The Cardinals traded Mike Leake to Seattle on Wednesday to open a spot in the rotation for Jack Flaherty, who will make his major-league debut on Friday night. (File)

By Rob Rains

How much the Cardinals will truly benefit by trading Mike Leake to the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday won’t truly be known for a while.

One of the immediate knee-jerk reactions to the deal was that freeing up a good portion of the nearly $55 million which was owed Leake through the 2020 season could prompt the Cardinals to make a sincere effort to re-sign Lance Lynn before he hits free agency this winter.

It didn’t take long, however, for that theory to be shot down by John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations.

“I don’t think I would draw any conclusions by what we did today to determine what we are going to do in the offseason on that regard (Lynn),” Mozeliak said during a conference call. “Claarly when you look at our young pitching coming we certainly feel that’s the strength and that’s our future.”

Mozeliak indicated trading Leake was more about creating an opening for some of those young pitchers at the major-league level. The present will meet the future on Friday night when Jack Flaherty makes his major-league debut with the start against the Giants in San Francisco.

“We have a lot of young pitching coming, and we felt for us to start our off-season now made more sense for us than trying to wait,” Mozeliak said. “We had an opportunity to do this deal with Seattle and decided it was the right time to do it.

“We felt the importance of starting this younger track of pitching moving forward, beginning today.”

The Cardinals, according to multiple media reports, agreed to kick in about $17 million over the next three years to pay part of Leake’s salary. They also traded $750,000 in international signing pool money – which they were not likely to spend anyway because of their signing restrictions - and received a 21-year-old Class A shortstop, Raydar Ascanio, in exchange. He is expected to be assigned to Palm Beach.

In reality, however, what the Cardinals got in dumping Leake on the Mariners was a chance to see if some of their promising young pitchers are ready for the major leagues.
In addition to Flaherty, Mozeliak specifically mentioned Dakota Hudson as a pitcher who will benefit from the opening created by the trade.

Mozeliak admitted that one of the reasons Leake started last Saturday when there was a groundswell to bring up Flaherty then was because the trade with the Mariners already was in the works.

Leake had a full no-trade clause in his contract and gave his approval for the deal on Tuesday night. One of the benefits of the move for Leake is that the Mariners hold spring training in Arizona, where Leake lives.

Mozeliak did not believe trading Leake was an indication that the team is conceding the NL Central race and said he expects the team to continue to compete and be in the race for the rest of the season.

“I still think we expect to compete, we’re just going to do it with a different name and a different face,” Mozeliak said. “This is about creating that opportunity internally, and we’re excited about what that looks like. We’re still in this, and still expect to have success.”

The Cardinals will call up a player for Thursday’s game in San Francisco and can then add more players to the roster on Friday, when teams can go beyond the current 25-man limit.

Leake signed with the Cardinals as a free agent following the 2015 season, after the Cardinals knew that Lynn would not be able to pitch for at least a year because of Tommy John surgery. It also came after the team fell short of signing free agent David Price.

Leake was a combined 16-24 in 56 starts for the Cardinals with a 4.46 ERA.

“When you do deals a lot of time it’s a point in time reaction,” Mozeliak said. “At the time we hadn’t drafted Dakota Hudson yet, we were still seeking the growth of somebody like Jack Flaherty. Our development side of the game has produced a lot of live arms. We’re certainly excited to see what they are capable of doing.”

Two other young pitchers who figure to be included in the rotation next season are Luke Weaver, who had another 10-strikeout game on Tuesday night, and Alex Reyes, who will be coming back after missing this season because of Tommy John surgery.

“We really had to figure out a way to create that opening,” Mozeliak said. “These are people that we drafted who checked all of the boxes along the way but they did it very quickly.”

Another effect of the trade is that the Cardinals will be saving about $38 million over the next three years, which they could perhaps use in their off-season pursuit of a closer to replace the injured Trevor Rosenthal or a big bat for the middle of the lineup.

“This is a team which I think is difficult to put your finger exactly on what you want to see done,” Mozeliak said. “It will give us some more flexibility moving forward.”

Flaherty, 21, was 7-2 with a 2.74 ERA in 15 starts at Memphis after beginning this year at Double A Springfield, where he was 7-2 in 10 starts with a 1.42 ERA.

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