Let’s Find a Home for Johnny Cueto

For the average adult, seeing December 22 on the calendar is typically an indication that Christmas is nigh. Inform a child on that same date, however, that the holiday is three days away, and he’s gonna whine, “But that’s foreeeeever!” Children time runs differently, in these cases.

Look up Johnny Cueto on MLB Trade Rumors and you’ll find the last post containing any information about him went up three days ago. In normal time, three days is just three days. But in these the fiery, early days of free agency — when rumors run rampant like the river Ganges — three days is an eternity. Free-agent time runs differently, too.

Johnny Cueto’s name should be up in lights; mentioned every four posts; connected with teams like the Dodgers, Giants, Yankees, Red Sox, and [your team here]; and, of course, mentioned using comically stalker-ish verbiage. But it isn’t.

Now, look up the free agent leaderboards here at FanGraphs. You’ll see Cueto’s name placed prominently near the top. He was, it turns out, quite good this past season! As further research reveals, he’s been quite good in years past, as well. But while David Price, Zack Greinke, and Jordan Zimmermann have all found new teams, poor Cueto is teamless. Let’s all band together right now and help stop this scourge of teamlessness, because… the more you know [shooting star].

We know Cueto was already offered a six year, $126 million contract from the Diamondbacks, who apparently woke up after a night on the couch with the most sore back ever due to about $100 million worth of loose change under the cushions. “Oh my gosh!” they said, collectively, pealing back the cushions. “We can sign an ace pitcher!… OUCH!” It’s almost hard to believe Cueto turned them down. It makes him seem saner, but it also leaves him without a contract for 2016 and beyond.

Still, forgetting who offered it, the $126 million figure doesn’t seem absurd. FanGraphs’ contract crowdsourcing feature projected Cueto in the neighborhood of six years, $132 million. That means paying Cueto like he’s a 3.5- or 4.0-win pitcher. Accounting for his Steamer projection (which forecasts a 3.0 WAR season from Cueto in 2016) and his demonstrated ability to outperform his fielding-independent numbers and some other generic conditions ($8.0 million per win with 5% inflation), arriving at something like $120-150 million for Cueto makes sense.

Putting all this together, we’re likely talking about a pitcher who gets significantly more than Zimmermann and significantly less than Greinke or Price.

Let’s look at some teams with a need at the top (or in the middle) of the rotation who might be able to afford such an investment.

The Obvious and Needy

Dodgers

Maybe they don’t have room. They did just sign Hisashi Iwakuma to go along with Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Brett Anderson, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, so it’s a pretty full rotation right now, and that’s even before you consider Brandon McCarthy coming back from TJ surgery somewhere around mid-season. And yet, this doesn’t look like the rotation of a team with a $250 million payroll. There’s also the matter that, between Iwakuma, Anderson, Ryu, and McCarthy, someone’s getting hurt. Probably right now even. Sure, there’s money coming off the books after next year, too, but that’s never been the problem. The Dodgers might want a stronger rotation and, right now, that means Johnny Cueto.

Cardinals

The Cardinals lost out to their top target, David Price, then were spurned by Jason Heyward taking a lesser offer to go to the Cubs. Their rotation doesn’t look deep, but the losses of Lance Lynn (TJ surgery) and John Lackey (Cubs) can be filled from inside. But why? The Cardinals obviously have the money to spend. There have been issues with Cueto on the field in the past, but that didn’t stop David Price, nor would it stop Cueto if the Cardinals offered him $150 million. This seems like a great fit for the player and the team, the only question is whether or not the team thinks Cueto is worth what he’ll likely get.

The Less Obvious but Still Needy

Baltimore

The Orioles have been dancing the dance of the Boras with Chris Davis. Did you know Davis is now a left fielder? Also, he’s the best hitter on the market! Also, he’s covered in invisible gold leaf and has been appraised favorably as modern art at Sotheby’s. So if Davis/Boras won’t take the Orioles $150 million, who will? Well, me me me! But after me, Cueto seems as logical an add as anyone, what with the team likely to lose Wei-Yin Chen to free agency and Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy penciled into rotation spots with the lightest of pencil strokes.

The Obvious but Less Needy and Less Likely

Giants

One Jeff Samardzija later, everything is gonna be alright. Except, well, maybe not? The rotation isn’t a weakness if you believe in the Shark — and the Giants better, as they just gave him $90 million — but it’s hard to call it a strength either. Still, the Giants’ payroll sits at $173 million for the coming year, so unless they make some trades, it’s probably unlikely they’ll add another $25 million.

The Less Obvious and Less Needy and Less Likely

Nationals

This season the Nationals’ rotation lost Zimmermann and Doug Fister. Next season they’ll lose Stephen Strasburg. This means that this time next season they’re likely to have a rotation of Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, and children. Sure, children could pitch great, but given the impending departure of Strasburg and the lack of options to replenish that loss available in next season’s market, signing Cueto now might make sense. Plus it would take everyone’s mind off the stupid things coming out of Dusty Baker’s mouth.

Tigers

Detroit is in a similar boat. They have Zimmermann now, and Justin Verlander of course, and Anibal Sanchez, but after that things get awful thin. How do you feel about giving the ball to Daniel Norris every fifth day? Come to think of it, how do you feel about giving the ball to Sanchez and Verlander every fifth day? So you see my point, and also the Tigers’ owner is old and the Tigers are forever in win-now-worry-later mode, a fact I’m contractually obligated to mention in any post about the Tigers.

Red Sox

Why not? I mean, they signed David Price and traded Wade Miley, a step or six up, but this is the same rotation that was awful last season, and it wasn’t because Wade Miley was bad on his own. Rick Porcello is the very definition of untradable, but adding Cueto would simultaneously improve the rotation and give the team the option of improving some other way by dealing Clay Buchholz or packaging Eduardo Rodriguez. Also, there’s this feeling that the Red Sox could be going full Dodgers. They’re not going to get Carl Crawford back, are they?

Diamondbacks

Were the Diamondbacks really one ace (Greinke) and one mid-rotation starter (Shelby Miller) away from contention last season? Maybe, but they might need more than that and adding Cueto would make up whatever ground they needed to cover and then some. It won’t happen because they already spent their money on Greinke (and your money, and his money, and her money, and…) but then again how likely was signing Greinke? Probably not any less likely than signing Cueto and Greinke, right?

Real Longshots

White Sox

There’s a saying about something you do on a pot in a timely fashion that I can’t write here because this is a family website, but the gist of it is, if the White Sox are going to try to win, now is the time.

Houston

Another starter never hurts, Cueto is pretty good, and they sure as heck have the money. How’s that for analysis?

In the end, there are a number of good choices remaining, though none quite as good as maybe they were  a few weeks ago. The Cardinals and Dodgers still seem like the most likely teams to finally get a deal done, but don’t be surprised if it ends up being someone not even mentioned here. For Johnny Cueto, things aren’t as clear as the used to be.





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Radermecher
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Radermecher

Scott Kazmir.and Mike Leake seem to fit the Red-birds better than Cueto.Seems the comfort level of lower AAV,and two for one makes sense.