Mariners also pick up some cash toward Leake's contract, international slot money while giving up minor leaguer Rayder Ascanio.
BALTIMORE — With the Mariners’ starting rotation in disarray, struggling to give quality outings as the team heads into the final month of the season, and the prospects for improvement next year not being much better, general manager Jerry Dipoto added a veteran starter to push for the American League wild card and be a part of the rotation moving forward for at least the next three years.
On Wednesday morning, the Mariners acquired right-hander Mike Leake, cash and international bonus pool money from the St. Louis Cardinals for minor-league infielder Rayder Ascanio. It’s a deal that was a week in the making.
“This is as much about the next three, potentially four, years as the next four or five weeks,” Dipoto said. “But obviously we feel like Mike helps us walking in the door for 2017. The chance to acquire a guy that’s going to pitch his 30-year old season next year and get some controllable pitching with a history of durability like Mike has, for us that was huge concern going into the offseason and something we were able to address in August. Not only were we able to help our short term outlook, but I believe we helped addressed some of our longer term needs.”
Because he was acquired before Sept. 1, Leake would be eligible to pitch in the postseason if the Mariners were to somehow make it. Leake is scheduled to report to the Mariners on Friday and they are loosely planning for him to start this weekend vs. the A’s. Leake had been scheduled to start on Friday for St. Louis. With an off day on Thursday, the Mariners could reshuffle their rotation to fit when Leake feels most comfortable to start. It seems likely he will take the spot of his former Cardinals teammate Marco Gonzales.
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“He’s got a track record of pitching innings and I’m excited to have him,” manager Scott Servais said. “As soon I was able to let the guys know this morning, their reaction was very, very positive. They know what we are up against. Anybody that can come in and get a little bit deeper in games and does have experience is really big.”
Leake has made 30 or more starts in a season six times. After debuting in 2010, Leake has made 228 starts — the second most in the National League. Only Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers has made more with 233. Since 2012, he’s made at least 30 starts in each season and has a chance to do so in 2017.
The money in return from the Cardinals, reported to be a total of $17 million and spread out of over the next four years, was key for the deal since Leake was still owed approximately $55 million on the five-year free agent contract, which features a full no-trade clause, that he signed with St. Louis before the 2016 season. Dipoto wouldn’t confirm the exact dollar amount. Per the Associated Press, the Mariners will receive $17.5 million in cash from the Cardinals: $2.5 million on Sept. 30, $3 million each on July 1 and next Sept. 30, $2.5 million each on July 1 and Sept. 30 in 2019 and $2 million each on those dates in 2020. They also received $750,000 in international slot money.
Here’s what Leake is owed going forward on his contract:
- 2018: $17 million
- 2019: $16 million
- 2020: $15 million
- 2021: $18 million mutual option with a $5 million buyout.
Because the Mariners only gave up a minor prospect, this is basically like signing a free agent pitcher to a three-year contract with an option for the fourth year for roughly $37 million.
“It was a strong consideration for us,” Dipoto said of the salary relief. “We feel like the contribution the Cardinals made was both significant and made us feel good about the price point. The way we viewed it, if Mike Leake is a 30-year-old free agent and we were able to achieve this deal with him. We would feel comfortable signing him to that. It was a real consideration and a strong factor in what led us to doing this deal.”
In 26 starts with the Cardinals this season, Leake is 7-12 with a 4.21 ERA. In 154 innings pitched, he has struck out 103 batters with 35 walks. After starting the season 5-3 with a 2.24 ERA in his first 10 starts, Leake’s numbers have slowly trended in a negative direction. He’s 2-9 with a 5.78 ERA in his last 16 starts, including a 6.90 ERA in nine starts since the All-Star break. During that span, opponents are batting .347 with an .892 on-base plus slugging percentage.
“Obviously the last 10 starts have not been great for him, but like a lot of guys, you go through highs and lows in a season,” Dipoto said. “In Mike’s case, we are going to bet on the big picture. He’s been roughly 2 or 2-plus win pitcher (WAR) every year dating back to 2013. There’s no reason to believe his skillset has changed. He throws just as many strikes. He’s had a very similar if not better groundball rate than in years past. Unfortunately, he’s pitched very poorly over the last 10 starts. There’s four starts in there that weren’t very good, otherwise his entire season looks like Mike Leake. There’s enough history with him in this league to think he’s just fine.”
With an array of young starters in their farm system, Leake was facing the possibility of being bumped out of the rotation.
“I think that had something to do with it as well as I think my body took a little turn after those first 10 starts,” he said. “I was in recoop mode than in trying go forward mode. At this point, I’ve kind of worked those kinks. I look forward to another good stretch.”
Going to the AL after a career spent in the NL will be an adjustment for Leake.
“I know it’s going to be a transition, you are facing nine batters than eight essentially,” he said. “I look forward to the challenge. It was a deciding factor to put myself in a situation where I felt challenged as well.”
Ascanio, 21, hit .217 (85 for 392) with 25 doubles, a triple, nine home runs and 44 RBI in 111 games combined between Low A Clinton and High A Modesto.