Cueto could be final piece to the puzzle

By Steve Sell
July 27, 2015

The Kansas City Royals are going for broke.

The Royals sent a definitive message to their players and fans on Sunday when they traded three minor-league pitchers — including top prospects Brandon Finnegan and John Lamb — to Cincinnati for Reds ace, the pinwheeling Johnny Cueto.

Royals players and fans should applaud the move. Longtime penny-pinching owner David Glass and bold General Manager Dayton Moore sent the signal they want to win the World Series and win it now, no matter the cost. They probably know that Cueto is going to be a rental since he’s a free agent at the end of the season and his asking price over the winter will be well beyond the Royals’ means.

Not that the Royals weren’t a contender without Cueto. After all, they have roared to the best record in the American League despite trotting out a starting rotation that won’t resemble that of the 1971 Baltimore Orioles. They have surged to 21 games over .500 due to frenzied hitting, airtight defense and a lockdown bullpen.

Cueto gives the Royals a legitimate No. 1, a guy who can go up against a Kershaw or Greinke. He was second in the Cy Young National League voting last year and if he had better support, he’d be up there again. He has been pitching in a hitter’s paradise bandbox, going 7-6 with a 2.62 ERA. Put him in the wide-open spaces of Kauffman Stadium with that amazing defense behind him and he could post an ERA under 2.00.

You have to give up something to get something. In Finnegan, the Royals weren’t quite sure what they had. He was drafted to be a starter, but was never really tried in that role since he starred in relief from Day One. He helped the Royals immensely during their playoff run last year, but started the season in the minors and has gone back and forth with the big club. Lamb, who has torn it up at Omaha this year, has been a longtime golden boy in the farm system, but could never make to the big club because of numerous injuries. After seven years in the organization, the Royals grew weary of waiting for the light to go off. Cody Reed was the third pitcher and had yet to show enough to move up the ladder.

So the Royals’ future isn’t exactly being mortgaged in this trade. What would make this deal a heist for KC is that Cueto enjoys pitching with the Royals so much that he might take a little less money to stay. The Royals are generally regarded as the top organization in baseball when it comes to relationships with Latin players, and it doesn’t hurt that Cueto’s former teammate Edinson Volquez is now arguably the team’s best starter. 

I don’t see how this deal can be anything but positive for the Royals. You get only so many chances to make it to the World Series in back-to-back years and this deal moves them to the head of the class. If Yordano Ventura’s start on Sunday is a harbinger of things to come and that his near-optioning shocked him back to last year’s form, the Royals could be a runaway freight train. Don’t forget, they’ll get Alex Gordon back in about a month and Alex Rios is starting to hit the way the team envisioned when they acquired him. And I still believe Kris Medlen, once he gets his feet under him, will make a big impact.

From 1 to 25, the Royals are now the best team in baseball.