ARLINGTON, Texas — After shopping him during the offseason and re-intensifying those efforts in late May, the Mariners have finally traded veteran right-hander Mike Leake.
In a deal that was first discussed during early June, the Mariners sent Leake and cash considerations of $10 million ($5 million of next season’s salary and $5 million for his option buyout) to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for infielder Jose Caballero, finalized just before the 1 p.m. Wednesday MLB trade deadline.
Leake, who lives in the Deer Valley suburb of Phoenix and played at Arizona State, was happy to waive his no-trade clause for a chance to go home.
“It’s one team I definitely I wanted to say ‘yes’ to above Seattle,” he said. “I grew up a Mariners fan, so it’s in my heart. But going home to Arizona is definitely a chance of a lifetime.”
The news broke of the trade after the deadline, and the Mariners and Diamondbacks walked it right up to the deadline to get their deal completed.
“It picked up with less than 20 minutes left to the deadline,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “Rumor has it that we clicked send and confirmed the deal with everybody with about 68 seconds left.”
Following his start Tuesday, Leake said he didn’t think he’d be traded after some potential deals had fallen through. But once the Diamondbacks decided to send ace Zack Greinke to the Astros for a monster package of four solid prospects, Arizona needed to fill a rotation slot. Acquiring Leake gives them a proven starter that they know will take the ball every fifth day and give them 30 starts a season. Leake, 31, was 9-8 with a 4.34 ERA with 100 strikeouts and 19 walks in 22 starts with the Mariners this season.
“I didn’t really know until about 15 minutes before the deadline,” he said.
Leake has lived with the possibility of being traded all season. With the team in rebuild mode and looking to remove guaranteed major-league contracts, he seemed like a logical candidate. His relationship with manager Scott Servais and the coaching staff was icy at best. A fiery competitor, Leake hated being removed from games prematurely. On one occasion last season, he handed the ball to catcher Mike Zunino instead of Servais, who came to remove him, which is considered an insult.
There was also some frustration after a start May 26 in Oakland. With Servais having already been ejected, Leake was irritated when bench coach Manny Acta came to the mound to remove him from the game. He gave Acta a shoulder bump as he left the mound, which angered Acta, Servais and the Mariners front office. Leake later made comments about the direction of the team and step-back plan following the game and the following Monday in Seattle. Shortly after making similar comments to The Seattle Times, something the front office didn’t know about at the time, Leake was brought into a contentious meeting with Servais, Acta and general manager Jerry Dipoto.
In the days leading up to Leake’s start on June 5, when he threw a complete game vs. the Astros, the Mariners were trying to finish a deal that would’ve sent Leake to the Diamondbacks. The deal’s framework was largely in place, and Leake was going to be scratched from his scheduled start. The Mariners knew he would waive his no-trade clause for a chance to go home. However, the deal was scuttled. Multiple MLB sources said Mariners ownership squashed the deal, not liking the timing or the financial commitments being made.
“I hadn’t heard of anything about a trade,” he said after that game. “But I understand it.”
It was clear that both sides were ready for a change. Leake wanted a situation where he could win. The Mariners were looking to unload a veteran pitcher and replace him with someone younger and cheaper. Seattle continued to shop him after the first failed Arizona trade, but didn’t find a suitor until the last possible moment.
Caballero, who turns 23 on Aug. 30, has .268/.388/.396 slash line (batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage) with 12 doubles, three home runs, 12 RBI, 24 walks and 38 stolen bases in 43 games with High-A Visalia this season. He was named a Mid-Season California League All-Star, but has been on the seven-day injured list with a wrist injury. He is scheduled to play for the Arizona Rookie League Mariners on Thursday night in a rehab stint and expected to join High-A Modesto in about a week. He was a seventh-round pick in the 2017 draft out of Chipola College in Florida.
“He had just actually been released to start playing,” Dipoto said. “Oddly enough, he was the guy we were discussing with them (in June). We like Caballero. He’s an athletic guy, plays a good shortstop and has hit at all the levels to this point.”
The Mariners will have to fill Leake’s spot in the rotation. With off days on Thursday, Monday and next Thursday, they can be creative. Servais mentioned top pitching prospects Justin Dunn and Justus Sheffield, who are both pitching well for Class AA Arkansas and are expected to join the team by the end of the season.
Dunn pitched Tuesday night for Arkansas, and Sheffield is scheduled to pitch Thursday for the Travelers. But Dipoto dispelled that hope.
“We are probably going to wait a little bit,” he said. “Because of the flow of off days … if you look at our schedule, it’s laden with off days. There’s at least one every week in August until that last week. There’s a pretty good chance we won’t fill in that fifth starter. I don’t think we need one again until the home series with Tampa. … That being said, when it’s time to fold Justus and Justin in there, we will do it. It’s more likely toward the end of August than today.”
The Travelers have qualified for the postseason, and Dipoto has stressed winning in the minor-league levels. Would he leave them to participate in the postseason or will he call them up to further their development?
“It’s hard to compete for a championship if you take away all the aces, so to speak,” Dipoto said. “But we do want them to make progress in their development toward the big leagues.
“With the first of September on the horizon, just a month away, one thing we don’t want to do in the case of Justin Dunn is call him up to the big leagues and risk having to send him back out and burn an option. We just won’t do that. We’ll wait ’til we get to the final week of August, when there’s a less a threat of that to make our determination on what we are going to do with the rotation.”