Sometimes when you are walking along the buffet line, you fill your plate with the less than savory option. Pork steak instead of brisket. You have to eat something and don’t want to wait on the next serving. That’s what the St. Louis Cardinals did in signing free agent starting pitcher Mike Leake. They quenched their hunger for innings in the rotation with a dependable starter. The deal is five years and 80 million dollars, which comes out to an average annual income of 16 million. Thank Jeff Samardzija for that one but also understand market value moves in tricky ways. Most recently, up.
Leake split time in 2015 between the Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants, faring worse in the spacious ballpark of AT&T Park than he did in the home run friendly confines of Great American Ballpark. Leake’s FIP(fielding independent pitching) was a nasty 4.83 with the Giants is the one true warning sign with Leake. He puts a lot of balls in play, which will keep Jhonny Peralta and Kolten Wong busy. His hits allowed per nine innings, 8.3, isn’t bad but he will require great infield defense to be effective. As my colleague Caesar McCruddy of The Roo pointed out, Leake is a Jeff Suppan type. He won’t overpower you but get plenty of contact, throw strikes, hit his marks and get outs.
Leake pitched well against the Cards in Busch Stadium, especially in 2015, compiling an ERA of 2.23 at the home ballpark. Leake was also exceptional on the road last year, posting an ERA of 2.91 in 102 innings with a 0.9 WHIP.
Mike Leake offers the Cards a dependable 3rd starter type, which is what the rotation needs with the loss of Lance Lynn and John Lackey. They need a guy who can give them 190-200 innings and produce quality starts throughout the season. A rotation with leaks bound to spring open(Waino’s age, Martinez’s shoulder, Garcia’s entire body) needs an ordinary yet effective innings guy like Leake.
Over his six year career, Leake has averaged over 200 innings, posted an ERA below four and a strikeouts to walks ration of 2.65:1. That isn’t Cy Young worthy or ulcer inducing worry. It’s middle of the pack effective and that is the what the Cards need.
Leake wasn’t my top choice because I didn’t want to give five years to a #3 type with Lynn returning and the young talent on the rise in Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver, Austin Gomber coming up. Tim Cooney could be ready for MLB service and may be as competent as Leake sooner rather than later. I wrote Monday night that I preferred a stop gap type in Mark Buehrle for a year over five years of Leake. However, while I didn’t prefer Leake’s services, that doesn’t mean he is bad for the team. Once again, he’s pork steak.
Steamer projections at Fangraphs have Leake posting a record of 11-12 with a 4.22 FIP and 3.88 ERA to go with 193 innings and a 2.0 WAR. At an annual salary of 16 million, that doesn’t sound too exciting but unfortunately, in this market, that is what you get. Leake won’t blow anyone away but he’s durable and effective. A move to a pitcher’s park in Busch will only boost his numbers.
Leake is only 28 years old, so the contract will expire when he is 33 years old, which is reasonable. Due to the in season 2015 trade, Leake didn’t cost the Cards a compensation pick. They still have all three at their disposal. Leake, via Tom Ackerman, has shut down new Cub centerfielder Jason Heyward in his career, holding him to a .071 batting average(1-14) with three strikeouts.
A winter spending session that started with John Mozeliak looking at David Price has ended with Leake. There’s no denying it’s a disappointment but consider this. What the Cardinals needed in a free agent starter was a replacement for Lance Lynn. In Leake, they got a #4 starter who could possibly pitch like a #3. While he doesn’t strike out as many as Lynn(and gives up an average of 21 home runs), Leake is a basic replacement pitcher for Lynn that down the road could be an excellent #5 at the very least.
The Leake signing will look especially tasty if the Cards can land a bat for the lineup. It won’t matter if they get Price or Lynn production out of Leake if the lineup can’t produce more than 2.9 runs per game(the Cardinals average for last two years combined). If you find a Leake, you need a strong patch to seal it folks. Simple as that.
So let’s recap to this point.
The Cards have subtracted Pete Kozma, Peter Bourjos, Jon Jay, Tony Cruz, Mark Reynolds and Steve Cishek.
They added Leake, Jedd Gyorko, Brayan Pena and retained Jonathan Broxton and Brandon Moss.
They failed to sign David Price and Jason Heyward.
Chris Davis, Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton and Alex Gordon are still out there. Each offer pop, versatility and something unique. Each have hazard labels attached. The Colorado Rockies have Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon at their disposal for a trade.
What happens next, Cardinal Nation? Sign Cespedes and it will be a Happy New Year if you ask me.