"He was a big-time mentor for me during my first time coming into the league," Leake said. "I couldn't have asked for a better manager to have. It was a special relationship from the start. I don't know if words could explain it. There is a connection. He knew people that I knew and I knew people that he knew. It grew from there. I hope to have a relationship with him for the rest of my life. I see it as a true friendship beyond just baseball."
Leake's best season in the big leagues was under Baker in 2013, when he went 14-7 with a 3.37 ERA. After Leake became a free agent following the '15 season, the Nationals had a chance to acquire his services. Washington entered the picture before the Winter Meetings and Baker was hoping for a reunion. But according to Leake, it was bad timing. He was hoping to go to the D-backs, as his offseason home is in Arizona.
"It just didn't seem right at the time. I was still waiting on the Diamondbacks on what they were going to do," Leake said. "The Nationals came into the process during that time. It was almost bad timing. I was still feeling something out. I respected that the Nationals came early and tried to get me early. It just didn't seem right at the time."
Instead, Leake signed a five-year, $75 million contract with the Cardinals. He said he likes his new surroundings.
"I think we have a great group of guys that I've gotten along with from the start. We have a bunch of young [talent]. … It's going to be a good team for years to come. It's a traditional team and a team based on a track record."
Bill Ladson has covered the Nationals/Expos for MLB.com since 2002 and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.