After speculation about whether/when/for how much/for how long Johnny Cueto should/can/will be extended for, I decided to do the work (mostly) and try to come up with some numbers. What follows is my attempt to quantify his likely value through the end of his age-36 season. There is a chart. So, you know, prepare yourselves.

WHAT THIS IS NOT, for the record, is a post expressing how much they should invest in particular players with so much already tied up in Votto, Phillips, etc. That’s a post for another day.

Pitcher Aging

Pitcher aging is a difficult thing to quantify because there are two factors. First, there is a general decline in talent (though this isn’t as steep for starting pitchers as it is for hitters or relief pitchers). Second, there is the increase in jury risk. Both are contributing factors when figuring out contract values.

While attempting to come up with some kind of aging curve for Johnny Cueto, I took the following steps:

1. I figured out IP/WAR over the last three years using Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR because I do not think Johnny Cueto is correctly valued by FanGraphs. This is the one part of my analysis that is pure opinion. Feel free to disagree with me.

2. Using this article, I attempted to deduce an “expected innings” trend for Cueto. When looking at the chart it is important to note that I am not predicting that Cueto will pitch exactly that many innings. Instead, think of the innings total as representing the likelihood of an injury and the potential severity of any such injuries.

3. Using this series, I attempted calculations to account for the likely decline in Cueto’s over all performance.

4. I assumed essentially no decline for next season. HIs decline begins, using the data, with his age 30 season.

Okay, let’s look at the chart. Note that I list the innings and performance declines separately and together so that you can see all potential variations. This is especially valid, I think, because there are certain pitchers – often elite pitchers – who simply lose it all at once. That is, they are very good until they are not.

Age Anticipated
WAR with
Inning Decline
WAR with
Perf. Decline
WAR with
29 220 5.8 5.8 5.8
30 176 4.6 5.8 4.6
31 154 4.1 5.6 4.0
32 132 3.5 5.1 3.1
33 110 2.9 4.6 2.3
34 100 2.6 4.2 2.1
35 80 2.1 4.2 1.5
36 70 1.8 3.9 1.2

The question around Reds land has seemed to be (assuming the Reds should extend him) about how long they should extend Cueto, with the assumption being that he will garner $20-$25M per year depending on the length of the contract, with the most common lengths being 4 and 6 years. For contracts of that length, it is reasonable to assume a market value of $6M/WAR. Now, let’s look at Cueto’s likely value as he ages.

In order for a player to be worth $25M/year. That player must average at least 4.1 WAR/season. As the Reds already control Cueto’s age-29 season, we will start by looking at his age-30 season. A deal of at least 4 years can only be justified at $25M/year if he is completely healthy. Assuming Cueto stays fully healthy, $25M/year would be justified well past his age-36 season. Of course, that is not likely.

In order to be worth $20M/year a player must average at least 3.3 WAR/season. In that circumstance, a 6 year extension could be justified almost precisely if Cueto experiences the expected health issues, but not if it is accompanied by the expected performance decline. If both his innings and performance decline, a 4-5 year deal at $20M/year could be justified.

And so, what we see is mostly what we expect to see. A 4 year deal, in terms of fair value, is probably okay. Go much beyond that, and unless Cueto is signing for a lower average salary, things start to look much shakier.

43 Responses

  1. Thegaffer

    Financial flexibility seems to be the currency of the recent offseason moves. No one wants to sign even great pitchers to long term deals. This has been a building theme, and is only broken by a few teams with endless resources (dodgers) and exceptional cases (kershaw). Even the Lester deal was more a declaration of “we are serous” by the cubs.

    The reds need to get either the trade value or the comp pick and move on. Wish we could have a refo on the Homer contract!

  2. Hotto4Votto

    Too bad sign and trades aren’t really a thing in baseball. Cueto seems like a good candidate to sign a 5-yr extension for market value, which would likely provide better trade value than one year of Cueto, even at a ridiculously good price.

    If Cueto signed and extension for around what the Red Sox were willing to sign Lester for, then we could probably make a deal happen with them. Maybe even for Betts now that Cueto would have more value/control. Ifs and buts…..

    • MrRed

      Right conclusion but wrong reasoning.

      • MrRed

        Your statement is overly broad. They had winning records in several of the last seasons with an increasing payroll. If they make it back to the playoffs this year, they’ll do so with their highest payroll ever. Unless you know the Red’s finances, and I’m sure you don’t, you have no clue whether they have “limited resources” or not.

  3. unc reds fan

    Again I want to go on note saying that with the length of the Homer deal, in regards to his age, is not the killer it is taken to be…second, due to Bob running the show, trading Cueto is not happening before the deadline when the product he will bring back will probably not be any better than the comp pick we would get if he walks if not actually worse…with that said I feel there are really only two Cueto options…sign him to a 4 year deal or less (20-25 is going rate) or if he wants more tender him and let him walk for a 1st round pick that might be worth something to us down the road

    • Carl Sayre

      I think that even waiting to the trade deadline because he thinks we can compete. I think the Reds will get more for Cueto than the 1st round pick we would get if he walks after the season. In other words there is no need to try to trade him now he will still have some pretty significant value at the deadline. The Reds aren’t in contention at the deadline I hope the Yankees, Boston ,Washington, Dodgers and Angels are all in the hunt. LMAO!!!!!

  4. Steve Mancuso

    Jon Lester – a comparable for Cueto – just signed a deal that guarantees him about $26 million for six years. That contract begins with Lester at age 31. If $25m/4yrs is the biggest contract that makes sense for the Reds, then given his likely market, the Reds shouldn’t compete.

    • MrRed

      And more to the point, you can count on offers for Cueto to be higher, so the Reds won’t be able to compete unless they want to overpay. I don’t think it’s a great deal for Cueto or Lester at $26/6 but a market rate has been established. The Reds would be better off putting their eggs in more than one basket.

  5. Steve Mancuso

    I like Jason’s methodology. He averaged Cueto’s last three seasons of WAR using Baseball-Reference to reach the starting point of 5.8 WAR. I think you could make an argument that Cueto made substantial changes in his pitching style in 2014 that mean it should be weighted more heavily. On the other hand, given what we know about pitcher aging curves, it’s probably generous to assume his year-30 season will be as productive as his year-29 season will be. Those two issues (sort of) cancel out.

    • unc reds fan

      Steve I am on board with you if the Cueto we saw in 2014 is the Cueto for the next two years, but again 4 years to me makes the most sense…I just keep looking at Verlander and Lincecum and noticed how quickly they went from being elite to barely being 5th starters and don’t want to get stuck down the road with another BP situation…but again I would be just as happy with the 1st round pick we would get by tendering him as I would with the unknown question mark platter we would get at the trade deadline

  6. Shchi Cossack

    Cueto signed his previous contract to ensure the his financial security his family’s financial security. That was a good move for both Cueto and the Reds. Unless Cueto tanks or suffers a significant injury (I certainly hope neither event ocurs, please!), Cueto is in line for his BIG, well-deserved payday after the 2015 season. Cueto will be in an elite class by himself as a FA after the 2015 season. Good luck Johnny. I’ve really enjoyed watching you grow as an elite starting pitcher during your career with the Reds. I’ve marvelled at your dedication to your craft. I am looking forward to your final season with the Reds and hope to see a CY award on your belt before you leave. The Reds simply cannot afford a $150MM contract for an age 30 starting pitcher, even for an elite pitcher like Cueto, but someone will offer up that contract (and probably more) for Cueto.

    • lwblogger2

      I think there’s a real good chance that you’re right, assuming he has a healthy 2015.

  7. Dale Pearl

    The other thing to take into consideration is that Cueto has a funky delivery which will more than likely increase his injury rate. 2 year contract at best is his team worth. Let the high profile teams take the risk on him. Sadly we are only going to get a compensation pick for him because of Reds management “half in” “half out” philosophy.

    • redmountain

      Funkier than Luis Tiant? Tiant came up as fireballer, had problems with his arm/shoulder/back and reinvented himself as a slop/drop pitcher using the most bizarre wind-up I have ever seen. It is believed in some circles that he was as old as 50. Can you say that Cueto’s delivery isn’t less stressful than what he used before?

  8. al

    The thing that worries me is that Cueto has been alternating healthy seasons and injured seasons. With how many innings he wracked up last year, I would have preferred they trade Cueto rather than Latos, because I think there’s a good chance he spends significant time on the DL next year. Knock on wood, I hope for our sake and his sake that he doesn’t.

    • Mike Smith

      I think Latos will spend a chunk of the year on dl and that’s why they traded him.

      • Carl Sayre

        I think that worries about Latos health was just part of, it the other part being his contract. WJ had access to Latos medical records that we didn’t, they also have access to the budget numbers for 16 that we don’t. I think his health, the Reds ability to sign him next year and his desire to go somewhere else probably all had to do with his change of address.

      • lwblogger2

        People seem to be missing that the Reds could actually try to sign Latos as a free-agent after the season (assuming he doesn’t sign an extension).

  9. Jason Linden

    The entire issues, really, is health. And that’s always the case with pitchers. If Cueto is healthy, the team that signs him will get a great deal. If he isn’t healthy, they won’t.

  10. redsfan06

    The only way I can see the Reds having a chance to sign Cueto is to give him a signing bonus for 2015 with 5 additional years afterward. Counting 2015, the Reds are giving Johnny a 6 year contract; whereas, other teams would have to give him 6 years starting in 2016. Cueto would have to give up something for the relief of not having to worry about an injury occurring this year. Even with that consideration, the Reds would probably have to at least match Lester’s contract:
    15 – $20 million
    16 – $25
    17 – $25
    18 – $27.5
    19 – $27.5
    20 – $20
    21 – $25 or $10 million buyout

    Cueto is 2-1/2 months older than Bailey and he would be signed one year longer with this contract. He is 2 years & 1 month younger than Lester.

  11. Redsman

    His agent is already on record as saying, in effect, that his contract will be for more than Lester’s. He says Cueto’s value is closer to that of Scherzer than Lester. He further stated that any contract must be signed prior to the beginning of the season. Can the Red’s even match the Lester contract? Would that be a good move, if they could? Probably no to both, unless another players contract is somehow subtracted. Whose would that be and who are the buyers? That is why I am with Al on this. Plus, unlike Mike Smith, I believe Latos comes back strong this year. Johnny with the funky delivery, 243 innings pitched last season, a previous injury history and14 months older than Mat Latos, has a higher probability of injury in addition to his agents above statements. Chalk up another mistake for Walt/Bob.

    • Michael Smith

      It’s a little early to chalk this up to a mistake REDSMAN. Also Cueto and his “injury history” has made a total of three less starts over the last three years and has been worth 3+ War compared to Latos.

    • Michael Smith

      On a total side note. Baseball reference list Mat Latos best comparison thru age 26 as Johnny Cueto.

      On Latos I am sad to see him go but his hits per nine innings has been on the rise since 2011 while k’s are dropping and cueto is trending the opposite way. In my perfect world we have both healthy in pitching in 2015.

  12. Dale Pearl

    Let us make an IF statement since our entire 2015 system is based upon one if after another.
    IF we do not resign Johnny Cueto and IF we do not trade him that means we get a compensation pick. If the Reds finish 15th in league what draft over compensation pick do we get? Is that worth a one and done round in the playoffs for 2015?

  13. Redsman

    At this point everything is speculation. Except his agents intentions, which he has made very clear. If he means what he says the possibility of Johnny signing here is very small. I think a major league ready player or even one at AA, the likes of Winker, is better than a compensation pick. Of course, that means we don’t have JC for this year. Tough choice, but with all the question marks I don’t think we are getting into the playoffs with or without JC. I guess it all comes down to what actually does take place this year. It should be interesting to see how Latos does, whether or not JC succumbs to the ‘Verducci’ affect, as well as the various question marks/ifs we have.

    One thing, Michael…you apparently have been looking at some of the same stats I have. It is remarkable how close the stats of JC & Latos are, for their entire careers up to this point. Including WAR, which works out to a difference per season as 2.6 for Latos and 2.4 forJC. But, as you say these numbers favor Cueto more recently.

  14. yoitsscholzy

    I keep seeing people talk about Cueto’s “funky delivery” as a reason he will be injured. I don’t buy it. Yeah, he turns his back to the batter, but that has literally no impact on elbow/shoulder. It COULD impact timing, which would then impact elbow/shoulder, but with Johnny it doesn’t. His mechanics are as clean as anybody I’ve seen. You never know with a pitcher, but to say his “funky delivery” is going to cause him problems is just fishing.

    • SPRO

      Funky delivery affects the oblique, which was his significant injury in the 2012 playoffs and 3 DL stints in 2013.

  15. Kevin J. Brown (@ZebtheRed)

    The Reds have shown that they are willing to pay to keep what they regard as top level talent. Cueto is one of the best pitchers in baseball. He will be extended before Opening Day 2015.

    • Tom Reed

      I think you hit it right on. The owner will not allow his ace pitcher to walk, and Cueto will be extended.

  16. Nick Carrington

    Cueto likely has too high a price tag for the Reds. I’ll take the pick if nothing else and trust the next wave of Stephenson, Lorenzen, and Iglesias. I consider signing Leake as well.

  17. VaRedsFan

    Can we stop throwing the word “compensation pick” around like it’s an automatic ticket to acquire the next superstar? It’s a pick between the 1st and 2nd rounds, who if pans out (5-10% chance) will not see the majors until 2020 or beyond. If Cueto leaves, his legacy should be more than pipe dream draft pick.

      • VaRedsFan

        Not literally, but it’s being thrown around like it’s actually something meaningful that we’d get for losing Cueto.

      • CP

        I think most of us consider it the worst-case-scenario. In some ways, the Reds competing for the #4 and #5 spots could potentially be a disaster because it would prevent the Reds from getting market value for Cueto, Chapman, or whoever else they likely cannot afford long term, or cause them to be on the hook for another $8 million/year for Marlon Byrd.

  18. Drew

    No one here thought the Red would pay what they did for Votto, no where near that amount and yet they did. Money is not an issue, so lets put that aside also as Bob has shown he will spend when “he” feels like it. The Reds will sign Cueto to a 5-6 year deal if Bob wants to, the question is how does Bob view Cueto and pitching over position players. I think in the end Bob will pay Cueto and people here will shake their head and moan how Bob has ruined the Reds budget, overpaid for a another pitcher and doomed the franchise…

    • CP

      And that very same year, the Reds will be completely unable to add talent at the trade deadline, and they’ll watch as the Cardinals and Pirates pull away from them. Cause clearly, money isn’t an object to the franchise.

  19. Tom Reed

    Having an ace pitcher is a lot like having an ace quarterback, and we know what that means in the playoffs.

    • Drew

      the problem is that in the NFL they have a salary cap which restricts contract sizes. In baseball we don’t so you have teams with multiple very high paid players. Contract wise you could say Votto is our Ace QB.

  20. Earl Nash

    If the Reds can get a competitive 5 year deal with some type of option on a 6th would I think be the ideal length. Votto’s deal was so long, that was the only reservation I had on that deal and I hope Mr. Vottomatic can get healthy and make it work.

    If Joey Votto and Johnny Cueto are not the kind of players you would want to build a club around, then there are really no big contracts worth extending. They have been excellent and seemingly hard working players. Injuries happen, but sometimes the contracts do pay off. The Giants made out like bandits on Bond’s contract.

    I think being able to extend Cueto paired with Bailey and the starting prospects Cincy has is a pretty good base for the starting rotation for the next 5-6 years. I’m an optimist….but I keep looking at say when the Cubs had a chance to extend Maddux and played around and let him get out to Atlanta and that cost Chicago dearly over the years and paid huge benefits for the Braves, especially when paired with those other two.

    I’m an optimist, I think Homer Bailey seems to have the build of a classic power pitcher. I would not be surprised if Homer gets better as he gets older.

    I think Johnny Cueto seems to me to be a starter that has a good sense of craft. He throws hard and gets movement, but I think he has gotten good at ‘pitching’. I think Cueto could be the type of starter that is still very effective even if he loses a mile or two on his fastball, by movement and changing speeds.

  21. Michael

    Ugh, I hope against hope the Reds do NOT sign Cueto to the 6 yr, $180 million or so contract they’ve already stated they want. We already GOT the best of Johny Cueto, he won’t have a better season than 2014. Why on earth do so many WANT Castellini to pay up? You know, after 3 seasons, we’re going to be groaning about how we owe this clown Cueto another $90 million over 3 years and that we can’t do anything to improve the roster due to that albatross of a contract. Does anyone really think Cueto will remain healthy enough and effective enough to be worth THIRTY million a year, each year, for the 6 seasons AFTER 2015?

    Lets see if we get another good year from Cueto, if we’re 10 games out or less, but in last place come late July, trade him for a couple of promising, cost-controlled, young, top prospects and move forward. We do have LOTS of pitching potential in the minors and at least a couple of those top 8 pitchers will be solid MLB starters. The money we save not extending Cueto might enable us to have a couple of good players instead of one that is good, then breaks down.