Mike Leake turned in one of the strongest starts of his career in his final trip to the mound before becoming a free agent last night, as he fired a two-hit shutout against the Dodgers. Following the contest, Leake told reporters, including Alex Pavlovic of CSN Bay Area and the San Jose Mercury News’ Andrew Baggarly, that he doesn’t want a prolonged venture on the free agent market. “I’d rather not wait,” he told the media. “I’d like to pick a team and get ready to go with that team.”
Asked specifically about the notion of returning to San Francisco, the California native replied: “It’s a strong possibility that this is a place I’d like to play. It’s kind of wait-and-see. You never know what’s going to happen.”
The Giants parted with their top-ranked prospect, right-hander Keury Mella, and utility man Adam Duvall in order to acquire Leake from the Reds on July 30. Manager Bruce Bochy doesn’t make the roster decisions, but he offered praise for Leake and noted that the entire organization is a fan of his arm. “It’s obvious we like Mike a lot,” said Bochy (via Baggarly). “We traded for him. He’ll have some choices, some options, but we think a lot of him. That’s why we acquired him.” As Pavlovic notes, Leake was a childhood teammate of Brett Bochy, so the team’s skipper is quite familiar with him. A new deal with Leake is high on the team’s priority list this winter, Pavlovic adds.
Leake’s results since coming over from Cincinnati haven’t been as strong as they were in his past two and a half seasons with the Reds, but he’s been bothered by a hamstring strain and a bit of forearm discomfort, though neither seemed to trouble him Wednesday evening. Bochy called Leake’s hamstring injury a “freak deal,” suggesting that there isn’t much worry over the issue lingering.
With the Giants, Leake pitched to a 4.07 ERA with 4.7 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and a 52.3 percent ground-ball rate. On the season as a whole, he totaled a 3.70 ERA for the second consecutive year and averaged 5.6 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 with a 51.8 percent ground-ball rate across 30 starts and 192 innings. He fell just shy of his second straight 200-inning season, but Leake has nonetheless been a durable rotation piece over the past three seasons, averaging 31 starts and 200 innings per year.
That type of durability has been something the Giants lacked throughout the 2015 campaign, as the team relied on nine different starting pitchers, only two of whom topped 120 innings (Chris Heston threw 174 innings, and Madison Bumgarner tossed 218 1/3). That same durability, though, will make Leake appealing to other teams, as will his high ground-ball rate, his consecutive seasons of a sub-4.00 ERA in Cincinnati’s very hitter-friendly home park and his age. At just 27 years old right now, Leake will pitch the first season of his new free-agent deal at 28, making him considerably younger than most free agent pitchers and lending credence to the notion of him signing a five-year deal on the open market.