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The Mike Leake trade is good for everyone

The Cardinals traded Mike Leake to the Mariners, and everyone benefits. Maybe.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, when I wrote about how terrible Mike Leake has been in the past few months, I expected him to be a Cardinal for the next three seasons due to his no-trade clause. Instead, in a surprise move, he waived it and is now a pitcher for the Seattle Mariners. Due to inefficiency on both sides, this trade is probably best for everyone.

Leake’s 7-12 record does not inspire a lot of confidence, and a 4.21 FIP alongside nineteen homers allowed aren’t the usual ingredients for a big August trade. But basically all the Mariners starters have landed on the disabled list, and with a month of baseball remaining, they needed someone desperately. In these homer-happy times, they could use someone like Mike Leake. He has a 54.5 percent groundball rate, as the sinker is his most reliable pitch. Although, when the Cardinals traveled to Seattle in 2016, Mike Leake took a no-decision after allowing five runs over six innings. Not quite as promising.

What really gets me is that the Cardinals let him go. He was never supposed to be a top-of-the-rotation guy for them. He was a 3/4/5 starter, an innings-eater who would win at least ten games and the kind of player almost any team can use. Lance Lynn had a take on the trade, and he and I see pretty eye-to-eye on this:

“If you look at everything that’s happened so far, there’s been no acquisitions (by the Cardinals). There’s been taking away — whether that’s been injuries or trades ... So we’re five back in both and we’re taking away a pitcher who can pitch 200 innings and get outs at a high level.”

As I pointed out in my piece at Viva El Birdos, Leake’s totals are essentially the same as they were last year. The only difference this season is that he went from being fringe Cy Young-worthy to being unreliable and, quite frankly, bad. But he rebounded quite well in his last start against Tampa Bay, proving that he may be on an upswing. That’s exactly what the Cardinals need down the stretch as they try to capture the title in a weak division. Apparently, the contrast between the first two months and the last three for Leake is just so stark the Cardinals couldn’t stomach it.

Or so I thought. They actually had a pretty lame series of excuses.

First, they signed Leake because Lance Lynn was out recovering from Tommy John surgery and their minor league pitchers were not yet ready for major league action. President of Baseball Operations, John Mozeliak, said, “At the time, we hadn’t drafted Dakota Hudson yet. We were still seeing the growth of someone like Jack Flaherty ... There’s going to be a lot of guys that are going to be knocking on the door to pitch, and pitch soon. We really had to figure out a way to create that opening.” Apparently the Cardinals brass have a lot of confidence in those prospects; Flaherty will start in place of Leake this Friday.


Mike Leake is 29 years old, with three years of team control after this one, but the Cardinals wanted to “go younger.” I mean, that’s... weird. Is 29 really “old” when the team is still willing to shoulder Adam Wainwright’s contract in his age-35 season? Waino has veteran status in the clubhouse and I love him very much as a fan, but his presence on the roster invalidates the Cardinals’ “going younger” explanation.

Leake offered the following assessment of his downturn:

“I think my body just took a little turn after those first 10 starts. I was kind of in recoup mode instead of continue-to-go-forward mode. So at this point, I think I’ve kind of worked those kinks out and I look forward to another good stretch.”

Perhaps there is something to Leake’s body breaking down a bit right now. (He did, after all, end up on the DL with shingles last year.) I am suspicious of this reasoning, however, primarily because the Cardinals trusted Leake enough to give him a no-trade clause. That’s a significant risk to manage if you have several young pitchers in the minor leagues with huge upsides, and one you don’t take on unless you believe in a pitcher’s health. To me, this sounds more like a convenient excuse to forfeit a large chunk of salary by trading a guy who is pitching below his capability right now. I just cannot believe they are calling Leake old at 29. Kudos to him, though, for taking it a lot better than I am:

The Mariners are getting a ground ball pitcher. The Cardinals get to “go younger” as they wanted to all along and Mike Leake will get to spend spring training in Arizona. This surprise trade might actually work out for everyone. But probably not for the reasons they’re giving.

Audrey Stark is a Contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow her on Twitter @highstarksunday.