The Cardinals have apparently pulled off a pretty surprising trade that few, if any saw coming. Bob Nightengale was the first to report that the Cardinals were close to trading Mike Leake. Ken Rosenthal, of the Athletic, further reported that the team that would be receiving Leake is the Seattle Mariners.
Leake has had a decent season with the Cardinals, putting up an identical 4.21 ERA and FIP, good for a 1.9 WAR, essentially expected production for Leake’s $16 million salary. He had struggled of late, perhaps wearing down a bit after a very strong start. Last season’s poor defense caused a 4.69 ERA, but his peripheral numbers were in line with his career and he put up a 2.5 fWAR.
The signing of Leake was the result of missing out on David Price. The Cardinals sought reliable innings after falling short in getting an ace and Leake provided those innings. Leake is owed about $55 million more over the next 3+ seasons, which is reasonable for a pitcher of his type. For an organization like the Cardinals which hasn’t had much difficulty developing at least average starters, Leake was a luxury. In Seattle, where the team has had more difficulty developing those starters, he will likely help the team.
Leake did have a no-trade clause so this move is obviously something he felt comfortable with. During free agency, he desired going to Arizona to be closer to family, but the Cardinals made a stronger offer to get him to St. Louis. Seattle isn’t exactly close to Arizona, but they do play their Spring Training games there.
Given that this trade happened because Leake and his contract passed through waivers, it seems unlikely that the Cardinals will receive a substantial return back, and Bob Nightengale is reporting the Cardinals are sending money to the Mariners to help pay for Leake’s deal.
Rayder Ascanio is, according to Eric Lohenhagen at the beginning of the year, a “smaller guy without much offensive upside, but a wizard defensively at shortstop”. The 21-year-old has split time between Low-A and High-A, and as expected, hasn’t hit much.
This trade opens up a permanent spot for Luke Weaver in the rotation even after Adam Wainwright returns from the disabled list. In the meantime, the Cardinals could turn to Jack Flaherty, who had been on turn with Leake down in Memphis. Flaherty has pitched well this season in Triple-A and Double-A this year with a 25% strikeout rate against just 6% walks in 25 starts and 148.2 innings. He has a fantastic 2.18 ERA in the minors this year with a very good 3.33 FIP.
Leake’s trade frees up future payroll and a spot on the 40-man roster. Whether the Cardinals make another move before September 1 remains to be seen, but it definitely makes the offseason more interesting given the money likely cleared from future payrolls.