Posted on August 30, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
Less than 48 hours until the waiver-trade deadline, the Seattle Mariners have made a move to shore up their injury-plagued rotation. The Mariners acquired starting pitcher Mike Leake from the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday. St. Louis also sent cash to help cover Leake’s salary and $750,000 in international bonus pool money to the Mariners. In the deal, the Cardinals have acquired minor league infielder Rayder Ascanio. Leake waived his full no-trade clause to make the trade happen.
Leake will immediately bolster an ailing Seattle rotation that’s been held back by injuries all season. Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, and Hisashi Iwakuma all remain on the DL for the Mariners. The club has also endured the entire season without Drew Smyly, one of their top acquisitions last offseason. Despite an endless barrage of injuries to their rotation this season, the Mariners remain just three games out of a wild card spot with September right around the corner.
“Mike gives us an experienced starter that will help us as we navigate our way towards a playoff spot this season,” Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto said in a statement following the trade. “As one of the most durable starters over most of the last decade, he’ll be a valuable addition for not just the near future, but for seasons to come.”
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On the season, Leake is 7-12 with a 4.21 ERA. Those are not standout numbers. However, as Dipoto mentioned, he’s one of the most durable and reliable starters in baseball. Leake has made at least 30 starts in each of the last five seasons. He’s already made 26 for the Cardinals this season. Seattle’s hope is that Leake can help stabilize the team’s starting rotation until the likes of Hernandez and Paxton can return.
At the moment, the Mariners are hopeful that both Hernandez and Paxton can return by the middle of September. That could give each at least two or three starts before the end of the regular season. That’s not a lot of time, but it could be enough to put the Mariners over the top if they can remain close. There is no timetable for Iwakuma.
In the meantime, the Mariners will rely on Leake, Ariel Miranda, and Erasmo Ramirez to lead their rotation. Miranda has been steady all season, while Ramirez has posted an impressive 3.62 ERA in six starts for the Mariners.
The caveat to the trade for the Mariners is that Leake is not a short-term rental. He signed a five-year, $80 million deal with the Cardinals prior to the 2016 season. He remains under contract with the Mariners through the 2020 season, with a mutual option for 2021. Leake is owed $48 million between 2018 and 2020. The Cardinals have sent some money to Seattle to help cover Leake’s salary, although it’s unclear how much.
Of course, with Paxton and Hernandez both going on the DL multiple times this season, having Leake around to help anchor the rotation for the next few seasons is not necessarily a bad thing. At 29, Leake should have plenty of good years left in him. He should become a steady presence in Seattle’s rotation for the rest of this season and in the years to come.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals will lose Leake as they chase a playoff spot. However, St. Louis has fallen five games back in the NL Central and 5.5 games back in the wild-card race, so their postseason hopes are dwindling. Long-term, the Cardinals should be able to cope without Leake. They have a slew of young pitchers who should be ready to establish themselves in the majors within the next year. Luke Weaver has started to do that this season. The team also expects top prospect Alex Reyes to return from Tommy John surgery next year.
In the end, the Cardinals, a fringe playoff contender, have largely freed themselves from an expensive contract. Meanwhile, the Mariners, who are clinging to playoff hopes in 2017, receive a steadying rotation presence for both now and the future. Adding Leake may not put the Mariners over the top. But it should help keep them in the race down the stretch.