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Texas Rangers rumors: Mike Leake, potential offseason acquisition

Taking a look at Cincinnati righthander Mike Leake, a potential offseason trade target for the Rangers

Joe Robbins

Texas Rangers rumors:  Mike Leake, righthanded pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, is someone the Texas Rangers could potentially pursue this offseason via trade.

The Cincinnati Reds came into the 2014 season with a $114 million payroll and designs on contending.  The season ended up being a disappointment for them, however, as they ended the year at 76-86, finishing 4th in the N.L. Central.

There has been extensive speculation that the Reds could look to move one of their starting pitchers this offseason, as they have four starters -- Leake, Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, and Alfredo Simon -- who are free agents after the 2015 season.  The Reds have a $10 million option on Cueto for 2015 that they will surely exercise, but Leake, Latos and Simon are all arbitration-eligible.

The Reds will have $80 million committed for 2015 salaries once they exercise the Cueto option.  Leake is looking at making around $8 million in 2015, while Latos will likely be in the $10-12 million range.  Aroldis Chapman will be arb-eligible as well, and will likely be in the $10-12 million range, as well.  Speculation has been that Cincy will not want to bump payroll up enough to keep all the arb-eligible guys while also addressing other needs, and while Leake is the least expensive of these pitchers (other than Simon), he's also, other than Simon, the weakest of the group, and so could be a prime candidate to get dealt.

Mike Leake was taken by the Reds out of Arizona State with the 8th overall pick in the 2009 (the infamous Matt Purke draft, if you want to get mad at Tom Hicks all over again).  The report on Leake coming out of college was that he was a polished starting pitcher who would be major league ready quickly, but who had a relatively low ceiling.

And that's pretty much what happened with Leake.  He made the Reds rotation in 2010 out of training camp, spent all year with the team, and has established himself as a serviceable innings-eater.  His bWAR from 2011-2014, by season:  1.6, 0.5, 3.0, 1.5.  His fWAR from 2011-14, by season:  1.2, 1.2, 1.6, 1.9.  He throws strikes, doesn't miss many bats, and gives up homers.  He's basically a fun-size Joe Blanton.

Leake projects as a 1.5-2 win pitcher in 2015.  You don't want a 1.5-2 win pitcher as your #3 starter...however, given the funds the Rangers have available to spend, and the Matt Harrison and Martin Perez injury situation, unless the Rangers want to give up significant prospects via trade, they may well be looking at having a 1.5-2 win pitcher slotting in behind Yu Darvish and Derek Holland for the 2015 season.  And if so, Leake may not be the worst option.

Of course, the Rangers would have to give up something to get Leake from the Reds, and given that the Reds have multiple pitchers they can shop, it makes it harder to figure out what it would take to get Leake, since if the market for him is soft, they could opt to deal Cueto, who would bring a handsome return, or Latos, who would also fetch more than Leake.  There's also going to be a lot of buyers of starting pitching out there, which could drive prices up.

So I'm hesitant to speculate about what the Rangers would have to part with in order to land Leake.  I would think that it would be a couple of prospects who are closer to fringe-types than impact-types, but given the potential overheated market this offseason, who knows, it could be substantially more than that, in which case, I'd imagine Texas would pass.  But regardless, Leake is someone to keep an eye on once the hot stove season starts heating up.