Sure, it sounds insanely crazy and stupid, but it actually makes sense; the Cincinnati Reds must trade Johnny Cueto before the July 31 trade deadline. Yes, at the moment Cueto is the Reds’ best starting pitcher and arguably one of the top three in the entire game of baseball. However, that is exactly the reason why the Reds should dangle his name in trade talks; his trade value will never be higher than it is right now.
Now take this into consideration: Four of the Reds starting pitchers will be free agents after next season — Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon. If you are the Reds, you have to plan for this to happen and ensure that you are not caught off guard. Sure, the Reds have Robert Stephenson and Michael Lorenzen in the minors, but it is still unclear how those power arms will translate to the major league level.
Cueto, Latos and Leake will each command a $100 million contract. Before you roll your eyes at Leake receiving nine figures, just take a look at his numbers compared to those of Homer Bailey (who received $100-plus million last offseason). Other than Bailey’s two no-hitters, Leake’s numbers are more favorable. Obviously the Reds will be unable to afford to keep all three and likely will only be able to keep one of those three. After all, a mid-market team such as the Reds cannot afford to have more than two $100-plus million pitchers in the same rotation. Out of those three, Latos is the one that I put the most faith towards in feeling comfortable giving such a large contract to; and coincidentally, he will be the one of the three who demands the largest/longest contract.
That brings us to Cueto. 2014 has been a stellar season for Cueto as he is 10-6 with a 2.18 ERA. Owed only $4 million for the rest of this season and “just” $10 million for 2015, Cueto is a huge bargain for any major league team (including the Reds). Heck, he’ll make $8 million less than Bailey in 2015 — figure that one out. How often is a Cy Young candidate who is owed only $10 million and under control for a year and a half available at the trade deadline? Not often.
Looking at the trades this week for relievers Huston Street and Joakim Soria, it is obvious that the Reds could ask for a king’s ransom in return for Cueto and most likely receive it. The Reds could ask a team for three of their top 10 prospects as well as a low-tier prospect in return and teams would jump at the opportunity. That’s how good (and affordable) Cueto truly is.
If you are Walt Jocketty, that is a fantastic way to build your team going forward. Even if you didn’t want to trade for prospects who won’t blossom for a few years, you could reap the benefits of landing a proven bat instead. Think about a team such as the Colorado Rockies in need of improving their rotation. The Reds could ask for Charlie Blackmon or Carlos Gonzalez in return and it would still seem like a fair trade. Regardless, the possibilities are endless for Jocketty to construct a trade around Cueto.
With many teams in the pennant race looking to bolster their rotation, the Reds could find themselves in prime position for a fight over their All-Star ace. While that might not mean good things for 2014, it could be hugely beneficial for 2015 and beyond.