Potential Landing Spots For Johnny Cueto
The Cincinnati Reds received some good news today (May 26th) when their ace and perennial Cy Young candidate, Johnny Cueto‘s MRI showed that he has no structural damage to his elbow but there is some minor inflammation. Cueto will miss a start, maybe two but nothing more. Cueto has made 9 starts going 3-4 with an ERA of 3.03 (3.34 FIP, 3.33 xFIP). He has pitched at least 7.0 innings in all but one start thus far. In total, he has thrown 65.1 IP, good for 7th in the majors.
As things currently sit, the Reds are 18-26 and 10.5 games back of the St. Louis Cardinals and 6.0 games back of the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets for the 2nd Wild-Card spot. Things aren’t pretty right now in Cincinnati. They’re dealing with injuries to key guys like Homer Bailey, Devon Mesoraco, and inconsistent play from Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce. Even the production from Joey Votto has fallen off dramatically compared to where he was just a few weeks ago. Their bullpen isn’t very good and outside of Cueto and young Anthony DeSclafani, the rotation hasn’t been good.
The Reds biggest trade chip this year is easily Cueto. Cueto is set to become a free agent at seasons end and has had a track record of both dominance mixed with a bit of an injury history. For his career, Cueto has a 3.26 ERA, 3.84 FIP, and 3.83 xFIP. Batters have struck out 20% of the time against Cueto in his career, owns a 1.18 WHIP, and 3.82 SIERA. Cueto is good. His career numbers are a bit inflated by decent seasons in 2008 and 2009, but his past 3 seasons when healthy, he is one of the best starters in the game.
Should the Reds continue to fall out of the picture in the NL Central and the Wild-Card, moving Cueto for a top prospect or two would almost certainly happen. Cueto would likely command at least $20 million contract per season which is likely out of the Reds price range. They can leverage the fact that a team would only be on the hook for $10 million but would not be eligible for a qualifying offer.
What would the price tag look like for a guy like Cueto? It may not be as much as you think. Cueto is no doubt one of the top pitchers in the game and one of the few legitimate staff aces. He may not be on the level of a Clayton Kershaw or Felix Hernandez but in the tier below with the likes of Adam Wainwright or David Price. Price was traded last off-season as a part of a three team deal for Drew Smyly, prospect Willy Adames, and infielder Nick Franklin. A top prospect, an emerging young starter, and a middle of the road infielder. One would assume Cueto would net a young start like Smyly to be able to insert into the rotation with DeSclafani and Bailey next season. They could use a young second baseman as a replacement for Brandon Phillips in a few season as well. Marlon Byrd‘s contract expires after next season and Jay Bruce the season before. An outfielder is another possible need in a trade for Cueto.
Let’s look at potential landing spots and trade chips that fit the speculated return for Cueto.
1. Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox could use Cueto or Cole Hamels. The Red Sox also have money to extend Cueto and the prospects to move for him.
2. Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have prospects to trade, and Alex Anthopoulos has money to play with come deadline time. They likely don’t have the money available to re-sign Cueto but with how weak the AL East is and how good the offense is, it’s a move worth making.
3. Minnesota Twins
The surprising Twins are in a playoff spot as of now, and if that continues, they 100% have the pieces needed to make a move for Cueto.
4. Houston Astros
The surprising Astros would easily be in a position to make a move for Cueto. Their rotation is good but could be great having Cueto alongside Dallas Keuchel.
All four of those teams are in my mind, the likeliest to make a play for Cueto. Cincinnati would likely want to send him to the AL to not have to face him again but if the right package came along from a division rival or another NL team, the move would be made.
Johnny Cueto is the top trade chip the Reds have and would bring a nice package. The Reds just need him to stay healthy to increase his trade value.