Between 2006 and 2007, I found Hope.

Between tangling with my own Jim Stark-esque teenage demons and brandishing my diverse musical palette by blasting The Police, Lil Wayne, and everything in between from the stereo of my 2000 Nissan Maxima, I found Hope.

Hope was Johnny Cueto.

Hope was signed as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2004 and began his ascent with the Reds in 2005, pitching most of his 49 innings for the Reds rookie affiliate in the Gulf Coast League before a cup of coffee at High-A Sarasota.

I located Hope in 2006, my first year playing fantasy baseball. Anyone worth their salt knows that research is king in fantasy baseball, and that it’s impossible to avoid prospect rabbit holes when conducting said research. In 2006, Cueto logged 138 innings across two stops (Low-A Dayton and Sarasota) and posted a 3.00 ERA with 143 strikeouts and just 38 walks. I took notice, feeling like I stumbled upon a buried treasure that no one else knew existed.

Hope was meaningful because, frankly, the Reds were dreadful. The franchise was in the midst of its own Lost Decade — seriously, check out at the horrific starting rotations those Reds teams trotted out — and I was constantly searching for optimism to grasp on to. (Homer Bailey and Jay Bruce soon joined Cueto on the Hope Train.)

Cueto exploded onto the scene in 2007, rising through Sarasota, Double-A Chattanooga, and Triple-A Louisville, pitching 161.1 innings — only 22 of which came at Louisville — and sporting an ERA of 3.07 with 170 strikeouts while walking under two batters per nine innings. As a 22-year-old, Cueto was inserted in the 2008 Reds rotation. Young Johnny Beisbol dazzled in his debut and eventually evolved into one of baseball’s premier starters.

***

“You know, when you get old in life, things get taken from you. I mean, that’s…that’s…that’s a part of life. But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff. You find out life’s this game of inches.” — Al Pacino, Any Given Sunday

On July 19, I journeyed down to the friendly confines of Great American Ball Park to pay witness to what became Cueto’s final home start as a Red. Subconsciously, I was also coming to terms with another fact of aging as indicated by Pacino.

Prior the game, the latest iteration of the USS Cincinnati was announced. It’s too bad the ship wasn’t built yet; I’m sure all parties involved would’ve rather seen Cueto dip out of town before he walked six and struck just two in four labored innings.

(Heavy precipitation was a fitting undercurrent that day, as Cueto never could muster the type of national recognition that matched his output — like in 2014 when he was overshadowed by a 76-86 Reds outfit and by Messrs. Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner. Kershaw registered an otherworldly regular-season performance to snatch the Cy Young away from Cueto, and Bumgarner delivered one of the greatest postseason performances by a starter in baseball history.)

Cueto was finally traded Sunday, and that’s certainly a tough pill to swallow. But as time goes on, I’ll remember the good times. When I’m reminded of Cueto, I’ll remember how he was part ace, part entertainer. I’ll remember the sliding mid-90s heater. I’ll remember the shimmies and shakes, the tricks and twists.

Because in life, things are taken from you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t remember the good times. It’s all part of growing up.

33 Responses

  1. Tom Gray

    Good for Cueto and good for KC Royals.

    I agree Cueto is a true ace SP.

    What surprised me is that he averaged 11.5 W and 7.9 L in his 8 years as a Red. Injuries kept him from bigger numbers in several of his years as a Red.

      • Tom Gray

        The Reds were very good teams in 2010, 2012, and 2013. Their best teams since 1994 and 1995.

      • Chris Miller

        True, but they never hit behind Cueto for some reason.

      • jdx19

        Yes. And that is a subset of the whole.

    • lwblogger2

      Ok, unlike some folks I do think that pitcher wins actually do play a small part in pitcher evaluation. They play a small part. In most your posts on this subject they seem to be the entire focus though. W-L tell a very small part of the story. Give me any Reds’ SP from 1994 on and Cueto is my #1 starter out of the bunch. There are some decent pitchers on that list too.

  2. seat101

    It will never be as hard for me to cheer for the Reds as it was the first year after the Frank Robinson trade: that was heartbreaking.

    Something big will be missing from the Reds, for me, this year and next, certainly .

    Yet we all knew Johnny was leaving at the end of the year-Instead of an extended goodbye, we had an intensive goodbye. We never thought Frank Robinson was leaving.can you believe I’m nearly 62 years old and I still have a twinge of sadness every time I think about that trade?

    The Dodgers traded Jackie Robinson. That should teach us that any player can be traded at any time.

    Perhaps every generation of baseball fans has their one heartbreaking loss of a player.

    I’m done rambling, for now. Goodbye Johnny good luck in KC

    • TC

      The David Parker trade must have been traumatizing for you then.

    • Tom Gray

      Three of the four HOF inductees (this weekend) were traded in their careers.

      • seat101

        It will be more and more rare for a player to say his whole career with one team. Although it looks like Joey Votto may do it.

      • lwblogger2

        I don’t know. It seems likely but it’s hard to say. I hope so. I didn’t think there was any chance that Prince Fielder would be traded from the Tigers with his contract though.

  3. TC

    After reading what others like us who are Royals fans wrote, I’m not sure we got anything better than what we already have in the system. In other words, our farm system didn’t really improve in value, only in depth. And I’m okay with that.

    The Royals got one of the three best pitchers in baseball, perhaps the best if he didn’t pitch in Cincinnati. I’m happy for them and now have a favorite to root for in the post season. I can’t say with any enthusiasm at this point however that I’m happy with what the Reds got back. But time will tell and enthusiasm is fickle.

    Seems to be a fair trade on the surface for a rental player.

    • Big56dog

      Everything I am reading, a lot of KC fans acknowledge this will be an awful trade if they do not win the World Series.
      If they bring Finegan up he is the 2nd best pitcher in their pen right now

  4. TC

    I will say on the trade, my heart hasn’t been this heavy about a trade since Griffey Jr. It was necessary. Goodbye Johnny, and sorry I almost head on crashed into you yesterday while you were in town. (If it wasn’t you, you have an identical twin bouncing around the Fields Ertle area in a beautiful Blue Passat)

    • lwblogger2

      I know Harang used to live out around here but didn’t know that Cueto did. I used to run into Harang fairly regularly, most regularly at Kroger of all places.

      • TC

        Sean Casey lived out there as well. Used to run into him all the time. Great, great guy.

    • TC

      I was playing Ingress and hacking a portal. He turned a corner and I was on his side of the road. Had to get out of his lane quickly. I think he was only in town briefly.

  5. earmbrister

    Johnny Biesbol will be sorely missed. I was happy to get to see him in person one last time when the Reds were in NY in June. Sad to see him go, but I’m happy for the 3 (very?) good prospects we got in return. The Reds were smart to not sign JC for $30 Mil/year.

    Would like to see a story on the prospects we got in return. Doug Gray has covered this on his website, but it’s been radio silence here.

    • Kevin Michell

      First one just posted (John Lamb). We’re going pretty in-depth and gathering a lot of the information that’s coming out in disparate places, then posting one comprehensive piece on each player.

  6. Kevin Michell

    Grant- great great piece. A fantastic reflection. There’s some beautiful symmetry in Pedro getting inducted in the HOF on the day Cueto got traded–I always felt this level of attachment and adoration for Pedro when he was dealing for Boston. Cueto’s the only pitcher on either team I’ve seen since who made me feel the same way.

    There’s always the hope he’ll wear your favorite laundry into the HOF.

  7. John Walsh

    I can think of another guy the Reds could spend 2015 and 2016 stretching into an elite starting pitcher…

    • Gonzo Reds

      ESPN “A Joe Ross-for-Chapman deal might make sense for the Nationals, and it would help the Reds rebuild their rotation.”

      • jessecuster44

        Ugh. Hitters, please. Reds’ offense has been woeful for the past 2.5 seasons. The team needs to acquire some hitters.

      • jessecuster44

        Not in August and September. Or one game in October.

  8. Kyle morris

    well one reason we have to trade Johnny is we have to give Homer freakin Bailey a hundred and four million dollars!!! But thats another story. I will miss JC a true Ace in every sense of the word.