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.


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.