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 Thursday’s games, the aforementioned quartet of teams rank middle-of-the-pack or worse in FIP and WAR for starting pitchers.

Whether it’s due to a hot-and-cold offense, a dilapidated bullpen or Devin Mesoraco’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 Cincinnati’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 doesn’t even include Raisel Iglesias — the franchise should do all it can to target position players that can aide the club sooner rather than later.

So, let’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 Boston’s bats would be the team’s strength. That assumption hasn’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 Boston’s rotation is full of No. 3 or worse 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 not be a collective fear of, “Oh, crap, we have to face [insert current Red Sox starter here]” spreading around the clubhouse of a Boston opponent. That’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). There’s also proof that a starter can swing an entire series — or postseason (paging Madison Bumgarner).

And within Boston’s deep and versatile farm system, it wouldn’t be hard for the Reds to 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 Anderson’s starts leave me with ambivalent feelings to this point. Hyun-jin Ryu (shoulder impingement) and Brandon Beachy (Tommy John) aren’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 that’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 forced to turn to Daniel Corcino — or convert Chris Heisey to a starter — if things go really south. (I’m half-joking.)

Though L.A.’s prized prospect triumvirate of Pederson, Corey Seager and Julio Urias is likely untouchable, the Dodgers’ 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 Toronto’s current rotation, which is ranked dead last in the majors in FIP and WAR.

It’s truly an odd (and somewhat refreshing) mix for a rotation, with a few past-their-prime veterans and a trio of youngsters. I’m sure the Jays could’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! — upon 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 Jays’ top prospects (Norris, Sanchez, Dalton Pompey, Devon Travis, Roberto Osuna, Miguel Castro) 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 Weaver’s downward slide continues. Garrett Richards is making his second start of the year tonight after a knee injury ended his season last August. Matt Shoemaker has been a disaster so far.

Inspiring much confidence? Yeah, didn’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.’s farm system is ranked 28th out of 30 teams by Baseball America. If I’m the Reds, I’m hanging up on a potential Cueto swap with the Angels if Andrew Heaney isn’t available.

Conclusion: Again, I’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.

50 Responses

  1. spro

    The Red Sox Rusney Castillo has the shoulder injury that the Reds Front office is looking for, I’m calling Cueto for Castillo

  2. rfay00

    HOW CAN YOU COUNT US OUT ALREADY! SUCH AN OVERREACTION ARTICLE!

    (kidding)…good read, never thought of the Blue Jays, Cueto would dominate in that stadium

    • Grant Freking

      Haha. Thanks. I actually think the Blue Jays could be the most desperate of these four teams. If I’m Jocketty, I might see if I could throw in Chapman — and then ask for my pick of the Jays top 4 young players.

      • charlottencredsfan

        It should take more than that. Cueto would put any of the big clubs in the driver’s seat to win a WS, IMO. If we only received one top prospect, I’d be greatly disappointed.

        RLN, I believe, always underestimates his worth. If Kershaw was working off JC’s contract, how much would he fetch? Take that and go down a notch or two.

      • ManuelT

        Undervalues Cueto and overrates Bailey.

      • charlottencredsfan

        I agree. Think Johnny spoils us. If/when he leaves, the tune will change. “Don’t know what you had to you lost it.” In all fairness, a lot of folks underestimate Homer as well. Problem sometimes is, people even comparing JC to HB from either side.

        Manual, I know you love JC like I do. If the Reds are out of it, would you mind if they moved him; especially, if they manage to get a great return? No right or wrong answer.

  3. bhrubin1

    Man, where would a Kershaw-Cueto-Greinke rotation rank in terms of all time?

    • charlottencredsfan

      Seriously I can’t think of a comparison. Dodgers management is probably thinking the same. Realistically these three guys could finish 1-2-3 in the Cy Young voting. With all the young talent they have, I can’t see how they could resist. They are the #1 possibility in my book.

      • jdx19

        Agree 100%. I think LAD is most likely for Johnny.

      • Joe McManus

        As much as I hate the idea of trading him, if he has to go, sign me up for Corey Seager and another Dodger top 10 prospect. I forget all the components of the Samardzija to Oakland trade, but Seager seems comparable to Addison Russell.

    • Chris Miller

      Makes you think of Koufax, Drysdale, Osteen.

  4. charlottencredsfan

    I’d look at the Dodgers & Cubs as well. Both are well stocked with high-end young talent. If I was a betting man, that is where I’d put my money.

    • Grant Freking

      I listed the Dodgers 🙂
      I agree with you on the Cubs, but I failed to include them because I think the Reds are so old school that they wouldn’t make a blockbuster like this — so, not like the Travis Wood trade — within the division. (To be clear, I think that logic is insane, especially given how bad-ass the Cubs farm system is).

      • charlottencredsfan

        Opps, missed the Dodgers. Ryu is a fine pitcher but JC is a great pitcher.

        Cubs may have the most to offer. If we could get them and the Dodgers in a bidding war?? Mercy me!

      • jdx19

        Come to think about it… given the Reds’ propensity for free swingers, I’m surprised they haven’t already tried to put a package together for Javier Baez. That guy knows how to swing and miss.

  5. Creigh Deeds

    I wrongly placed Cueto in the universe of Browning, Soto, Gullett, Nolan, as the best pitchers developed by the Reds in my lifetime. I think Jim Maloney fits in there too. But I was wrong. Cueto is the best. That said, I think his best value now is in a trade. Agree that Chapman could be thrown in for increased return. No point waiting til July unless that will increase return.

    • charlottencredsfan

      Agree Creigh. If Kershaw didn’t exist, JC would unquestionably be MLB’s #1 pitcher. I don’t think you can say that about any other starting pitcher in Reds history.

      Maloney was big time money but he pitched when a guy named Koufax was around.

      • jdx19

        Felix Hernandez may have something to say about Johnny being unquestionably the MLB’s #1 pitcher!

      • charlottencredsfan

        I watch King Felix whenever I can and he is a beast. FH has certainly been more durable, so you may have me on this one!

        JDX, I think you’re like me in that you watch a ton of baseball outside of the Reds. That said, there is just a feeling you get that Johnny is going to get it done, period. Maybe it’s bias – I’m willing to acknowledge the possibility.

        Great point.

      • jdx19

        Oh, I certainly wasn’t discounting Johnny. After last year he is certainly in the conversation with King Felix. His slightly more worrisome injury profile makes me perhaps rate him a bit lower.

        BUT, when they are both healthy I think it’s a toss up. That says A LOT about Johnny.

        And you are right. I watch a lot of baseall outside of the Reds. Also do a lot of reading and even started collection baseball cards 2 years ago at the age of 29. Ha!

  6. B-town Fan

    Cueto strait up for Moncada with Red Sox. But I think the Reds are going to have a better year than people think, so they aren’t going to trade him.

  7. REDDAWG

    Hate to think about losing Johnny, but it would be the second coming of Tiant if he suits up for the Sox.

  8. charlottencredsfan

    You need two or three clubs competing for his services to get a huge haul back. I think it happens or at least I’m praying it does.

  9. Matt WI

    I have no good read on what talent the Yankees have, but I’ve been thinking about them as a team that might get frustrated with their lack of pitching and be able to sign Cueto long term.

  10. Matt WI

    And here’s another reason Cueto must be traded, almost regardless of where the Reds are: Does anyone think that the Cubs wouldn’t drool over themselves and throw a bank at him to lock him in their rotation next year? Can they risk having to face Cueto within the NL Central like that?

    • Matt WI

      Ooops… I see you guys were starting to talk about this, but rather than trading him to the Cubs, I’m talking about preventing him from going as a FA to them.

      • Matt WI

        And I recognize the Cubs getting him as a FA is still a risk no matter what, but I”m assuming that if a team is willing to trade for him, it increases the likelihood they want him longer. Maybe not.

  11. charlottencredsfan

    Sorry to post so much on this subject but it is my absolute favorite, as the future of the Reds will be effected greatly by it.

    I love Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler but the biggest star I see on the horizon is Carlos Correa. He is in the Astros farm system and compares well with a young ARod. Check him out if you have the time. Plays SS but I think this guy can play anywhere other than CF or C. It would take a three way deal but man-oh-man, is this kid’s future bright.

    With Mes future as a C somewhat uncertain, an advantage the Reds have is they could pretty much be interested is any position outside of 1B.

    Grant, thanks for bringing up the topic, it gets my blood flowing.

    • jdx19

      Correa at .360/.429/.660 in AA so far this year.

      His hype has been well-noted for awhile now. I love the guy, too. Sold a 2013 Bowman autograph of his 2 years ago when the kid was in A-ball for like $80.

    • jdx19

      What about Cueto-Phillips for Correa-Altuve?!

      Haha! What a strange deal that would be. And, it would never happen.

  12. docmike

    I am worried about trading Cueto. I know we need to do it, because there’s no way a team like the Reds can harness themselves to a 7 year, $200 million plus contract.

    But this trade will have a major impact on the future of the Reds for the next several years. Cueto may be the best pitcher that has been available at the deadline in some time. He is a legit, top-5 pitcher in MLB, and would give an acquiring team a HUGE lift in their postseason rotation. Because of that, I expect the demand to be high. And it is imperative that the Reds get the best possible return for him.

    What worries me is that this is not Jocketty’s strong suit. He has plenty of experience on the other end, trading prospects for established players. And it does seem like he pulled off a couple of decent trades this past winter (Latos for Desclafani, Simon for Suarez). But I still don’t know if I trust him to make the best possible deal.

    The minor league system rankings I saw mostly had the Reds around the middle of the pack in MLB. I expect the prospects acquired in this trade would easily vault the Reds into the top 10 systems.

    • charlottencredsfan

      Agree Doc. I’m probably wrong but Walt strikes me as the type that waits for the phone to ring. While others: Dombrowski, Beane, Epstein, new guy in SD; seem to be very aggressive. I think it is a big time advantage. A bidding war is always the best way to drive up the price. Why does fine art sell at auctions? JC is a goldmine.

  13. George Mirones

    Hey Charlotte;
    I would start with this offer and then negotiate.
    Cueto, Votto, Chapman to Boston for their entire AA system along with half of all AAA players in their system and top 3 draft choices for the next 3 years.

  14. sultanofswaff

    With our luck, the Reds will be hovering just above .500 in late July and a few games out of first. Instead of cashing in Cueto and Leake for major league ready prospects, we’ll be stuck rolling the dice in the draft with our compensation picks……….who may or may not pan out 4 YEARS FROM NOW.

    • RedsFaninPitt

      Sultan:

      This has been my biggest concern about not trading Cueto during this past offseason, Castellini/Jockettty don’t know when to fold on the season. At last year’s all-star break and the trade deadline, close observers of the team knew with relative certainty that the team could not continue at that pace with the injuries they had. Rather than cashing in on players who were outperforming, they largely sat on their hands.

      I don’t know if it is possible. But, if Mez is really going to need surgery on the hip, I would really begin to focus my Cueto trade efforts on Blake Swihart and Brian Johnson of Boston. I would probably add Tucker Barnhart/Sal Romano as sweetners.

      If they trade with the Dodgers, I would shoot for a combination of Austin Barnes (Ben Zobrist clone who can also player catcher) and Darnell Sweeney who can also play multiple positions.

      SS to target – Chris Taylor/Ketel Marte with Mariners

      The Reds need SS, LHP and Catching in that order. Unless Mez’ catching days are in question and then catching moves up to #2.

  15. WVRedlegs

    Whatever the Reds would get in return for Cueto, some of the package has to be ML ready or near it. A group of A-, A+, and maybe AA players would be disappointing. Maybe a top catching prospect could be had with the bad news about Mesoraco.
    With Toronto, I don’t know what offensively you could get other than Pompey or Travis before going down to the lower levels. Pitching I’d start with Stroman even though he is injured. It is his knee and not an arm issue. Maybe Sanchez for the bullpen.
    With LAD, any package MUST include SS/2B Corey Seager, and start from there.
    With the Cubs, Bryant is a no-go for them, but maybe Addison Russell could be had. He’s had a rough beginning, that I hope gets rougher this weekend before he gets better.
    With the Angels, that would be kind of interesting about Andrew Heaney. He and DeSclafani were teammates at Miami last year. But like you said, their farm system is very lacking of top talent.
    Seattle could be interesting as they are deep with SS’s, and could part with one of Taijuan Walker or James Paxton, too.
    Don’t count out San Diego and their wheeling, dealing new GM. Wil Myers, a SP and a reliever?

    It’ll be a sad day indeed to see Cueto get traded. So the hurt has to be soothed with an excellent package of players. And we got Walt for that. (Head hits wall.)

    • George Mirones

      “we got Walt for that. (Head hits wall”.

      Again and again and again 🙂

    • Jeremy Forbes

      Cueto and Chapman for Corey Seager, Scott Van Slyke, and Daniel Coulombe.

      Dodgers get a WS win in 2015 (Kershaw, Cueto, and Greinke with Chapman to close out their games? Basically cheating.) and Reds get a starting LF under control, their future 2B, and a bullpen arm who is not named Gregg.

  16. Jeremy Conley

    I just hope that if this season turns into a sell off, that it’s someone other than Jocketty doing the trading. He’s had his time.

  17. Tom Reed

    Unless there’s a front office shakeout, chances are the Jocketty-Towers- Bavasi team will do the trading.

  18. PDunc

    It’s a shame that the Reds have a top-5 starter in Cueto, a top-5 reliever in Chapman, and a top-5 first-baseman in Votto and are likely going to have to be sellers at the trade deadline.

    That said, the players I’d hold on to are Votto, Hamilton, Frazier, Mesoraco, DeSclafani, Cingrani & Bailey. I hope I can count on Winker and some combination of Stephenson, Lorenzen, Iglesias, Crawford, Moscot, etc. making the big-league club next year.

    I’m happy to keep Bruce at his salary if he can get back to his 2010-2013 level. Cozart’s salary is probably reasonable if he can at least be average offensively and continue playing GG caliber defense. I’m more than happy to let Suarez man SS though for league minimum salary if I can get something of value back for Cozart. I try to get out of the Philips contract any way possible. Ideally I can trade Phillips and let Cozart and Suarez play SS & 2B next season.

    I look to trade Cueto and Chapman with 2 goals in mind, getting out of Phillip’s contract and getting as many high-end prospects back I can with a Winker/Votto approach at the plate.

  19. WVRedlegs

    Detroit lost their closer Joe Nathan to TJ surgery and their bullpen isn’t that great. What do they have in the minors? What could the Reds poach from their system for Chapman.

    • charlottencredsfan

      WV, I’d take Tigers off that list. They have Soria for right now as a closer and looking at their top prospects, blah. I’ve seen Soria pitch a couple of times and he looks good. Tigers are built to win now and have evacuated their farm system to do it.

      Thinking we might be looking at the Dodgers again.

  20. JMO

    Cueto and Chapman to LA for Pederson, Seager and J Urias. LA would win the WS and the Reds could reload with the best possible package. I’d start in LA, then look towards Boston and Chicago.

    • Matt

      Expectations need to be tamed when discussing a return for Cueto. Everyone knows the Reds can’t afford him. Everyone expects the Reds to be sellers at the deadline. They have no leverage. Keep in mind what the Rays got for David Price.

      The time to deal was this off-season or last year’s deadline. I don’t see any club depleting their farm system for a pitcher who you may only get 12 starts out of.

  21. Grant Freking

    Not to entirely re-start this discussion, but those who referenced the Dodgers top three prospects — Joc Pederson, Corey Seager or Julio Arias — well, they’re essentially untouchable, and that comes from not only the horse’s mouth http://www.dodgersnation.com/dodgers-news-farhan-zaidi-hard-to-justify-trading-top-prospects-pederson-seager-urias/2015/02/09…and that also reflects what’s been consistently reported since Phillies SP Cole Hamels was put on the trading block.

    The thing working most against the Reds in trying to acquire one of the Dodgers’ prized trio is, of course, Johnny Cueto’s impending free agency. (This was the central argument of those in favor of flipping Cueto at last year’s deadline or this winter — the return (Cueto) for the team acquiring him is much smaller now.)

    Seager, still playing primarily as a shortstop in the minors, is also incredibly central to the Dodgers future. 3/4 of L.A.’s current staring infield — 3B Juan Uribe, SS Jimmy Rollins and 2B Howie Kendrick — are free agents after 2015.

    However, the Dodgers seem to have ready-made replacements for all three — if they chose to operate this way — with Seager at SS, Alex Guerrero (currently mashing & has played LF and 3B in the majors) at 3B and Cuban defector Hector Olivera at 2B. (These guys seem to have positional flexibility, so the positions I listed obviously aren’t permanent.) L.A. also has Justin Turner coming off the bench right now, one of the best infield backups in the league.

    The Dodgers outfield of Pederson (CF), Puig (RF) and Crawford/Ethier/Van Slyke (LF) is also full, so moving one of the future infielders to the outfield is impractical unless L.A. can unload Crawford AND Ethier.

    With all of that said, the Reds — as I mentioned in the article — will have to focus on second-tier (for lack of a better term) Dodger prospects, guys like RHP Grant Holmes, RHP Chris Anderson, C/2B Austin Barnes, OF Alex Verdugo, etc.