Cincinnati Reds starter Johnny Cueto is in his sixth season with the team, and has thrown 200 innings only once in his career (2012).
Cueto came into the season as the team’s ace and Opening Day starter after signing an extension last year. The extension has him making $7.4 million this season, $10 million in 2014 with a team option at the same pay rate for 2015. He has appeared in only nine games and amassed a grand total of 48.2 innings on the season thus far. That breaks down to $822,222 a start, and $153,526 per inning.
Injuries have sidetracked Cueto’s career over the last two seasons, and unless he changes his mechanics and/or improves his conditioning, expect more of the same moving forward.
Cueto has been on the DL with a strained lat since June 29 and hasn’t begun a throwing regimen yet, according to Fox Sports Ohio. At this rate, his return in August is highly unlikely. The injury has landed him on the DL twice this season, and it’s the same one that kept him out of all but one-third of an inning in last year’s playoff series against the San Francisco Giants.
The Reds have managed to find a way to win in the absence of Cueto thanks to Mike Leake‘s tremendous season, Matt Latos‘ nasty slider and the emergence of the young lefty Tony Cingrani — who took Cueto’s spot in the rotation.
Leake has pitched to a staff-leading and career-best 2.86 ERA, and arguably was an All-Star snub this year. Cingrani is right behind Leake at 2.87, and has already thrown almost twice as many innings as Cueto on the year at 87.2 IP. That’s not to say Cingrani is as well-rounded of a pitcher as Cueto, because he’s not; but at least he’s on the field.
Cingrani is still a young pitcher (24) and predominately features a fastball mixed in with an occasional 12-6 curveball. He will need to develop a good change-up or slider in order to maintain his success rate at the MLB level long term. However, his fastball has proven to be explosive and is the biggest reason why he is at 5-1 coming into Tuesday.
With the playoffs rapidly approaching, the Reds no doubt can’t wait to get Cueto back in the rotation. What version they get of Cueto however, is anyone’s guess.
Cueto has consistently gained weight in his six seasons in the league, which is very troublesome with how much he contorts his body out of the windup. In fact, no one in the league does so more on each delivery apart from maybe the Giants’ Tim Lincecum.
Manager Dusty Baker protected Cueto’s body in his first few seasons in the league, only having him throw an average of 170 innings before 2012. When Baker cut him loose last year, we began to see his body break down.
Unless Cueto can trim his belly fat and/or change his mechanics drastically, it’s hard to imagine the injury issues going away. If Cueto is resistant to improving his conditioning or changing his mechanics, and the injuries do continue into next season, the best thing for the Reds may be to move him while he still has “ace” value.
They also have the option of buying out his $10 million contract in 2015 for $800,000 if they don’t find a suitor on the open market. Baker is well known for standing by his players, but at what cost?
For Cueto, the next 12 months could be a career-defining period. Let’s hope he’s not the last to notice it.