Cardinals Trade Mike Leake to Mariners

photo: Mike Matheny and Mike Leake (Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports Images)

St. Louis Cardinals press release

Mike Leake (USA TODAY Sports Images)

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today (Wednesday) that they have acquired minor league shortstop Rayder Ascanio from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for right-handed pitcher Mike Leake and international cap space totaling $750,000 for the current international signing period.

Ascanio, 21, was signed by the Mariners as an international free agent in 2012 at age 16 and the slick fielding infielder has compiled a career batting mark of .240 with 15 HR’s and 158 RBI in 425 games at the minor league level.

The switch-hitting Ascanio, a native of Mariara, Venezuela, was batting .217 with 9 HR’s and 44 RBI in 111 games this season between Tacoma (AAA), Clinton (A) and Modesto (A). He is expected to be assigned to the Palm Beach Cardinals (A) roster.

Rayder Ascanio (Clinton LumberKings)

Today’s trade will require an addition to the Cardinals 25-man active roster. That transaction is expected to be announced tomorrow (Thursday).

Leake, 29, was 7-12 with a 4.21 ERA in 26 starts for the Cardinals this season and has a career mark of 80-76, 4.02 ERA in eight seasons with Cincinnati (2010-15), San Francisco (2015) and St. Louis (2016-17). He went 16-24 with a 4.46 ERA in his 56 starts for the Cardinals after signing as a free agent in December of 2015.

The Cardinals and Mariners announced a trade last month that sent power-hitting outfielder Tyler O’Neill (28 HR’s in 2017) to the Cardinals organization in exchange for left-handed pitcher Marco Gonzales.

Brian Walton’s take

This is clearly a move to get out from under Leake’s contract, which has three-plus years plus a fourth year or buyout remaining. He reportedly waived his no-trade protection to approve the deal.

According to Ken Rosenthal of The Republic, the Cardinals will cover $17 million of the $55 million remaining on Leake’s contract, which was five years, $82 million. Another way to look at it is that St. Louis spent about $44 million in total for just under two years of Leake’s services, avoiding the final $38 million.

Leake, who was signed after St. Louis lost out on free agent David Price at the last minute, never seemed a great fit with the Cardinals. Dependent on ground ball outs, his first year results with the club were hampered by subpar defense played behind him. Leake was off to a fast start in his second season with the team through nine starts, but has struggled increasingly each month since and seemed in danger of losing his rotation spot.

Ascanio is not a top prospect and the loss of international cap space does not hurt the Cardinals at all, since they are prohibited from signing any player for more than $300,000 this year and next. Their original pool amount was $5.75 million.

The trade has short and long-term ramifications for St. Louis’ rotation.

In the immediate time frame, the Cardinals are one starter short. Adam Wainwright remains on the disabled list, but insists he will return this season.

John Gant is the remaining Memphis starter already on the 40-man roster and could bridge to when Wainwright is ready to go. Gant’s next day to pitch also aligns perfectly with Leake’s next turn, scheduled Friday in San Francisco.

Some fans are clamoring for prospect Jack Flaherty to join the rotation, but the Cardinals have not conserved his innings this season, as they have done with Sandy Alcantara and Jordan Hicks. The latter two prospect starters have been temporarily moved to the bullpen before heading to the Arizona Fall League.

In addition, Flaherty would take a 40-man roster spot that could be used this fall to protect another prospect from the Rule 5 Draft instead. Adding him now would be a bold, but certainly not impossible, move. Flaherty’s next Memphis start is scheduled for Thursday.

Longer term, this trade could suggest the Cardinals would try to keep impending free agent Lance Lynn beyond 2017, a move they have said to date is not likely. However, it will take much more than the $38 MM of Leake “savings” to keep Lynn. Initial public comments from Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak are that the Leake trade does not impact their thinking on Lynn and the focus is on internal options.

It is unclear how Leake’s innings will be replaced. The projected 2018 rotation should include Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha and Wainwright. Youngsters Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes are other likely candidates, with prospects Flaherty and Dakota Hudson on track to soon join the fray.

Update: 4pm Wednesday

The Cardinals have announced that Flaherty will start against the Giants in San Francisco on Friday.

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