MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

5 best trade fits for Mike Leake

5 best trade fits for Mike Leake

Mike Leake understands how these things work, and so he knows his time with the Reds is almost certainly coming to a close. He was a first-round Draft pick in 2009 who jumped directly to the Major Leagues the next year without a single game in the Minors.

All 166 of Leake's career appearances have been for the Reds, and it's against that backdrop that his start against the Cubs on Wednesday was accompanied by a bit more emotional freight.

Whether it's Leake's final start for the Reds -- or even if he has a couple more -- he seems about to be catapulted into a pennant race. Beyond that, he represents the quandary in which Cincinnati find itself.

Yes, it's time to rebuild. Johnny Cueto and Leake will be free agents after the season, and it's unlikely the Reds can afford both of them. And there's the tougher truth: The current mix of players hasn't accomplished what Cincinnati hoped.

The Reds aren't going to catch the Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs in the National League Central without major changes. Sure, this can be an exciting time for fans, as general manager Walt Jocketty has a chance to make the team younger and deeper.

But it's also an uncertain time. As correct as the decision to rebuild might be, it's still frightening to part with players who've meant so much to the franchise.

Here's what Leake brings to the table:

He pitches deep into games. Only nine NL starters have thrown more than his 120 2/3 innings. He has completed at least seven innings in three of his past six starts.

Leake is reliable. He has 12 quality starts in 19 games. He has allowed three runs or fewer in eight of his past nine turns.

He has such a wide repertoire -- fastball, cutter, curve, split -- that hitters seldom see the same mix of pitches in consecutive plate appearance.

Only 10 NL pitchers get softer contact more consistently than Leake's 16.2 percent, according to fangraphs.com. Only nine NL pitchers get a higher percentage of ground balls than Leake (52.8).

While attention has focused on the big names -- Cueto, Cole Hamels, David Price, etc. -- who might be available this month, Leake would be a nice upgrade for a contender.

Here are five that make sense:

Royals
Even though they have a surplus of starters, there's uncertainty, especially with Yordano Ventura's erratic season and 5.19 ERA. Royals general manager Dayton Moore might prefer Cueto or Price, but he could be reluctant to make a trade that significantly weakens his farm system. Leake might be the perfect alternative and would put Kansas City in a better spot for October.

Astros
No team is a better fit for Leake than this one. The Astros badly need more innings from their starters as they try to keep pace with the Angels in the American League West or grab one of the AL Wild Card berths. Leake has a 2.27 ERA in eight appearances at Minute Maid Park. Houston's infield defense would be perfect for a ground-ball pitcher like Leake. The Astros also have a deep enough farm system to make a deal work. What is unknown is how much front-office intrigue becomes a factor. When Jocketty and Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow worked together in St. Louis, they didn't have the closest relationship, and that's putting it nicely.

Yankees
Here's another nice fit. General manager Brian Cashman almost certainly will make a run at Cueto, Price and Hamels, but at a time when he's committed to upgrading the Yankees' farm system, he may be reluctant to part with a large package of prospects. Leake won't come cheap, but he does offer the Yanks a significant rotation upgrade in a season they don't appear to need much else.

Blue Jays
Toronto wants both a starter and a closer. Cincinnati has both if the Reds were willing to discuss Aroldis Chapman along with Cueto and/or Leake. The Blue Jays probably will target Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon as their top priority, but Leake would help stabilize a rotation that has been a major disappointment. General managers sometimes shy away from bringing an NL starter into an AL pennant race because of the deeper lineups. Leake can hold his own. First, he has a sense of his stuff and how to use it regardless of the league. Second, Leake has such a wide variety of pitches and speeds that his game could play equally well in both leagues.

Giants
Conventional wisdom is that San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean will be looking for modest upgrades, primarily a bullpen arm or an extra bat. But no Giants starter outside of Madison Bumgarner is getting deep into games, and even with Matt Cain back from the disabled list, Leake would be a nice upgrade. San Francisco appears to have the Minor League talent to satisfy Cincinnati.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.