The Cincinnati Reds are enjoying the resurgence of a healthy Johnny Cueto. After just 11 starts in 2013 and three trips to the disabled list, Cueto has dominated to start the 2014 season (1.38 ERA in five starts and 39 innings).
Since 2011, Cueto is second in ERA in baseball only to Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers among starting pitchers who have thrown at least 400 innings. His value as a starting pitcher on the free agent market has to be in excess of $20 million per year for at least six years when he becomes eligible for free agency after the 2015 season.
The time for the Reds to re-sign their ace may have come and gone last year. Cueto spent so much time on the disabled list last year that it had to impact his value and may have encouraged him to ink a deal of lesser value on the side of caution.
Extending his current contract last season had some perceived risk for the Reds due to questions about Cueto’s health, but if there was any real hope for the small-market Reds to re-sign him, this past offseason would have been that time.
As it turned out, the Reds opted to extend Homer Bailey instead. The six-year, $105 million deal Bailey inked may prevent the Reds from not only re-signing Cueto, but also Mat Latos and Mike Leake, both of whom have their final year of arbitration eligibility in 2015.
The Reds have a $10 million team option to keep Cueto in 2015, but after that the likelihood is that Cueto will hit the open market, unless the Reds can figure out some way to keep one of the best pitchers in baseball.