We are a few days away from the 2019 MLB Trade Deadline, so, in a few days, this piece that I am spending my Sunday afternoon writing at the coffee shop down the street from my place in Atlanta will be lost in the archives forever. Nobody gives a shit about trade possibilities on August 1. Old news, pal. This is true when you are tasked with writing about draft-related topics in sports, free-agency primers, free-agency reactions and the list goes on and on. There is always another thing on the horizon. Does that mean I am not going to write about why Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Mike Leake was meant to be an Atlanta Brave knowing he might very well be a New York Yankee in a manner of hours? Absolutely not. We’re doing this, folks. Mike Leake, Atlanta Braves starting pitcher makes too much sense.
One of the more frustrating elements of this time of year, outside of it being too hot for me to not wear shorts in Atlanta, is the amount ridiculous trade ideas tossed around by fans and even analysts from time to time. If what you’re pitching has no earthly chance of happening, what are you even doing? You can pitch Madison Bumgarner for Cristian Pache, Austin Riley and Kyle Wright until you’re blue in the face but you are wasting your breath. Dave Dombrowski isn’t running the Atlanta Braves, some mysterious figure(s) in Colorado is. Sustainability while pseudo-contending is the blueprint, like it or not, so making a big-time move like trading for an ace who can walk after the season is not going to happen. Should it happen? That’s a conversation for another day.
If the Braves were to have another year or two of controllable years of Bumgarner, a blockbuster is more realistic. The less risk, the better. Trading for Bumgarner now would be the Braves’ front office letting the Los Angeles Dodgers know they actually think they can beat them this fall when it counts. The Braves are too smart to think they’ve got a realistic chance at taking down the powerhouse Dodgers with the MVP-favorite and a starting rotation that is borderline insanity. The Braves are the second-best team in a one-team league. The Braves are really good, but they are not good enough. If the Braves would like to be good enough, they’d have to take a page out of AJ Preller’s book and trade the farm.
That’s part of what makes Leake a realistic fallback option for the Braves down the stretch. If Max Fried were healthy, if Mike Foltynewicz was pitching like it was 2018, and Julio Teheran wasn’t the most frustrating pitcher in the universe, you would think bigger than a solid arm like Leake because it’d feel more like your year. Instead, outside of superstar teenager Mike Soroka, the Braves have far more questions than answers in the rotation. Dallas Keuchel has been fine, but this team needs more. To take it a step further, to keep the Washington Nationals at bay, the team just needs more help not only this year, but next year, too. Leake, unlike Bumgarner, has one more year on his deal, something that I’m sure the Braves’ brass prefers.
The Braves should also like the fact that Leake won’t cost what it would cost to trade for somebody like Bumgarner, even in a walk year. To take it a step further, Atlanta fans should prefer the Braves do business with Jerry Dipoto rather than Farhan Zaidi. This is always the most underrated part of trade-deadline hypothesizing -- call the bad general managers. In a league where it seems like every team has a smart general manager in their front office, the Mariners are ostensibly one of the few that do not. You call the New York Knicks when you want to make a deal for Andrea Bargnani not Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics. If Leake were pitching for, say, the Houston Astros and the latter were having a season similar to the Mariners, something tells me the return would look a little bit different.
But the Braves should be thinking bigger than Leake and his 4.43 xFIP. There is nothing attractive about trading for Leake at the deadline in 2019 -- is this where I make a joke out Leake’s long brown hair? No, it is not. Since the Braves signed Keuchel and the bullpen mostly got back on track and the offense decided to become one of the league’s best in June, the “financial flexibility” jokes have mostly fallen by the wayside. Now, the starting rotation is crumbling, it’s hard to feel at ease whenever Luke Jackson is trying to close a game out and Austin Riley might actually just be a nice platoon guy who hits a lot of home runs for low average for his entire career. If the Red Sox were in the Braves’ shoes right now, they’d be more aggressive in doing everything they could to match the Dodgers’ doom squad, but that is not what this team is about. This team is about kinda contending for the next 10 years, not trying to win a title in two. Masai Ujiri and the Toronto Raptors’ front office the Atlanta Braves are not.
But there are more possibilities with the Mariners. Dipoto loves to trade just to trade. He would probably be bored just trading Leake for, like, the corpse of Christian Betancourt. The Mariners have other pieces you could add to a deal -- I’m thinking Domingo Santana. With Nick Markakis going down with a brutal injury, there is an opening in right field for an outfielder not named Ender Inciarte. Santana has launched 19 bombs in Seattle this season, plays the position and is only making $1.5 million this season. Cheap, young and can hit dingers in Safeco? Let’s go! And, look, if I were Alex Anthopoulos, I am targeting one more name: 30-year-old closer Roenis Elias. While big-time starters rarely move at the MLB Trade Deadline, closers and relievers move all the time. Contending teams hoard relievers this time of year like I hoard pea coats in the winter. It’s a problem. What is the point of holding onto a closer in his 30s on a team heading towards a long rebuild? Sure, Leake would fill a need, but you need more, and it needs to be realistic: the Braves giving up a few pieces for Leake, Santana and Elias is realistic. So do it, Anthopoulos.