The Major League Baseball season is not even a month old, but even early trends are worth keeping an eye on. For example, four teams — the Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels and Blue Jays — that make the most sense as partners with the Reds in a potential Johnny Cueto trade are experiencing rotation issues. Through ThursdayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s games, the aforementioned quartet of teams rank middle-of-the-pack or worse in FIP and WAR for starting pitchers.
Whether itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s due toÃ‚Â a hot-and-cold offense, a dilapidated bullpen or Devin MesoracoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s debilitating hip condition, if the Reds are out of the playoff race — or at least facing very long odds to qualify for the postseason — come the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, trading Cueto should be priority No. 1. And given that the strength of CincinnatiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s farm system is starting pitching — as ranked by MLB.com, six of the Reds top eight prospects are pitchers being groomed as starters, and that list doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even include Raisel Iglesias — the franchise should do all it can toÃ‚Â target position players that can aide the club sooner rather than later.
So, letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s examine the state of the rotations of the aforementioned four ball clubs and what the Reds could expect in return for Cueto:
Red Sox: With the additions of Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez, and Pablo Sandoval, plus seemingly-assured rebound seasons from Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts, everyone figured BostonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s bats would be the teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s strength. That assumption hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t quite bore fruit yet, as Red Sox hitters have posted a wRC+ of 89 thus far, a below-average to average mark.
All of that fails to change the fact that BostonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s rotation is full of No. 3 or worseÃ‚Â starters: Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson, Wade Miley and Joe Kelly. If healthy — the Red Sox have zero experienced starter depth behind those five — that quintet is good enough to get the club to the playoffs.
But hours before a postseason game, there will notÃ‚Â be a collective fear of, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Oh, crap, we have to face [insert current Red Sox starter here]Ã¢â‚¬Â spreading around the clubhouse of a Boston opponent. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s where Johnny Cueto comes in. Yes, Cueto owns mixed postseason success and having a true No. 1 is no guarantee of playoff victory (paging Clayton Kershaw). ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also proof that a starter can swing an entire series — or postseason (paging Madison Bumgarner).
And within BostonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s deep and versatile farm system, it wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be hard for the Reds toÃ‚Â find two to three prospects they really want.
Dodgers: Los Angeles is set with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke atop its rotation. Brandon McCarthy and Brett AndersonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s starts leave me with ambivalent feelings to this point. Hyun-jin Ryu (shoulder impingement) and Brandon Beachy (Tommy John) arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t returning from their respective injuries in the short-term. David Huff was designated for assignment after making one start for the club. Career minor-leaguer Mike Bolsinger started on Thursday.
In the short-term, L.A. should be fine. The offense has carried the club so far — and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s with Adrian Gonzalez, Howie Kendrick, a banged-up Yaisel Puig and Joc Pederson (swoon) as the only regulars actually off to good starts.
But, say Ryu and/or Beach suffer setbacks. Remember how I said the Red Sox have no experienced starting pitching depth? The same goes for the Dodgers, who could be forcedÃ‚Â to turn to Daniel Corcino — or convert Chris Heisey to a starter — if things go really south. (IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m half-joking.)
Though L.A.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s prized prospect triumvirate of Pederson, Corey Seager and Julio Urias is likely untouchable, the DodgersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ system still boasts some extremely talented arms and handful of high-end position players.
Blue Jays: 40-year-old R.A. Dickey and 36-year-old Mark Buehrle headline the rotation. 24-year-old Drew Hutchison (second season as a full-time MLB starter), 22-year-old Aaron Sanchez (first season as a full-time MLB starter) and 21-year-old Daniel Norris (first season as full-time MLB starter) comprise TorontoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s current rotation, which is ranked dead last in the majors in FIP and WAR.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s truly an odd (and somewhat refreshing) mix for a rotation, with a few past-their-prime veterans and a trio of youngsters. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sure the Jays couldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve gone the Jason Marquis route with at least one of the starting slots, but instead they turned to a few young guys who they felt were ready. (It should be noted that Sanchez (33 innings) and Norris (6.2 innings) did have cups of coffee in the bigs last season.)
After lavishing the second-biggest contract in team history — Vernon Wells, everyone! — uponÃ‚Â Russell Martin and trading for Josh Donaldson, Toronto is also in full go-for-it mode this year. Furthermore, the AL East is weaker than it has been in some time, with the Yankees and Rays likely headed for down seasons. And though many of the JaysÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ top prospects (Norris, Sanchez, Dalton Pompey, Devon Travis, Roberto Osuna, Miguel Castro)Ã‚Â are already in the bigs, the Reds would surely be able to swing a deal if the match was right.
Angels: C.J. Wilson has been about average so far this season while throwing more fastballs and changeups than he has in recent years. Hector Santiago has been better than his peripherals say he should be. Jered WeaverÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s downward slide continues. Garrett Richards is making his second start of the yearÃ‚Â tonight after a knee injury ended his season last August. Matt Shoemaker has been a disaster so far.
Inspiring much confidence? Yeah, didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think so.
Look, it would be no surprise to see Wilson have a good season, and Richards was a hoss last year (168.2 IP, 164 Ks, 2.60 FIP) before he got hurt. But the Angels are still lacking some needed star power at the top of their rotation.
The problem is, L.A.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s farm system is ranked 28th out of 30 teams by Baseball America. If IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m the Reds, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m hanging up on a potential Cueto swap with the Angels if Andrew Heaney isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t available.
Conclusion:Ã‚Â Again, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not advocating for trading Cueto…yet. The Reds need to make sure they do their due diligence — and I have no reason to suspect they will do otherwise — so they can be prepared for all contingencies, but these four clubs have the resources and the win-now mantras that make them the best four fits in a potential Cueto trade.