The Boston Red Sox are the frontrunners for the services of free agent ace starting pitcher Johnny Cueto.
That was the consensus of the staff here at TBOH, with three of our writers selecting the Bosox as his likely destination. Those staffers were myself, David Mosemann, and Ryan Gerstel. Boston’s AL East arch-rivals, the New York Yankees, were the choice of our Alexis Girardo. Tyler DiSalle chose the Toronto Blue Jays, while Ethan Witte has him headed to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Ryan felt that “new Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowski will be seeking a top-tier starting pitcher this off-season, and Cueto fits the bill, despite struggling down the stretch last season.” This was much the same as my line of thinking as well.
Ethan believes that it will take a “5-year, $130 million” deal to lure him out to the desert with the DBacks. He could be on to something, as industry sources, including MLB insider Ken Rosenthal, have recently reported that the DBacks have met with Cueto’s representatives.
Rosenthal went on to speculate that Cueto’s reps are likely seeking a few million more annually than Arizona is willing to commit. However, the fact that there is no draft pick compensation attached to the ace-level righthander could get them to stretch slightly beyond that financial comfort zone.
Meanwhile, it would be hard to fathom a Yankees organization fronted by a Steinbrenner willing to simply age into mediocrity, something that seems a very real possibility in an increasingly tough division. There are plenty of financial resources for Alexis’ choice in the Bronx. Now it’s about deciding where they can best be utilized.
Dombrowski is absolutely going to push hard to sign at least one of the major ace starting pitchers from among Cueto, David Price, and Zack Greinke. He has plenty of money to throw around as well. However, just because you have money doesn’t mean you get players. Increasingly in recent years, those players have been signing where they feel most comfortable, as every team is offering tens of millions of dollars annually.
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Cueto was signed by the Cincinnati Reds as an amateur free agent as an 18-year old out of the Dominican Republic in March of 2004. After a slow adjustment in his first season state-side, Cueto began to dominate in the minors in both 2006 and 2007.
He impressed enough to break camp with the big club in 2008, debuting on April 3rd with a 7-inning, 1-hitter for a victory at Great American Ball Park over the DBacks. Over parts of eight seasons with the Reds, Cueto would put together a 92-63 record with a 3.21 ERA, and a 1.165 WHIP. He allowed 1,167 hits in 1,420.1 innings over 213 starts, with a 1,115/393 K:BB ratio.
With his free agency pending and the Reds out of contention, Cincy dealt him away just prior to this year’s trade deadline to the Kansas City Royals for a 3-prospect package that included a pair of lefty arms in starter John Lamb and reliever Brandon Finnegan.
Cueto was just mediocre in the regular season for the Royals, going 4-7 down the stretch with a 4.76 ERA over 13 starts in which he allowed 101 hits in 81.1 innings. However, he rose to the occasion in three of his four postseason starts.
He battled through seven innings a tough Game Two of the ALDS which the Royals won to tie that series with Houston. He then dominated the Astros in the decisive Game Five, allowing just two hits over eight innings while striking out eight and walking no one.
Cueto made just one start in the ALCS against the Blue Jays, getting shelled by the big Toronto bats in a Game Three loss. However, he bounced back with a big effort to win Game Two of the World Series over the Mets, allowing just two hits in a complete game that put KC up two games to none. Days later, he celebrated a world championship.
He has been strongly linked to each of the teams mentioned by our staffers as landing spots, while the Giants and Cubs, a pair of teams linked to most of the big name starting pitchers, are two more teams that could get into the process. The Phillies, of course, are not playing in this league where free agency is concerned.