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Are the Diamondbacks in on Johnny Cueto?

By Guillermo Salcido
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Talk about making a statement. The Diamondbacks have shown wonders on the offensive end (captained by an NL MVP-worthy campaign by Paul Goldschmidt). If they’ve got aspirations of October, they’re going to need more stability on the pitching end. While Arizona has a more pressing concern in the bullpen, an addition of Johnny Cueto has to be an attractive option for any ball club, no matter how strong the rotation is.

Arizona (42-42) enters the final series before the All Star break with an even record. The Dbacks are currently tied with the San Francisco Giants for 2nd place in the National League West, sitting 5 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers for the division lead. Arizona is also 4 games back from the Chicago Cubs for the 2nd Wild Card spot. They’ve exceeded the expectations of many. Except, of course, the expectations of the Diamondbacks themselves.

“Obviously we had a lot of situations where we felt like we could win games and for some reason it just didn’t happen. Our expectations of ourselves are really high, well above .500.” -A.J. Pollock

It’s once again July and the MLB Trade Deadline is just around the corner. It’s that time where contenders strengthen their areas of weakness, while struggling franchises look to fast-track their rebuilding process. The Dbacks, with their reliance on youth, are sort of in the middle. They’re a team that’s in the midst of a rebuild, but has ‘surprisingly’ performed like a playoff contender.

Jul 7, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) pitches during the first inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most intriguing options is certainly the Cincinnati Reds’ ace. The Reds currently find themselves mired in the lower echelon of the criminally competitive NL Central. With the club currently 16 games behind 1st place and with teams like St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Chicago well ahead of them, it’s understandable that Cincinnati will be looking to unload some players.

With Cueto’s contract expiring after the season, it’s nonsensical for the Reds to let him walk without any compensation in return. If Cueto wishes to stay in Ohio in 2016, a quick trade to a contender for the second half of the season could really help to fill out Cincinnati’s assets. After the season is over, Cueto can re-sign with Cincinnati. Last year, Jason Hammel was traded from the Cubs to the A’s only to re-sign with the Cubs this offseason.

Here are clubs that lead their division or are within 5 games back, that rank in the bottom third of rotation ERA.

  • New York Yankees, 22nd in MLB (4.30 ERA)
  • Kansas City Royals, 23rd in MLB (4.40 ERA)
  • Detroit Tigers, 24th in MLB (4.45 ERA)
  • Toronto Blue Jays, 25th in MLB (4.49 ERA)
  • Arizona Diamondbacks, 26th in MLB (4.56 ERA)

Yes, there are teams on that list that have the reputation to be more aggressive in situations like these. So what do trades like these usually look like? Let’s take a look at a trade involving the Los Angeles Dodgers’ All Star, Zack Greinke.

This isn’t exactly a nightmare scenario for the Brewers, but it’s nothing outstanding either. In the winter of 2010, the Brewers acquired Greinke and that next season Milwaukee found themselves in the NLCS. Interesting enough, these Brewers were the ones that defeated the Dbacks in the 2011 NLDS, the last Arizona playoff appearance.

Take a look at the Kansas City haul and you can see the risk involved in these types of trades. For a 27-year old Greinke with 2 years left on his contract, the Brewers surrendered two future All Stars and World Series champions. Lorenzo Cain is on the cusp of being a superstar in this league and Alcides Escobar will be the AL starting shortstop in this year’s All Star Game. Now with Tampa Bay, Jake Odorizzi is in the midst of a break out season.

Now back to Cueto. Cueto, 29, is a couple years older than Greinke was at the time of that trade and only has half a season left to his contract compared to Greinke’s two years. However, Cueto is coming off a career season in 2014 where he led the league in both innings pitched (243.2) and strikeouts (242). With a 20-9 record, that season stands as Cueto’s lone All Star appearance….for now.

What would be the asking price for Cueto? One has to believe that the Reds would get their choice between Chris Owings, Nick Ahmed, Jake Lamb or Brandon Drury as one of the pieces. With Archie Bradley being an untouchable (hopefully), Cincinnati would also ask for either Braden Shipley or Aaron Blair. It wouldn’t be surprising for a guy like Enrique Burgos to also be chipped in.

Here’s the Cincinnati ace.

  • Johnny Cueto: 16 GS, 6-5, 2.61 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 111 K

Now here’s the Arizona rotation.

It’s an entertaining game to play no matter what. So, what do you guys think?

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