance Leake stays in Cincinnati than goes, though the Reds will certainly get interest in the durable 26-year-old.

Alfredo Simon: The big surprise of the group, the 33-year-old Simon moved from the bullpen to the rotation as an injury fill-in and wound up making his first All-Star team.  Though his performance has very much come back to earth in the second half, Simon still has a 3.48 ERA through 178 1/3 innings on the season despite a middling 5.9 K/9.

Simon is arb-eligible for the third time this winter and he’ll earn a healthy raise over his $1.5MM salary, though the raise will hardly break the bank.  Simon’s age and career track record give him a very modest amount of trade value, so it’s likely he stays with the Reds and competes for the fifth starter’s job (or returns to the pen) if and when a rotation spot opens up via trade.

With this variety of available starters and a wide variance in asking prices for each of the four pitchers, many teams could fit as potential trade partners for the Reds under the “you can never have too much pitching” argument.  If the Reds look to deal a starter and fill an everyday lineup hole at the same time, they’ll likely target a left fielder or a shortstop as upgrades on Ryan Ludwick and Zack Cozart, respectively.  Ludwick has a $9MM mutual option for 2015 but after two negative fWAR seasons, the Reds might instead buy him out (for a deferred $4.5MM) and look for other options.

Using these needs to speculate about trade partners, the Cubs, Diamondbacks and possibly the Indians stand out as teams with a shortstop surplus.  The Red Sox have a glut of outfielders and are known to be looking for starting pitching.  The Dodgers could finally solve their long-standing logjam in the outfield and, if it meant getting back Cueto or Latos, would be willing to eat a lot of salary on one of their high-priced outfield bats.

As Ken Rosenthal noted (video link), the Reds could employ some gamesmanship with their starters and perhaps leverage them against each other in figuring out which (if any) pitchers they want to sign over the long term.  Between these negotiations and waiting for the free agent pitching market to play out, Cincinnati might wait until January or even February to move a starter.  At this point, the only thing that seems certain about the Reds’ 2015 rotation is that at least one of Cueto, Latos, Leake or Simon won’t be on the roster come Opening Day.

Photo courtesy of Joy R. Absalon/USA Today Sports Images


AL West Notes: Dunn, A’s, McDonald, Ackley

In an excellent piece at Fangraphs, August Fagerstrom looks at the Athletics‘ acquisition of Adam Dunn as the final piece of GM Billy Beane’s playoff roster. Fagerstrom notes that if the A’s play in a Wild Card game — which is very likely — they’ll likely face either Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Shields, Yordano Ventura, Max Scherzer or David Price. Five of the six are right-handed, making Dunn a formidable weapon in such a matchup. Beyond that, Fagerstrom looks at the Athletics’ bench versus a right-handed pitcher and versus a left-handed pitcher, noting that each group is composed of entirely different players (with the exception of Sam Fuld). However, each group will also feature two catchers that can hit reasonably well, an infielder that can play all four infield positions, and a pair of elite defensive outfielders. The balance of the roster is truly impressive, and Fagerstrom’s piece highlights the roster construction particularly well.

Here’s more from the AL West…

  • In a lengthy piece for ESPN The Magazine, Tim Keown spoke with Beane at length about his team’s bold moves this season and the competition they’re facing in their quest for the World Series. Beane referred to division rival Mike Trout as “the best player who has ever walked on the planet” and said he doesn’t care for the narrative that the A’s are “all in” this season: “Just assume that every move we make in the front office means we’re all-in. We can’t afford a five-year plan, so every move means we’re trying to win every game we possibly can. All-in — I never liked that term. For one thing, I don’t have that many chips to throw into the middle of the table.” Keown also spoke with Jon Lester about his trade from the Red Sox to Oakland, and his piece also contains quotes from assistant GM Farhan Zaidi and Jeff Samardzija. The entire article is well worth the read not only for A’s fans, but for baseball fans in general.
  • Angels infielder John McDonald tells Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com that he may end up retiring following the 2014 season. McDonald says he’s more than aware of his dwindling playing time — he’s received just 81 PA despite appearing in 81 games this season — and knows the market for 40-year-old infielders isn’t great. “I got more out of my career than I ever thought was possible,” said McDonald. “I didn’t think I’d get a day in the big leagues, let alone parts of 16 years.” For the time being, he’s trying not to even think about the offseason, however, as it’s “just too much fun” to go to the stadium every day in the midst of a pennant race.
  • In a second Fangraphs piece pertaining to the AL West, Tony Blengino (former special assistant to the GM with the Mariners) looks at Dustin Ackley‘s batted ball data in an attempt to determine whether or not his second-half resurgence is legitimate. As Blengino notes, Ackley’s production has soared on pulled fly-balls, and his line-drive production has trended upward as well. The trade off has been some loss of authority on ground-balls, but as he notes, hitters will gladly make that swap. Blengino concludes that Ackley may never become a star, as his previously excellent walk rate now looks more pedestrian, but he’s capable of hitting .275-.280 with a .310-.310 OBP and a slugging percentage around .425 with solid-or-better defense in left field — an asset that seemed unlikely just a few months ago.
  • Also of interest, Blengino discusses how those with the benefit of hindsight may wonder why Trout didn’t go at the top of the draft class when Ackley was selected, but most clubs felt he was too raw to select near the top of the draft despite being an obvious talent. The Mariners had Stephen Strasburg atop their board and Ackley second, and current Reds righty Mike Leake was “likely” their backup plan should anything go wrong with Ackley, whom he says was “considered a pretty obvious second selection back in 2009.”

Mat Latos, Mike Leake On Revocable Waivers

With August wrapping up, the window for teams to sneak players through revocable waivers is coming to a close. Those who are interested can check out MLBTR’s list of players that have cleared revocable waivers, and those that are still unfamiliar with revocable waivers and August trades in general can check out our August trade primer.

With that said, we’ll keep track of today’s list of players that have been placed on revocable waivers here…

  • Reds right-handers Mat Latos and Mike Leake were both placed on revocable waivers yesterday, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter links). However, a trade of either is unlikely. Cincinnati is expected to move a starter this prior to next season, says Rosenthal, but it’s unlikely to happen until they can negotiate with all 29 other clubs. (Obviously, Latos and Leake aren’t going to clear waivers.) Latos, 26, is earning $7.25MM this season and is eligible for arbitration for the final time this winter. He opened the year on the DL but has turned in a 2.99 ERA in 84 1/3 innings, albeit with a career-low 6.1 K/9 (his 2.5 BB/9 rate is right in line with his career marks). Leake, also 26 and arb-eligible for the final time this offseason, is earning $5.925MM in 2014. He’s posted a 3.51 ERA with 7.0 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and a career-best 54.4 percent ground-ball rate. The other 14 National League teams will have priority (in record of reverse standings) before the Cincinnati righties are exposed to the AL (also in reverse order of standings).


Rosenthal On Reds, Latos, Tomas, Gregorius

The Reds had yet to place any of their starting pitchers on waivers as of Saturday morning, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports in his weekly “Full Count” video. As Rosenthal notes, their waiver status may be a moot point, as each would likely be claimed and subsequently pulled back. More highlights regarding the Reds and the rest of the league below…

  • The real drama surrounding the Reds‘ rotation could come this offseason, as Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon will all be entering their final year of team control. The Reds will have to decide which, if any, they want to sign to a long-term deal, and Rosenthal notes that they will likely trade “at least” one. Latos is perhaps the likeliest candidate to be dealt, according to Rosenthal, who notes that both Latos and Cueto would command more than Homer Bailey‘s six-year, $105MM contract.
  • Rusney Castillo‘s six-year, $72.5MM contract with the Red Sox might not stand as the largest deal for a Cuban free agent very long. Yasmani Tomas is expected to be cleared as a free agent this offseason, and his huge raw power will be highly appealing, even if he is limited to left field, defensively speaking. As Rosenthal points out, Tomas is four years younger than Castillo and is against a crop of weak free agent bats. One executive that spoke with Rosenthal said the only flaw he sees in Castillo is his propensity to swing and miss.
  • Rosenthal points back to a report of his prior to the trade deadline in which he had learned that the Nationals were looking for a young shortstop on the trade market. He’s now learned that Didi Gregorius of the Diamondbacks was one of their targets. Washington had planned on playing Gregorius at second base in the near-term and moving him back over to shortstop if Ian Desmond could not be retained. Of course, the club still wants to extend Desmond, who is a free agent following the 2015 season.

NL Notes: Reds, Heyward, Gonzalez, Rockies

MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark doesn't expect the Collective Bargaining Agreement to be reopened before its 2016 expiration to address issues with the qualifying offer system, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. "It’s very difficult to open up a CBA," said Clark. "Suffice it to say, if there are issues during the course of any agreement, we continue to have discussions that may not require the CBA be to opened up, making sure that whatever the concerns are, whatever the issues are, and if they can be discussed in some more formal fashion, so be it, but more often than not, come 2016 when we have an opportunity to sit down is when we’ll do so." Last night, Aaron Steen asked MLBTR readers about the qualifying offer and nearly 47% want to tweak the QO while 25% want to eliminate it entirely.

In National League news and notes on Oscar Sunday:  

  • With the ink barely dry on Homer Bailey's six-year, $105MM contract extension, the Reds will be in the same situation with starters Mat Latos, Mike Leake, and Johnny Cueto next year. Owner Bob Castellini told the Cincinnati Enquirer's John Fay the team wants to retain all three. "We’re going to try to sign all these guys," Castellini said. "Whether we can or not, I don’t know. I don’t have a crystal ball."
  • Castellini also told Fay he is not pleased with the media's coverage of the Reds' offseason because it has had an adverse affect on the team's revenues. "That season-ticket number is the most important number we can generate," said Castellini. "We knew we wanted to sign Homer. We knew we were going to make some other commitments. It’s not that we didn’t look. It gets written in such a way – 'Well, the Reds aren’t doing anything' – that really does affect people buying season tickets." Castellini provided Fay with details of the club's revenue generated through ticket sales, sponsorships, and the national TV contract adding neither he nor any of the other principal owners or investors have ever taken money out of the franchise.  
  • Last month, the Braves gave Jason Heyward a two-year, $13.3MM contract. In two years, the perfect storm of baseball's economics, Heyward's age, and actions taken by the Braves will set the 24-year-old up for a huge payday on a likely barren free agent market, according to Mike Petriello of ESPN.com in an Insider-only piece (subscription required).
  • With mixed reviews to date, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez made his Spring Training debut yesterday. Phillies GM Ruban Amaro Jr. was upbeat about what he saw, reports MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. "He probably threw better with his stuff as far as his velocity and breaking ball since he's been in camp," Amaro said. "I was encouraged that his stuff was better than it had been in his sides. And hopefully it will continue to progress in a positive way." Pitching coach Bob McClure added (as quoted by Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Inquirer), "I saw a very competitive (guy), and that is what I was really hoping for. And he might be one of those guys that’s not the best practice player, but you put him in a game and he competes." Reports surfaced last week Gonzalez could open the season in the minors.
  • Solid pitching will be key to any improvement the Rockies hope to make this season. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick focuses on young starters Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler while the Denver Post's Troy E. Renck examines the Rockies' adherence to pitch counts to protect their starting rotation and the corresponding reliance on their bullpen, which could be called upon to record 10 or 11 outs every game. 

Reds, Mike Leake Avoid Arbtration

The Reds and Mike Leake have avoided arbitration, according to the Beverly Hills Sports Council (via Twitter).  He'll get $5.925MM plus incentives, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (Twitter links).

Leake, a former No. 8 overall draft pick, was in his second year of arbitration eligibility. The Arizona State product is controllable through the 2015 season and should join a rotation that will also include Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and Tony Cingrani in 2014. The Reds still have unsettled arb cases with Bailey and closer Aroldis Chapman, as MLBTR's Arb Tracker shows.

MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz nailed his projection on Leake, pegging him for a $5.9MM salary this offseason.


Reds, Leake Avoid Arbitration

The Reds avoided arbitration with right-hander Mike Leake, Mark Sheldon of MLB.com reports. The sides agreed to a one-year deal worth $3.06MM for 2013.

Leake had asked for $3.5MM with the Reds offering $2.65MM, as MLBTR's Arb Tracker shows. Leake, a Beverly Hills Sports Council client, had been arbitration eligible for the first time this winter. The 25-year-old has two more years of arbitration eligibility and will hit free agency following the 2015 season.

The Reds had a number of noteworthy arbitration cases this offseason, and three of them remain unresolved. Shin-Soo Choo, Homer Bailey and Mat Latos are all still unsigned, as noted on our Arb Tracker. Be sure to check out MLBTR's Arbitration Basics for a primer on the process.


Rockies, Reds Have Discussed Fowler

2:19pm: Talks between the Phillies and Rockies never got serious, Renck reports (on Twitter). Talks with the Reds could pick up, but Colorado's demands haven't changed.

1:18pm: The Phillies had some serious talks with the Rockies about Fowler before acquiring Ben Revere, Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com reports (Twitter links). The Mariners have also checked in on Fowler, who seems to be a backup plan for Seattle.

11:21pm: The Rockies and Reds have engaged in preliminary trade talks about Dexter Fowler, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. Cincinnati could trade players from its MLB roster, but right-hander Homer Bailey will likely remain with the Reds, according to Rosenthal.

Any Reds package would start with Mike Leake and involve at least two more prospects, Troy Renck of the Denver Post reported last night. The Reds maintain interest in Fowler and the Braves can't be ruled out, Renck adds.

Reds general manager Walt Jocketty recently downplayed the chances of trading for Fowler, saying he hasn’t really talked to the Rockies. “I’m not sure Colorado is moving Fowler,” Jocketty said, according to Mark Sheldon of MLB.com. John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer suggested this week that the Reds could make a run at acquiring Fowler.

From a financial standpoint trading for Fowler would be more affordable than signing Michael Bourn. Fowler, a 26-year-old switch hitter, posted a .300/.389/.474 batting line in 530 plate appearances this past season. He's second time arbitration eligible with a projected salary of $4MM and will remain under team control through 2015.

Rosenthal suggests the Reds could trade MLB players such as Leake and outfielder Drew Stubbs


Platform Years For First-Time Eligible Starters

Clayton Kershaw's salary jumped from $500K to $7.5MM this year, and it wasn't just because of his Cy Young performance. Kershaw qualified for arbitration for the first time in his career over the winter, so he obtained the right to establish his salary by comparing his production to that of his peers.

James McDonald (Pirates) - PW

Though $7MM raises are reserved for elite performers like Kershaw, many first-time eligible starting pitchers will see their salaries rise from $500K or so to $2-4.5MM this coming offseason. A player’s case depends in large part on his career numbers, but his most recent season, or platform year, matters a great deal. 

Advanced statistics like xFIP, wins above replacement and swinging strike rate don't generally figure in to arbitration cases. Instead, traditional stats such as innings, starts, wins and ERA determine players' salaries.

With one third of the season now complete, let’s check in on the prominent starting pitchers on track to be first-time arbitration eligible this coming offseason:

(more…)


Heyman On Mets, Pujols, Chapman, Yankees

Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon are closer to settling on a limited partner who will bring cash and keep the organization running, according to Jon Heyman of SI.com. Unlike the Dodgers, whose ownership situation “seems to be deteriorating,” the Mets are doing fine, according to Commissioner Bud Selig. Here’s the latest from Heyman:

  • If Dodgers owner Frank McCourt has support, it’s either “minute or nonexistent.”
  • People who know Mets GM Sandy Alderson expect him to trade Jose Reyes and others if he believes it’s best for the organization.
  • There’s no indication yet that the Cubs would be willing to offer Albert Pujols $200MM or more in free agency, Heyman writes. However, the Cubs have money and no long-term answer at first base.
  • Some baseball people believe Aroldis Chapman and Mike Leake could use time in the minors.
  • Though the Yankees aren’t concerned with Derek Jeter’s bat, they are “very concerned” about Jorge Posada. The DH has a .162/.273/.352 line with 6 homers this year.