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The Accounting on the Mike Leake Deal

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Another way to think of, and look at, the Mike Leake trade.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, so the Cardinals traded Mike Leake to the Mariners. In exchange, they received Rayder Ascanio, a 21 year old shortstop with a very good glove and no bat really at all (that’s based on reports; I have no knowledge of the kid).

The Redbirds also are sending $750K of international spending pool money to the Mariners.

This is a really, really interesting move. Stick with me for a moment.

Rayder Ascanio is not really a going concern. No offense to Mr. Ascanio; I’m sure he’s a lovely person and is doing his family and homeland proud pursuing his baseball career. But he’s a <.650 OPS infielder in High A ball. In all likelihood, two years from now Rayder Ascanio will not be a name we are discussing very much, or at all.

So really, this is Mike Leake and his $55 million left on his contract to Seattle, along with $750,000 of pool money, for really not much of anything. Essentially, we can look at this deal as the Cardinals paying the freight to get Mike Leake to Seattle, and it cost them 750K.

However, the fact that it’s international pool money is really interesting, in that that money doesn’t actually, you know, exist. The idea of ‘pool money’ is not an amount of money; it’s a spending limit. So what the Cardinals are actually sending to Seattle is a $750,000 limit break (you know, like Climhazzard), in exchange for moving Leake off the books.

Now, the Cardinals are stuck in the penalty phase of the international signing period this year, the result of breaking their spending pool limit this past year. That means they cannot sign any players for more than $300,000 this signing period, even though the new rules have gone into place.

As a refresher, the new rules basically create a hard cap on international amateur spending, with a bit of gradation for the quality of teams (like the draft, with the worst teams getting more pool money), but not a dramatic amount. Basically, the organisations are all on a more or less equal plane when it comes to spending on international amateurs now.

Except, of course, if you trade for someone else’s pool money.

So the Cardinals have a very similar pool to everyone else, but a hard limit of $300K for any one player. They traded $750K to the Mariners as shipping and handling on Mike Leake and his contract.

We can thus think of this deal as Mike Leake for either two and a half Latin teenagers (boy, that’s a weird sentence I’m not entirely comfortable with), or Mike Leake for $750,000 worth of spending limit increase. Given that the Cardinals have ridiculous pitching depth, I’m not sure their internal replacement level on starting pitchers is a whole lot lower than Mike Leake. Maybe one win lower. Maybe not even that. So trading Leake doesn’t really hurt the Cardinals nearly as much as it would another organisation.

Basically, the Cardinals just traded 55 million real dollars to the Seattle Mariners for 750,000 imaginary dollars.

This is a fascinating bit of sleight of hand.