AP Sports Writer
ST. LOUIS — Minutes after his contract with the St. Louis Cardinals was announced, Mike Leake was looking ahead to rivalry games against the Chicago Cubs.
“Honestly,” he said Tuesday, “I wouldn’t mind taking them down.”
Leake and the Cardinals agreed to an $80 million, five-year contract, a move the Cardinals hopes boosts their chances to win a fourth straight NL Central title.
“When we make decisions, it is about performance,” general manager John Mozeliak said. “We heard nothing but positives.”
Leake described the Cardinals as a “dynasty.” Before last season, St. Louis had been to the NL Championship Series or deeper four consecutive years.
“When the offseason is unfolding, different options pop up,” Mozeliak said. “When this did, we decided it made a lot of sense. I do think it makes the Cardinals stronger.”
Leake gets $12 million next year, $15 million in 2017, $17 million in 2018, $16 million in 2019 and $15 million in 2020. The deal includes an $18 million mutual option for 2021 with a $5 million buyout. Leake also receives a full no-trade provision.
During his news conference, Leake raised a No. 8 jersey, the number he wore at Arizona State.
“I was looking for some place to call home,” Leake said. “They were willing to work with us and we were willing to work with them.”
Because Leake was traded during last season, the Cardinals will not have to forfeit a compensatory draft pick. They’ve traded a number of young pitching prospects the past few seasons, including Shelby Miller, Tyrell Jenkins and Rob Kaminsky.
A 28-year-old right-hander, Leake is 64-52 with a 3.88 ERA in six big league seasons. He was 11-10 with a 3.70 ERA for Cincinnati and San Francisco last season, totaling 30 starts and 190 innings.
Ace Adam Wainwright, who returned late in the season from a torn left Achilles tendon, heads a rotation that includes Carlos Martinez, who was sidelined in September by a shoulder injury but is anticipated to be ready for spring training. Jaime Garcia and Michael Wacha also are expected to start, and lefties Marco Gonzales, Tyler Lyons and Tim Cooney could earn rotation spots.
“I think we can be the best,” Leake said. “If they name me the No. 5 guy, that’s fine with me.”
St. Louis failed in efforts earlier this offseason to retain outfielder Jason Heyward and add pitcher David Price.
Mozeliak said talks with Leake began about a week-and-a-half ago. Leake had put a priority on Arizona, where he lives, but the Diamondbacks signed Zack Greinke and acquired Shelby Miller from Atlanta.
“Once Arizona got out of the picture I was open to whatever team I felt fit my needs the best,” Leake said. “Coming here has turned into my new No. 1.”
Leake is durable, ranking fifth in innings in the National League during his six seasons. He was second in the NL in pitches thrown per inning, at 14.3, always remembering advice from his father when he was six or seven to attack the hitters.
Staying in the NL was appealing also because he’s a career .212 hitter with six homers.
“I will say it was something we thought was attractive,” Mozeliak said. “Most of our pitchers are not very comfortable hitting.”
Leake’s trade last July was part of a dismantling of much of the Reds’ core, including third baseman Todd Frazier and pitcher Johnny Cueto, and they have attempted to trade closer Aroldis Chapman.
“We did have a locker room full of talented players and we were never able to piece it together in the right way,” Leake said. “Seasons like that are never fun.”
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