August deals rarely involve superstars, but sometimes all a team needs is a little push to make the playoffs. That’s what the Seattle Mariners are hoping with Wednesday’s acquisition of Mike Leake from the St. Louis Cardinals.
The 29-year-old Leake comes from the Cardinals with average numbers. Over 154 innings, he’s posted a 4.21 ERA. Leake has never been a big strikeout pitcher. His 15.8 percent strikeout rate ranks eighth worst among qualified starters this season. Leake mostly gets by with a heavy dose of ground balls and strong control. He’s a solid mid-rotation starter.
While that may underwhelm some, have you seen the Mariners rotation recently? The only starter penciled in at the beginning of the year who has stayed healthy is Yovani Gallardo. He has a 6.29 ERA in 111 2/3 innings.
Behind him, the team is rolling with Ariel Miranda, Andrew Albers, Marco Gonzales and Erasmo Ramirez. Of that bunch, Ramirez’s 3.62 ERA is the best. It’s a limited sample, as he’s pitched only 32 1/3 innings.
That makes Leake the team’s ace at the moment. Not just in name, but probably in performance as well. That’s not the ideal way to build a rotation, but the Mariners are desperately in need of any pitcher who can give them five solid innings.
General manager Jerry Dipoto nearly said as much in his statement on the trade, highlighting Leake’s ability to stay healthy.
Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto on adding starter Mike Leake to the rotation. pic.twitter.com/fWbZ5hfWKe
— Mariners (@Mariners) August 30, 2017
Despite all those injuries, the team is just three games out of the second wild card spot in the American League. They don’t need much to work their way into that spot, so Leake fits well.
The deal also has long-term ramifications, as Leake is under contract through 2020. He’s owed $17 million in 2018, $16 million in 2019 and $15 million in 2020. While that seems like a lot, it’s basically the going rate for a mid-rotation starter these days. If Leake can put off significant decline for a few years and continue his run of impeccable health, it won’t be a contract that kills the Mariners.
His addition also helps the Mariners overcome some future injuries to their starters. Felix Hernandez has shown signs of wear and tear over the past few years, while James Paxton can’t seem to go 50 innings without a minor issue cropping up. You can depend on Leake to take the ball every five days.
In exchange, the team traded minor-league shortstop Rayder Ascanio to St. Louis. Ascanio, 21, is considered a strong defensive player with a questionable bat. He’s hitting just .217/.295/.355 over three minor-league levels this season. The Cardinals will also receive international slot bonus money.
It’s unclear whether Seattle will receive cash in the deal. The Mariners’ release stated the team will get some salary relief for Leake. The Cardinals’ release did not say anything about cash moving sides.
Getting into the postseason with Leake as your No. 1 starter seems like a recipe for disaster, so the Mariners will need both Hernandez and Paxton to get healthy if they hope to really have a chance in October. Both players are aiming to return in September, so that’s not out of the question.
Dipoto knows the clock is ticking. Both Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz continue to be exceptional, but both are approaching ages where it becomes tough to keep relying on them to be superstars. That’s already started to happen with Hernandez.
The team’s window will close soon, so Dipoto needs to do whatever it takes to break the longest postseason drought in baseball. Leake’s stats may not jump off the page, but he’s exactly what they need to get the Mariners closer to that goal.
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