Johnny Cueto’s time with the Cincinnati Reds could soon be coming to an end, as the team continues to fall further behind in the standings and they consider trade possibilities for the ace pitcher. The 29-year-old has been among the best pitchers in baseball over the last five years, and he could have a long list of potential suitors.
Cueto makes $10 million this year, but he’ll command a lucrative contract in the offseason. He’s reportedly looking for a deal worth close to $200 million, and the Reds might not be able to accommodate their top pitcher.
“He’s open-minded,” Bryce Dixon, Cueto’s agent, said on MLB Network Radio. “He’d love to stay in Cincinnati if that works out, but obviously he’s pitched so well that he’s going to command such a high price that he might have priced himself out of a market like Cincinnati.”
It’s no guarantee that Cincinnati will try to trade Cueto, but it seems like the most likely scenario. They already trail the first-place St. Louis Cardinals by 10 games in the National League Central, and failing to deal Cueto means they’d only get a draft pick in return if they can’t re-sign him.
“[The Reds] made no indications to Johnny that they want to trade him. But reading the tea leaves, if they fall out of contention it seems to make sense from their end because if they ride the season out with him and don’t make the playoffs, then they’re stuck with a compensation pick. And from where I sit, I think they can probably get more than that on the trade market,” Dixon said.
Several teams have been doing their due diligence for a potential trade with the Reds. When Cueto started against the San Francisco Giants on May 14, 20 scouts reportedly showed up to watch the right-hander pitch. According to the Dayton Daily News, a special advisor to the San Diego Padres and a professional scout for the Toronto Blue Jays were among those in attendance.
A few AL East teams make sense as potential trade partners with Cincinnati, since the five teams in the division are separated by just 4.5 games. The Boston Red Sox might be the most likely candidate to acquire Cueto because their starting rotation has the worst ERA in all of MLB. But their offense and bullpen have kept them in the hunt, and they are one of the teams that could afford to pay Cueto.
A team that isn’t looking to sign Cueto to a long-term contract wouldn’t likely be willing to trade the Reds a top prospect. Because of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ willingness to spend money, combined with their impressive farm system, L.A. might be a top contender to acquire Cueto. They have the league’s highest payroll, as well as three of the top 10 prospects ranked by Baseball America.
The 2014 season was Cueto’s best in MLB. He finished second in the NL Cy Young voting, posting career-highs with 20 wins, a 2.25 ERA and 242 strikeouts. Cueto was injured for parts of the 2011 and 2013 seasons, but he hasn’t posted an ERA higher than 2.82 since 2010. He’s pitched to a 3.03 ERA this year, though he hasn’t started since May 19 because of inflammation in his elbow.
Aroldis Chapman has one year left on his contract, and he’s also received interest from other teams. The closer has a 1.61 ERA this season, and he’s recorded 121 saves since 2012.