The Mariners need pitching – pitching now and pitching for the future. So with the price right for St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Mike Leake, general manager Jerry Dipoto made a move.
“Cash was a strong consideration for us,” said Dipoto of the deal, which brought a player with three years and $55 million remaining on his contract. “We feel the contribution the Cardinals made was both significant and made us feel good about the price point. The way we viewed it is if it was a 30-year-old free agent and we were able to achieve this deal with him, would we feel comfortable signing him to that contract?”
The answer clearly was yes.
The Cardinals are reportedly sending $17 million to be paid out in installments over the next three years along with Leake. That is in addition to $750,000 of international slot money, which also holds significant value. In the end, Dipoto looked at this as acquiring his 30-year-old starter for three years in the mid to upper thirties depending on the actual value of the international slot money. In today’s pitching economy, that could be right on the money for a player that is largely regarded to be a good, dependable No. 4 in a good rotation. By the end of the winter, it could look like a bargain.
The Mariners are far from the only organization that is in dire need of starting pitching. On the 710 ESPN Seattle pre-game show Wednesday, Gary Hill pointed out that in the American League there are only 27 starting pitchers who are tracking to meet qualifying innings this year. Bullpens are throwing a lot of innings and that is not an ideal situation. At some point there could be an adjustment, or we could see teams get creative with the mix of starter and bullpen arms – as a plan rather than out of need – but for now the premium is on starting pitching and the free agent market is going to be grim.
When Leake takes the mound for his first start with the team, which could be as soon as Friday, he will become the 38th different player to throw a pitch for the Mariners in 2017. The planned rotation out of spring training never made it to the field, and rarely were even three-fifths of it together at one time. In the simplest of terms, the rotation this year has been scary. The situation for next year? Clearly there is a lot to get done, and Dipoto got a jump on that Wednesday.
“The chance to acquire a guy who is pitching his 30-year-old season next year and get some controllable pitching in the door with a history of durability like Mike has, for us that was a huge concern going into the offseason and something we were able to address in August,” he said.
Club control has been a common thread with just about every pitcher brought in by Dipoto. “History of durability” is what jumped out at me from Dipoto’s assesment of Leake. It is sorely needed in a rotation that will include Felix Hernandez and James Paxton next year. Beyond that? More question marks.
Hisashi Iwakuma and Yovani Gallardo should be gone. Erasmo Ramirez could fill a role in the bullpen instead of the bullpen. Though credit should be given to Ariel Miranda for taking the ball every five days, he can’t survive long term in a rotation with his home run rate. Behind Miranda, there is a number of youngsters who have stumbled in MLB opportunities this year. Arms are needed and it is something that Dipoto has been focused on well before last month’s non-waiver trade deadline.
Leake will bring a different and perhaps needed look to the rotation. The 2017 staff is made up of mainly fly-ball pitchers, arms that were perhaps more available because of that fact, but arms that Dipoto and staff projected to fit better in Seattle with its ballpark and defense. Leake is a ground-ball pitcher who, despite recent struggles, has history to suggest he should be a good fit, according to Dipoto.
“There’s enough with Mike in this league to believe he is just fine,” he said. “Nothing has changed significantly. He’s a ground-ball pitcher, he pitches to contact and and generally has done a good job through the years of keeping it in the ballpark. Knock on wood for us, he’s been durable, is tracking for his sixth consecutive 30-start season and he takes the ball. Mike gives you a chance to win games.”
There is an aspect of impact now in the move as well, and Dipoto hopes that message comes through to the current Mariners.
“Hopefully the guys in the clubhouse realize this is another vote of confidence that we believe in this group. We are trying to help,” he said. “Everybody here wants to wind up in the postseason, the wild card is still wide open. There’s eight teams within reach and a month to play. We are one of them. Hopefully Mike Leake helps push us in that direction and hopefully they believe this is a vote of confidence for them.”