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D-backs Decisions 2020: Mike Leake

Money makes the world go round...

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MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks-Media Day Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Diamondbacks have some tricky decisions coming up this winter. The financial landscape in 2021 is going to be difficult for many teams, with revenue this year slashed to a fraction of normal levels. While the free-agent market this winter will likely reflect the new, harsher climate, there will be no discounts on previously signed contracts. This means less room for discretionary spending. The first batch of such choices will take place shortly after the World Series, when teams have to exercise player options. I figured it might be worthwhile to discuss each of these in more detail, and see what the SnakePit consensus is in regard to each player.

Mike Leake

  • Age on Opening Day 2021: 33
  • 2020 salary: $15 million
  • 2020 performance: N/A
  • 2021 option: $18 million [per USA Today]
  • 2021 buyout: $5 million

Leake was dealt from the Mariners at the trade deadline last year, for infield prospect Jose Caballero. I seem to recall him sucking hard, but that’s mostly based on his first few games. Overall, he had an ERA+ of 104 for the D-backs, and with his reputation as an innings eater [he was #4 for NL innings pitched in the 2010’s, despite spending three years with Seattle!], seemed likely to be in Arizona’s rotation. Then COVID-19 hit, and Leake became the first major-league to opt out of the 2020 season. Since he was not considered “high-risk”, the decision cost him over $5 million; rather then earning about a pro-rated $5.5 million, he received only $286K, paid out to players on guaranteed contracts.

There is a mutual option for next year, and at first, it seems a no-brainer, with the emphasis firmly on “no”. $18 million is a high price for league-average [Leake’s career ERA+ = 99], especially for a team that finished last in their division this year. If all that money would be due to the D-backs, then it seems likely they’ll pass. Even with a certain Cuban outfielder coming off the books in a few days, the massive reduction in revenue this year makes it highly unlikely the team will have much money to throw around. But the situation with regard to who pays Leake is staggeringly murky. If he hadn’t opted out this year, he’d have been getting paid by the Diamondbacks, Cardinals AND Mariners.

Here’s what Cot’s Baseball Contract has to say about his deal:

  • 5 years/$80M (2016-20), plus 2021 mutual option
    signed by St. Louis as a free agent 12/22/15
  • 16: $12M, 17: $15M, 18: $17M, 19: $16M, 20: $15M, 21:$18M mutual option ($5M buyout)
  • full no-trade protection
  • acquired by Seattle in trade from St. Louis 8/30/17, with $55,622,950 remaining on contract (Cardinals pay Mariners $17.5M: $2.5M in 2017, $6M in 2018, $5M in 2019, $4M in 2020)
  • acquired by Arizona in trade from Seattle 7/31/19 with $25,161,290 remaining on contract
  • as part of the trade, Seattle pays Arizona $18,982,258, including $4,982,258 on 9/1/19, $9M in 2020 (paid in four installments of $2.5M each on 4/15, 6/1, 7/15 and 9/1) and $5M buyout 1/15/21

Damn. I’ve watched entire narconovelas which had less cash getting moved about. A few questions and thoughts on the above:

  • Did the Mariners actually pay the D-backs $9 million this year? I would imagine that they didn’t, because Leake opted out. But I doubt anyone expected this situation when the trade went through. Check the fine print, Ken! Or maybe Seattle just forgot to remove the pre-scheduled payments from their online banking site. :)
  • Four installments of $2.5M should be $10 million, not $9 million?
  • Note that Seattle is responsible for paying Leake’s buyout. However, it doesn’t appear that they will contribute anything if the option is exercised.

While it’s still pretty uncertain, especially with the coming financial crash, it seems almost assured the D-backs will cut Leake free. They will be able to walk away without any commitment, making the Mariners cough up the five millions bucks that go along with Leake’s freedom. The only exception would be if the Mariners still paid the amount described above, effectively reducing Leake’s cost this year to $9 million. However, even in that (unlikely) event, there’s presumably no obligation for the D-backs to spend the money received on Leake. There may well be better places to use it. All told, I would be very surprised if he was with the team in 2021. To the point I’m not even bothering with a poll!