Leone has "no ill will'' toward Jays after trade

Dominic Leone, one of the Toronto Blue Jays' top relievers in 2017, was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals earlier this off-season as part of the package for outfielder Randal Grichuk. Photo Credit: Peter Joneleit, Cal Sport Med/Rex

Dominic Leone, one of the Toronto Blue Jays' top relievers in 2017, was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals earlier this off-season as part of the package for outfielder Randal Grichuk. Photo Credit: Peter Joneleit, Cal Sport Med/Rex

By Danny Gallagher

Canadian Baseball Network

JUPITER, Fla. -- Coming off an excellent 2017 season with the Toronto Blue Jays, Dominic Leone received another fancy present in the off-season when he was awarded Super 2 status in the coveted salary-arbitration process.

Instead of having to complete three years of service, Leone qualified with time of two years and 119 days and agreed to a $1.085-million contract on Jan. 12 to avoid arbitration so he was figuring he was headed again to Dunedin for Spring Training with the Jays with just a little more than a month to go.

"It was another landmark that I was fortunate enough to get. It was nice,'' Leone told me of sneaking into the arbitration process sooner than expected.

Lo and behold, the reliever from Connecticut was shocked to find out he was traded to the Cardinals with prospect Conner Greene in exchange for outfielder Randal Grichuk only one week after agreeing to his contract. He wasn't expecting the call but he knows baseball is a business. He accepted the trade with resignation, knowing he was going to a classy organization.

Instead of Dunedin, Leone packed his bags and headed here to the other side of Florida.

"I was hanging around the house and got the call,'' Leone said. "It's the second time I've been traded. This didn't hurt quite as much as the first one but still, you never want to get that call. But it's business. I have no ill will toward Toronto. You have to roll with the punches.''

Leone was exceptional last season with a glittering 3-0 record, 81 strikeouts and a 2.56 ERA in a shade over 70 innings out of John Gibbons' bullpen. He also stranded 42 of 54 inherited runners and limited left-handed batters to a .183 average.

After two subpar seasons with the Mariners and Diamondbacks in 2015 and 2016, respectively, Leone rebounded with Toronto in a fashion very much similar to his rookie campaign with Seattle in 2014 when he was 8-2 with a 2.17 ERA in 66 1/3 innings.

"I was confident and more consistent last season,'' Leone said in an interview at his locker. "I felt like I was consistent. I was stronger. I felt like I was aggressive. I was pretty happy. I had a good year.''

Leone impressed Gibbons and pitching coach Pete Walker with a cutter, sinker and fastball and this season, he expects to be a go-to guy on many occasions for manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Mike Maddux.

Leone would like to be a closer someday just like any reliever but he made the interesting observation that all relievers in a sense are closers.

"When you're in the bullpen, you are a closer,'' Leone said. "You try to shut the door whether it's the fifth inning or the ninth inning. To be the closer-closer, that's the goal for anyone in the bullpen.''

Grichuk was swapped to the Jays after spending close to four full seasons with the Cardinals. He appears to possess a steady supply of power but the Cardinals seemed to expect more. His spot on the roster became uncertain when the Cardinals acquired Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins just prior to Christmas.

The Cardinals also wanted more from Cuban-born shortstop Aledmys Diaz, who was traded by St. Louis to Toronto in the off-season for minor leaguer J.B. Goodman. It's expected Diaz will get playing time at short as Troy Tulowitzki slowly recovers from injuries.

"I don't think I've seen a guy hit so many long balls,'' said former Blue Jays' reliever Brett Cecil as he talked about Grichuk.

"Grichuk and Diaz both work hard and have a lot of power,'' said Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler.

"Grichuk and Diaz are both great guys. It was sad to see them go but it's part of the game,'' Cecil added.

So the wheeling and dealing between the Jays and Cardinals continues. Cardinals general manager turned vice-president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and Jays general manager Ross Atkins match up pretty good.

Mozeliak liked Cecil so much in the off-season of 2016-17 that he forked out close to $32-million over four years to coax Cecil into leaving Toronto after eight seasons in Canada. Cecil admits he was a disappointment last season. It showed in his stats: 2-4 with a 3.88 ERA. He's got to be a lot better.

"I had the same kind of year the year before with Toronto,'' Cecil was saying in the clubhouse, referring to his 1-7 record and 3.93 ERA in 2016. "I didn't have a good year last year. I just want to have a better start this season and a better finish.''

Mozeliak also outbid Atkins in the off-season of 2016-17 in acquiring Fowler's services. St. Louis gave the lead-off hitter a five-year contract worth $82.5-million while the Jays offered four years for what was believed to be $60-million. Fowler also received a full no-trade clause.

"It wasn't really an offer,'' Fowler was telling me as we discussed Toronto's pursuit of him. "It wasn't close to what we got.''