In case you haven’t heard, Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval are heading to the Boston Red Sox on newly minted five-year deals. So what in the world does this have to do with the Cincinnati Reds? It could mean that since Boston has addressed their offense, they are now turning their focus to their rotation.
One name on their list? Johnny Cueto.
The Reds have a surplus of exactly what the Red Sox need – pitching. In return, Boston has a surplus of exactly what Cincinnati needs – talented position players. In fact, the Red Sox have to move a few of their outfielders due to the number of players they have on their active roster – Yoenis Cespedes, Shane Victorino, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Rusney Castillo, Allen Craig and Mookie Betts.
So what outfielders could be on the move in a trade for Cueto?
We can cross off Victorino due to his salary and age.
We can cross off Bradley due to his .198 average and .265 on base percentage last year.
We can cross of Castillo due to his recently signed massive contract late last season (and his massive potential).
That leaves us with Cespedes, Craig and Betts.
Who will Cincinnati want in return?
Yes, Cespedes would thrive in homer-happy Great American Ballpark. However, he also is under team control for just the 2015 season (not to mention his struggling average and on base percentage the last two years). There is no chance the Reds could sign Cespedes to an extension following the season, after all they are currently experiencing the mid-market struggles that come with large long-term contracts (Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto). If the Reds trade for one year of Cespedes, then where do they find themselves in 2016? Right back at square one.
Allen Craig is an interesting possibility. He is under control through 2018 ($20 million and an $18 million team option in 2018) and he has shown the ability to be a potent bat in the middle of the lineup. Craig did struggle mightily in 2014 (.215 AVG, ..279 OBP, 8 HR, 46 RBI), but his previous three years show his ability to make a different when being inserted into the heart of a lineup.
Mookie Betts and shortstop Xander Bogaerts should interest the Reds the most by far. At 22-years old, they are not only under team control for a few years, but they also harbor a great deal of potential. The addition of Betts and Bogaerts would give the Reds solid players to build around in left field as well as shortstop.
Betts, who would take over left field, hit .291 with a .368 OBP in 213 plate appearances last season while hitting five home runs and knocking in 18 runs. In his minor league career, he is a .315 hitter with a .408 OBP including 26 home runs and 163 RBI (four seasons). Playing three different positions for the Red Sox last season (CF, RF, 2B), Betts posted a .974 fielding percentage – three errors as second and one in right field.
Bogaerts, if acquired, would replace Zack Cozart as the starting shortstop. The Red Sox are extremely high on Bogaerts, so his availability depends on whether the plan is to keep Hanley Ramirez at short or move him to left field. In his first full season in the majors, Bogaerts struggled a bit at the plate – hitting .240 with a .297 OBP while collecting 12 home runs and 46 RBI. Still, it would be an improvement over Cozart who, in comparison, hit .221/.268/4/38.
In the minors, Bogaerts has been a consistent hitter. In four seasons, Bogaerts hit .296 with an OBP of .373 and hit 54 home runs while driving in 235 runs. For Boston in 2014, Bogaerts did struggle with errors – committing 10 at shortstop and 10 at third base in 320 attempts. In comparison, Cozart made 10 errors as well in 400 attempts. At least defensively, the Reds would be seeing a decrease. However, to date they have nothing to show for being one of the best defensive teams in all of baseball.
Why Cueto could be Boston’s next Pedro
This one takes much less explaining. To put it simply, Cueto is the best pitcher in the National League aside from Clayton Kershaw. There is really one stat that shows how dominant Cueto has been – he has not posted an ERA above 3.00 in a season since 2010 (3.64). Pitching for a team that struggled to provide him with adequate run support, Cueto reached the elusive 20-win plateau this season as he posted a 20-9 record.
While acquiring Cueto would be a huge step for the Boston rotation, it would likely not be their only move. While Clay Buchholz is currently at the top of the depth chart, the rest of the rotation is rather unproven. Having Cueto as well as signing either Jon Lester, Max Scherzer or James Shields to insert into the rotation would immediately improve Boston’s 23rd-ranked pitching staff.
Cueto is under contract in 2015 for just $10 million, and we all know Boston has the resources to sign him to a long-term extension. Having Cueto in their rotation for the foreseeable future could be one of the last remaining pieces in Boston’s attempt to re-tool their roster. His 2.25 ERA in 2014 was not a fluke, and it could be exactly what the Red Sox need for yet another championship run.
If Boston fans want to know how big of an acquisition this could be, just look back to Dan Duquette‘s 1997 trade for Pedro Martinez. There are aspects of Cueto’s game that are reminiscent of the great Pedro Martinez – great run on their fastball, a back-breaking curve, the grounder-inducing sinker and a sweeping slider. Cueto also possesses a pitch that is relatively new to his arsenal (three years old), his cutter. Not only is it a pitch that Cueto added, but one that has become more valuable to him year after year.
Cueto is 28-years old and is pitching his best baseball. When Martinez was 28-years old, he has a 1.74 ERA and won the Cy Young Award while playing for Boston. In fact, Cueto’s 2014 2.25 ERA would have been the lowest by a Red Sox pitcher since Martinez posted a 2.22 ERA in 2003. The similarities are there, and if the Red Sox make the move, Cueto will likely continue to thrive in his prime.
It would be a shrewd move by Ben Cherrington to trade for Cueto, but it would immediately make the Red Sox the team to beat in the American League.
Cover Photo: USA TODAY Sports
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