Tonight’s game is a number in an undefined countdown. We only have a handful of opportunities left to watch Johnny Cueto spin magic while wearing Cincinnati red. The countdown might stop in July (it should) or it may last until the first week of October; either way the days of Cueto as a Red are numbered.

But this evening’s matchup in particular has additional storylines built into it, as Steve mentioned on Monday—a once-traded ace squaring off against one who is yet to be, two perennial Cy Young contenders both on the verge of becoming free agents, and a team in contention facing a trade target they just scouted last week.

Detroit had scouts at Cueto’s Friday start at Wrigley Field (alongside members of the Yankees, Giants, and Red Sox organizations), which may have been the Tigers simply scouting their next opponent’s best pitcher or could be a signal of their intent to acquire Johnny Beisbol. Detroit’s starters, as a group, rest largely in the middle of the pack—they’re 10th in ERA, 12th in FIP, 20th in K/9, although they’ve put up great marks in BB/9 (7th in baseball), opposing AVG (5th), and WHIP (8th).

Do they need Cueto? Not really, but—like every other contending team—they can’t deny that Cueto is a massive upgrade. Justin Verlander made his first start of 2015 on Sunday (a mediocre outing that didn’t inspire a ton of confidence), but his effectiveness this season is yet to be determined. We saw the weak link of the rotation last night—fifth starter Kyle Ryan resides in the spot once held by Shane Greene but his future in that role is very much up in the air.

There’s the other half of the trade equation, though. Does Detroit have anyone of interest to the Reds? Their tendency to fix their major league roster’s deficiencies via trade has all but left their farm system barren of high-end talent. This offseason was no exception, of course, with the Reds getting in on the act by acquiring Eugenio Suarez and Jonathon Crawford. As Kiley McDaniel pointed out back in March, the Tigers’ front office simply has a different philosophy, using their draft picks and youngsters largely to get established MLB talent.

moya-hill

Basically the only two prospects worth anything in the Tigers system—Stephen Moya (left) and Derek Hill

But Johnny Cueto is not just “established talent”. And with even fewer assets in their farm system than there were this offseason, an equitable trade is going to be difficult. This is a minor league organization Baseball Prospectus ranked last in all of baseball, saying “…the Tigers system lacks talent that project as more than a fringe major leaguer” with only one member (speedy outfielder Derek Hill) as a Top 100 talent.

Stephen Moya is an intriguing name, if not a sure-fire MLB talent. His huge 6’6” 230 pound frame speaks to his huge raw power (which manifested in 35 home runs last season at AA), but he has the typical problems that prevent a man with raw strength from becoming a quality hitter. At AAA this year, the power isn’t as prominent and his K/BB rate is an abysmal 5.08. As a 23 year-old, Moya has potential, but it’s all dependent on serious improvements to his plate discipline and hitting approach.

Detroit’s major league assets may be in play, but few seem realistic. James McCann is likely to hold onto the primary catching duties even when Alex Avila comes back. Nick Castellanos is struggling, but the Tigers are still very high on him and have no replacement were he to be shipped out. Anthony Gose is an intriguing name, but losing him eliminates the Tigers’ platoon in center involving him and Rajai Davis.

Thus, the Tigers aren’t the best trade partner for Jocketty and the Reds. It’s very unlikely Cueto gets traded before the All-Star Game and perhaps even less likely the winner of the Cueto sweepstakes will be Detroit. The Tigers’ presence in Wrigley may have just been due diligence, but we’ll be hearing these whispers with greater frequency in the weeks ahead. Let’s savor Johnny while we’ve got him.

28 Responses

  1. Vanessa Galagnara

    Of course there is always the infamous 3 team trade. Maybe Detroit gets Cueto via a mixed trade with a team like Boston or Los Angeles?
    My bet is still down on Los Angeles or the New York Yankees. They can afford the rental for prospects more than other teams.

    • lwblogger2

      I don’t see Boston pulling the trigger. They just aren’t very good this year and need more help than just a #1 starter. Now, trying to sign Cueto in the off-season on the other hand and I think you may see Boston as big players in that market.

      • Michael E

        Agreed..sadly. I was hoping Boston would contend and be ready to part with a couple of their better prospects for Cueto. Sigh.

  2. Dayton Ducks

    Whatever happens, I’m just sad to see the end of the Cueto era. I remember his debut in April of 2008–he retired the first 15 Diamondbacks he faced!

    • Tom Gray

      Indeed.

      Cueto and Bailey came along at about the same time. Cueto has been the better MLB pitcher except for 2 no-hitters. And yet, Bailey has the $100 million contract despite a Tommy John Surgery elbow going forward.

      • i71_Exile

        To be fair, Bailey didn’t have elbow problems before he signed his deal and may still pitch well when he returns. I think the Reds have gotten the best of JC and I wish him all the best in the future. He’s been amazing. I wouldn’t pay him a market deal, though if i were Big Bob.

      • Bill

        If Cueto would sign for the money Bailey did, Cueto would already be signed for the next 6 years

      • lwblogger2

        Ding ding ding!! We have a winner!!

        I don’t think people realize that Bailey’s contract is not the reason that Cueto really isn’t going to be feasible. I think it’s the fact that the starting point for bidding on Cueto will probably be 6yrs/$160-million with the possibility that a 7-year deal north of $200-million in value could be what it takes.

      • Tom Gray

        My point was the Cueto has generally been the better P for the Reds.

        Bailey is a $100 million question mark. Coming back from TJ surgery is uncertain and he may not have the same P abilities.

        Cueto deserves market value for his skills.

      • Michael E

        Cueto will be signed for about 7 years and $185 million. Any yes for the Reds, Bailey’s was the better deal…at the time. Just like that he had multiple injuries. Who is to say that Cueto won’t have the same issues immediately after signing a huge deal?

        Do you REALLY think we’d get six pretty good years from Cueto if we managed to sign him for 6 yrs and $150 million (not happening of course)? I don’t. I would forsee immediate nagging injuries. He just doesn’t seem as reliable as Bailey did and now look at Bailey. Seriously doubt anyone is going to be thrilled about their Cueto contract a couple of years from now.

    • Big56dog

      I seem to recall all the Diamondback were ridden with a 24 hour flu that day and that 1st start was more of a fluke than just Johnny’s talent.
      He really was not even that good until 2010… started approaching Ace status in his injury shortened season in 2011. Makes you have hope for the mediocre Rookies who are learning on the fly.

      • Dayton Ducks

        24 hour flu? I don’t recall that, and I don’t see it mentioned in the articles I looked up…come on, it was an impressive debut!

  3. msanmoore

    I have friends who are “house parents” for the Tiger’s Midwest League A club in Grand Rapids, MI. They’ve seen a bunch of their players move up and get traded as you note. It’s a huge leap from “top prospect” to MLB starter in any case … larger still if the potential is fringe MLB at best.

    • Michael E

      True, but we’ll lose Cueto either way and Chapman’s barely 60 innings is a drop in the bucket. Trade these guys for four top 10 prospects and move on (and lower payroll in the future). Sure, we’ll be lucky if more than one pan out. We’ll be unlucky if none do. In two years, we’ll have neither Cueto or Chapman, so adding four high risk, high reward and cheap young prospects is a nice salve.

    • Michael E

      I do hope Detroit is not the trade partner, they have little to get excited about prospect wise. If we get their best prospect, I can live with it, but other teams offer much more quality and Cueto trade will demand no less than a teams top 3 prospect and another top 10 prospect.

  4. Big56dog

    I would think the Reds are in an enviable position as you can be for the upcoming firesale with Cueto. Some contenders might not even need a Cy Young caliber Ace but do they really want the competition? Is it unethical if the Walt calls the Yankees and states Detroit is offering me Stephen Moya and Derek Hill what can you do to top this?

    • i71_Exile

      What would the Cardinals front office do? That’s my barometer for ethics. 🙂

      • jdx19

        I was listening to the Baseball Prospectus podcast earlier, and the topic was what would you try to get if you had access to the Cards’ network for 5 minutes, and after talking about scouting reports, etc, one of the podcasters suggested “I’d download a copy of ‘The Cardinal Way’ with the new updated appendix on corporate espionage.”

        That made me laugh quite heartily. 🙂

      • Michael E

        I don’t give a rats butt about “ethics”. We need to build a consistently winning team and we have to do a few shady things to become what the Cards or Giants are, DO IT. Nice guys finish last and brain-dead ones finish on unemployment lines (or with the Reds front office).

  5. WVRedlegs

    If you are Andrew Freidman of the LA Dodgers, after last year’s post-season flop
    you have ask yourself, can LA make it to the World Series with Kershaw, Greinke, and Brett Anderson in postseason short serieses? Or, are LA’s chances better with Kershaw, Greinke, and Johnny Cueto?
    And if the chances are better with Cueto, what is the price for that better chance? Corey Seager and Zach Lee. With near bottomless pockets, at what point do the Dodgers draw the line? With last year’s painful playoff elimination still fresh in their minds and seemingly at the apex of their championship window with Kershaw, Greinke, AGon, Puig, and Ethier, LA and Freidman can’t afford to be Tampa Bay-like frugal. LA doesn’t want to be like the Reds, and have to move on to the next window of opportunity without experiencing a WS championship in that first window.
    Several Reds players could see the post-season this year. Sadly, it just won’t be with the Reds.

    • lwblogger2

      I don’t think Cueto could land Seager and Lee. If he can, I’d say trade him right this minute. Honestly though, I think if the Dodgers were willing to give up Seager they’d have Cole Hammels by now. They have the money to pay what’s left on his contract.

  6. Ryan Lykins (@ryan_lykins)

    I hope Cueto is traded by the first week of July at the latest. In my opinion the only way to maximize the return for him is to trade him sooner rather than wait until the day of the trade deadline. Forward thinking has to be something the team really tries to do here. They can’t afford anymore mistakes this season.

  7. wizeman

    maybe they were there looking at chapman.

    • lwblogger2

      Crap? Really? Figures. I’m down there today. I’ve already been to another game where he got the night off.

      • Tom Reed

        Votto not in the lineup? That should go well with the Reds usual inability to get Cueto many runs.