Leake builds quality case for curious contenders

Aided by Vogelbach's 2 HRs, Seattle righty goes 7 after near-perfecto

July 24th, 2019

SEATTLE -- continued to pitch like he was in a pennant chase on Wednesday, or at least as if he’d like to be in one. If his start against the Rangers was his last in a Mariners uniform, he’s certainly made a brief but lasting impression over the past week.

Leake tossed seven sharp innings and led the Mariners to a 5-3 win at T-Mobile Park, five days after coming three outs shy from completing what would’ve been the 24th perfect game in Major League history against the Angels. He struck out seven over 100 pitches and walked zero while reaching a three-ball count to only three of his 29 batters faced.

If Wednesday was an audition for contending teams, Leake made his case with an all-around performance, highlighted by efficient pitch sequencing, superb defense and just one mistake to red-hot Rougned Odor, who crushed a three-run home run off Leake during the sixth, his fourth homer of the series.

Leake also far outperformed one of the market’s top arms believed to be available: Rangers All-Star Mike Minor, who allowed each of his first four baserunners to score in the fifth.

“I feel like I think I may have been [auditioning] all year in a way, just because they were trying to trade me maybe in the offseason for a little bit,” Leake said. “Definitely, I think I'm on the radar. I had that one start in Anaheim coming out of the break [seven runs, four earned, over a career-low two-thirds of an inning], but other than that, I think I've been doing a pretty good job.”

Leake was aided by a pair of towering home runs by , who had been in a 4-for-29 funk before going deep in consecutive at-bats during the fifth and sixth innings. also reached base three times and drove in a run, and had an RBI single as part of a four-run fifth against Minor.

Given the direction that the rebuilding Mariners are headed -- and that Leake is owed at least $19 million through the next two seasons ($4 million of which will be paid by the Cardinals), including a $5 million buyout for 2021 -- the 10-year veteran does not exactly mesh with the club’s short- and long-term plans. Seattle has just one week to deal him, however, with the July 31 Trade Deadline looming.

In that vein, Leake might have increased his trade value over his past two starts. Dealing Leake to shed payroll -- like the Mariners did in June, when they dealt higher-priced veterans Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion -- would also allow Seattle to allocate innings to its younger pitchers over the season’s final nine weeks to jump-start their Major League development.

“Unfortunately and fortunately, I've been traded and kind of moved around for the last few years, but it has given me the wherewithal to know what to do in circumstances like this,” Leake said.

But given Leake’s occasional inconsistency and that there could be more premium arms to be had -- though that list appears to be dwindling -- it could take all the way until the Deadline for Mariners management to find a worthy deal. And as general manager Jerry Dipoto’s trades of Encarnacion and Bruce showed, the club could prioritize salary relief over prospect capital in return.

One aspect steering leverage in the Mariners’ favor might be the diminishing availability of starters that could be had. The Giants might be less inclined to move impending free agent Madison Bumgarner after catapulting to within 2 1/2 games of the second National League Wild Card spot. The same could be said for Trevor Bauer, whose Indians have trimmed their deficit to the Twins in the American League Central from 10 games to three.

The Mets’ Zack Wheeler is also believed to be available, but the hard-throwing righty has been on the injured list with fatigue in his pitching shoulder. Teammate Noah Syndergaard has premium stuff and appeal, but his 4.36 ERA is more than one full run higher than his previous career high. The Tigers are also believed to be shopping Matthew Boyd, though their asking price is reportedly steep. The Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman could be the top starter most likely to be moved.

“I'm happy here. There are definitely things that I'd like to see different or head in a different direction, but we'll see,” Leake said.

For prospective suitors, Leake offers a veteran presence and the ability to eat innings. Wednesday marked the eighth time in his 21 starts this season that he pitched at least seven innings.

However, despite pitching for a few playoff teams -- the Reds, Giants and Cardinals before coming to the Mariners -- Leake has made just one postseason appearance. He gave up five earned runs, including two homers, and took the loss for Cincinnati against San Francisco in Game 4 of the 2012 NL Division Series.