Cincinnati Reds‘ ace Johnny Cueto has developed into an ace among aces. When he faces the New York Yankees on Sunday, he’ll carry the second lowest ERA (2.49) since 2011 among all major league pitchers who have thrown at least 500 innings during that time span.
This year, Cueto has been even better than the norm he has set since 2011. His 2.13 ERA and 141 strikeouts rank second in the National League, and he has held opponents to the lowest batting average (.181) and recorded the lowest WHIP (0.89) among all major league starters with at least 17 starts under their belt.
But Cueto will most likely become the asset of a team with much deeper pockets than the Reds — like the $200-million-per-year Yankees — once Cueto is eligible for free agency after the 2015 season.
Meanwhile, the Reds will most certainly continue to enjoy the bargain contract under which they have Cueto for both the rest of this season and next season ($10 million). But trading him is out of the question if the Reds have any intention of making the postseason this year and next.
The Reds signed Cueto to a four-year, $27-million deal in 2011 with the $10-million club option for 2015. Cueto’s deal will likely be the best deal the Reds will ever ink for a player entering his first year of salary arbitration in which all of his arbitration years and his first two years of free agency are bought out.
Instead, market dynamics for top starting pitchers are probably going to make the six-year, $105-million deal the Reds gave this offseason to a lesser pitcher in Homer Bailey somehow seem like a bargain.
With the end of Cueto’s years with the Reds all but certainly ahead on the not-to0-distant horizon, his head-to-head audition for the Yankees on Sunday may give Yankees’ fans something to remember when it comes time for the Yankees to do their part to outbid other big market teams for the services of Cueto after 2015.