TUESDAY, 9:23am: It’s possible that a deal could be reached by the end of today, Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com tweets. The deal with the Cardinals is expected to be in the five-year, $75MM range and could include an option, a source tells Chris Cotillo of SB Nation (on Twitter).
The Cardinals gave Leake a strong offer last week and have been waiting for a resolution, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com tweets. Multiple sources also tell him that a deal is getting close.
8:50am: The Cardinals and Leake are close to agreement on a deal, Chris Cotillo of SB Nation tweets.
MONDAY, 10:45pm: Leake is aiming for a five-year deal, per Cotillo (Twitter link).
10:10pm: There’s a “growing belief” that free agent Mike Leake will be signing somewhere very soon, Chris Cotillo of SB Nation tweets. The Cardinals, he adds, appear to be a strong contender for his services.
MLBTR’s Steve Adams profiled Leake recently, explaining that his market appeal lies in a combination of age, health, the lack of a qualifying offer, and solid production. Both Adams and MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes have predicted five-year, $80MM contract for Leake, placing him among the 15 or so free agents with the greatest expected earning power.
Recently, the Dodgers were mentioned as a possibility for Leake after their agreement with Hisashi Iwakuma was 86’d. It’s not clear if the Astros have had substantive talks with Leake’s reps, but they do appear to be a fit for a veteran starter like Leake. Leake reportedly was ready to give a hometown discount to the D’Backs, but Tony La Russa recently called that match “probably unlikely” to happen. The Cardinals have been a logical landing spot for Leake all winter long, but some speculated that his asking price could be too rich for their blood.
In 2015, for the second consecutive year, Leake posted a 3.70 ERA. That marks three straight seasons with a sub-3.75 ERA and at least 190 innings. All but two months of those three years came while pitching his home games at an extremely hitter-friendly home venue: Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park. Leake was able to thrive in large part due to his excellent control (2.3 BB/9 for his career) and his strong ground-ball rate. Leake’s 50.2 percent career mark in that regard is impressive, and it’s ticked upwards over the past two seasons, now siting closer to 53 percent.
Though he has just one season of 200-plus innings, Leake has been virtually injury free throughout his career. He landed on the DL late in the 2010 season with right shoulder fatigue but avoided the DL for the next five years, until a hamstring injury sidelined him for about two weeks in August. He dealt with some forearm tightness at season’s end, but it wasn’t serious and didn’t lead to major concern.
However, in an age where velocity and strikeouts are being emphasized more than ever, Leake doesn’t bring either to the table. His career-best K/9 rate is 2014’s 6.9, and he averaged just 5.6 K/9 in 2015. Leake has added some life to his fastball each year, but this season’s 90.9 mph average still rated below the 91.7 mph league average for starting pitchers.
Leake has owned right-handed hitters over the past two seasons, but he’s had less success against lefties, and that’s been a trend throughout his career. He’s yielded a .274/.324/.444 batting line to lefties throughout his big league tenure. Some of that should be taken with a grain of salt, as those numbers aren’t park-adjusted, but that’s still the rough equivalent of Evan Longoria’s 2015 batting line — hardly an ideal result.