Eligible for arbitration for the first time in his career, Mike Leake won’t have to worry about actually ending up at a hearing with the Cincinnati Reds, as the two sides have agreed to a one-year, $3.06 million deal that will keep that from happening.
What he might have to concern himself with, though, is what type of role he’ll have for the Reds in 2013.
The 25-year old served as the Reds’ fifth starter last season, but with the team planning on finally converting closer Aroldis Chapman to a starting role this year, Leake will have his work cut out for him to start the season with that job in 2013.
It’s not as though he’s never had success in that role. Leake bypassed the minors on his way to the bigs in 2010, and posted a 4.23 ERA, 1.0 fWAR season over 22 starts as a rookie. He was even better the next year, as the righty made 26 starts, finishing the year with a 3.86/1.17 ERA/WHIP and 3.11 K/BB.
Those were the kinds of numbers that earned him a rotation spot in 2012, but Leake’s tendency to give up home runs pulled his ERA (4.58) closer to what his career FIP (4.43) would indicate, and he was never about to get into a consistent groove, even if he made strides on the road to becoming a reliable innings-eater, making 31 starts and even throwing two complete games.
That, however, may not be enough to stop the soft-tosser from having to face a roadblock in the form of Chapman’s potential.
Though he has been primarily groomed as a starter, Leake will essentially find himself in limbo when the team gets together for Spring Training. Bronson Arroyo isn’t going anywhere soon, and the bullpen is already potentially seven-deep, with and is a logjam waiting to be sorted out.
Leake can serve as a long man, though it’s doubtful that the team would cut his workload so dramatically after having worked him up to this point. They could also go with a six-man rotation as Chapman gets eased into starting, which makes sense, but isn’t exactly a long-term solution.
Essentially, Leake’s role in 2013 hinges on exactly what happens to Chapman, even though he’s probably good enough to be a fifth starter. If Chapman needs his innings limited, or if the whole experiment blows up Daniel Bard-style, Leake could find himself back in the rotation.
Until either happens, he’ll need some help to stick at the role that the Reds deemed him good enough for straight out of the draft.