If you wanted David Price, your disappointment will not dissipate.
If you’re still angry that Jason Heyward is a Cub, this will not bring contentment.
But the reality is that signing Mike Leake provides the Cardinals with less uncertainty when it comes to their starting rotation in 2016.
John Mozeliak and the Cardinals are assuming a lot next season.
They’re assuming Randal Grichuk’s recent sports hernia surgery won’t zap his power as he spends the offseason rehabbing as opposed to adding strength.
They’re assuming Stephen Piscotty can accomplish in 600 at bats next year, what he accomplished in 233 at bats last season.
They’re assuming Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina won’t break down again, and that Brandon Moss is a great bounce-back candidate.
They’re assuming Jhonny Peralta and Kolten Wong won’t fade in the second half like they did in 2015.
But after whiffing on re-signing Jason Heyward and presumably passing on free agents Chris Davis, Justin Upton and Alex Gordon (those players are still available but Mozeliak seems reluctant to sign them), the Cardinals will once again rely on an aging veteran core, as well as the development of young position players.
Many fans don’t agree with Mozeliak’s philosophy, with some suggesting the Cards are being cheap. But whether you agree or disagree with his approach, Mozeliak will often put his faith in the players that he scouted, drafted, and watched develop in the team’s system. He hasn’t made a habit of handing out huge contracts that have little return on investment towards the back end of deals.
Thankfully, Mozeliak didn’t roll the dice with the rotation.
According to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, the Cardinals gave Leake a five-year, $80 million contract. Given Leake’s average numbers (and actually, his numbers were below average last season), many Cardinal fans will make the argument that Mozeliak overpaid.
Honestly, Mozeliak probably did overpay. But it’s important to distinguish between price and value.
Make no mistake: This isn’t fifth-starter money for Leake. If the Cards were seeking only a fifth starter, a one-year offer for Mark Buehrle would have made more sense than a multi-year deal for Leake. Or, as Mozeliak suggested a couple of weeks ago, a spring training battle between Tim Cooney, Tyler Lyons, and Marco Gonzales would have sufficed had the Cards been searching for a back-of-the-rotation arm.
Signing Leake suggests that Mozeliak wasn’t only trying to replace Lance Lynn’s innings next season, but also attempting to add protection to a rotation that faces plenty of questions.
The fact that Adam Wainwright pitched at the end of last season provides optimism that he’ll be able to make his 30-plus starts in 2016. Even though he made only four starts last year due to Achilles surgery, I’m not worried about Wainwright returning as the club’s ace.
But Michael Wacha slumped badly in the second half last season and dealt with a stress reaction injury in 2014. Carlos Martinez had to be shut down at the end of the year due to a shoulder strain. Jaime Garcia was fantastic upon his return, but everyone is aware of his injury history.
Leake posts average numbers. His signing will likely annoy anyone that expected more in the offseason.
But Leake is also durable and reliable. He fits the Cards’ ground-ball philosophy and he doesn’t walk many batters. His strikeout rate is one of his drawbacks, but he doesn’t allow many fly balls so as long as the Cards play good defense behind him, he shouldn’t be a liability.
Did the Cards overpay? Probably.
Many thought they overpaid for Peralta two years ago, but Mozeliak knew he had to spend a little extra to take care of the black hole that was the team’s shortstop position. That gamble has paid off nicely.
Leake will not be David Price. But if he turns out to be Kyle Lohse (the Cardinal version, not the Brewer re-boot), then he will provide value for a team that now has less uncertainty when it comes to their starting rotation.