Cincinnati Reds ace Johnny Cueto might be the hottest trade commodity on the market in 2015, with a 2.98 earned-run average, and an expiring contract while on a team already 12.5 games out of first place. The 29-year-old right-hander is also coming off his best season in the majors, finishing 2014 with a 2.25 ERA over 243.2 innings.
The trade deadline is July 31, but that doesn't mean teams will wait to pull the trigger on a blockbuster deal. This has been an eerily quiet season for deals, and the Cueto Sweepstakes can heat up at any moment. There have been plenty of rumblings that the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox were interested in a trade for Cueto. On Sunday, Jon Morosi of Fox Sports added the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers to the Cueto speculation.
â€” Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) June 14, 2015
#RedSox had a scout at Johnny Cueto's most recent start, but now they have second-worst record in AL. Can they legitimately buy at deadline?
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) June 14, 2015
Yankees have a scout watching Johnny Cueto tonight, for at least the second straight start.
â€” Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) June 18, 2015
With roughly 95 games remaining on the season, it might be too early to assess which teams might be buyers and which teams might be sellers, though things are not looking good in New England at the moment. The Red Sox are currently nine games out of first place in the American League East, and in last place.
Boston's rotation has been abysmal this season, with Wade Miller, Rick Porcello and Joe Kelly struggling. Cueto would immediately become the ace of the staff, as even promising young left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez was recently humbled in allowing nine earned runs in less than five innings against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Clay Buchholz is having a strong June, but has already had four terrible starts this season and probably can't be relied upon to carry the staff.
Despite some gloom-and-doom statistics, the Red Sox have had 33 quality starts this season, which is No. 16 in the majors. The offense might be poised for a breakout with players like Pablo Sandoval and David Ortiz perhaps due for a power surge.
Should the Sox go on a run in the coming weeks, talks between the Reds would likely intensify. It's unclear how much interest top prospect Yoan Moncada would receive from Cincinnati, considering his poor numbers in 2015. The 20-year-old second baseman is a raw talent from Cuba, and has a very high ceiling making him seemingly an "untouchable" player. Left-hander Henry Owens, who is Boston's top pitching prospect, is another possible prospect to land Cueto, though he has given up a high number of walks this year.
The Tigers are in third place in the AL Central, but are 5.5 games out of first. While David Price and Alfredo Simon have been excellent, Detroit can use a boost in the rotation, ranking sixth in the AL in ERA (3.76). Cueto's presence could be enough to get Detroit in the postseason with the Tigers currently owning the fifth-best record in the AL. Catching the Kansas City Royals could be very difficult with this current rotation. The Tigers may be waiting to see if Anibal Sanchez quickly regains his form and if Justin Verlander can provide a spark after making his only start on June 13.
The Yankees might be the most logical destination for Cueto. In a tight AL East, the Yankees are just one game out of first place, and the Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles are breathing down their necks. New York should continue to have one of the best offenses in baseball, but the rotation doesn't inspire much confidence. CC Sabathia has a 4.37 ERA in June and a 5.31 ERA overall this season, and Nathan Eovaldi has been a disappointment thus far.
GM Brian Cashman almost certainly knows the Yankees can't afford another lackluster season after failing to reach the postseason since 2012. However, he may be hesitant to surrender Luis Severino or Aaron Judge, two players with high ceilings.
Meanwhile, sunny Southern California could be calling for Cueto if the deep-pocket Dodgers are serious about making a run at the World Series. The Dodgers seem likely to make the playoffs, but the starting rotation may not be good enough to take them to the World Series. Brett Anderson, who has never pitched 200 innings in his career, is the No. 3 starter behind stars Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers do not want to part with prized prospects Corey Seager and Julio Urias, but team president Andrew Friedman has depth in the farm system to land Cueto if the Reds are willing to accept a more diverse package of prospects.
ESPN's Jayson Stark predicts that the Dodgers land both Cueto and Reds teammate Aroldis Chapman. The 27-year-old flamethrower has a 2.08 ERA, with 53 strikeouts in 30.1 innings.