The Reds should be happy with their return fro ace Johnny Cueto, but the Royals should be even happier to have their man without sacrificing the future.
Sunday afternoon, the Kansas City Royals rolled to a 5-1 rubber match victory against the Houston Astros, a team who had owned them dating back to last season. Previously struggling pitcher Yordano Ventura regained his command, allowing just one run in seven innings, and the Royals increased their lead atop the American League Central to 7.5 games over the Twins.
Oh, and they added Johnny Cueto. So, all-in-all, not a bad day.
The Cueto trade is a huge deal for the Royals, who solidified their spot as the American League favorite by not only addressing their biggest weakness — the rotation — but also getting one of the very best starters in the game. Cueto, with a 2.62 ERA and 0.943 WHIP, is the kind of pitcher who gives his team a chance to win every time he takes the mound and singlehandedly changes the complexion of a playoff series.
But, of course, it doesn’t come without cost. The Royals sent three promising left-handed pitchers to Cincinnati in exchange for the ace. Fan-favorite Brandon Finnegan and John Lamb were playing for Triple-A Omaha but would’ve been in the big leagues with a lot of other organizations. The Reds also gained Cody Reed from Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
Fans tend to lament losing prospects in these kinds of deals. As great as we know Cueto is, there’s always that possibility, however remote, one or more of these minor leaguers could wind up even better.
Of course, Kansas City has plenty of reasons to focus on present opportunities rather than stockpile prospects for future possibilities. Royals general manager Dayton Moore has earned the benefit of the doubt now looking back on other big trades he has made.
Essentially left no choice but to trade Zack Greinke five years ago, Moore managed to get Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar in return. The decision to trade super-prospect Wil Myers and others for James Shields and Wade Davis was widely panned, but Moore got the last laugh.
The Royals wouldn’t even be in a position to make the Cueto deal if those other trades hadn’t been big wins for KC.
This one also looks good for the Royals. It’s a decent haul for the Reds, but Kansas City also managed to pull off the trade without depleting the farm system or giving up any major league players.
Moore certainly would have heard complaints from Royals fans had he given up any of the organization’s top three prospects — middle infielder Raul Mondesi, left-handed pitcher Sean Manaea or right-hander Kyle Zimmer — but he managed to avoid it.
Even after giving up the three they did, the Royals still have a decent stable of pitchers in the farm system. In addition to Manaea, Foster Griffin, Colin Rodgers and Eric Skoglund are promising lefties.
Miguel Almonte, Scott Blewett, Christian Binford and Alec Mills are all young right arms to keep an eye on, not to mention Ashe Russell and Nolan Watson, who were Kansas City’s first round draft picks last month.
There’s always a risk that someday, one of the three players traded away will make the Royals pay the way one-time KC prospect Mike Montgomery did in Seattle earlier this year when he struck out 10 Royals in a complete game shutout. But those rare occasions are easier to stomach when you are making moves that could lead to championships.
And frankly, while Cincinnati can be excited to gain Finnegan, Lamb and Reed, there are also reasons they weren’t off limits from Kansas City’s perspective.
The Royals tried to make Finnegan, who pitched some solid innings in relief during the 2014 postseason, into a starter. But that plan was aborted during a rough spring training for the second-year pro out of TCU.
The Reds envision Finnegan as a part of their rotation, but if that doesn’t work out he could still be a useful reliever in Cincinnati. In Kansas City he was lost among the crowd in the Royals loaded bullpen, thus the long stints in Omaha.
Lamb has started to put up impressive numbers in Triple-A, but the Royals were hesitant to promote him for one reason or another. It has been suggested the organization just didn’t see him as anything more than a back-of-the-rotation starter, a role for which the Royals have plenty of other candidates.
Reed could very well wind up being the piece that haunts Kansas City to a degree, but the youngster with 3.45 ERA in five Double-A appearances is hardly the kind of can’t-miss prospect to make a World Series contender turn down an opportunity to employ Cueto the next few months.
Realistically, the Royals won’t have Cueto any longer than that. Both sides will say the right things about being open to a longer-term deal, but Cueto will command top dollar on the free agent market this winter and the Royals in recent years couldn’t afford to re-sign lesser talents such as Shields and Ervin Santana, who both loved Kansas City.
It’s quite possible the Royals don’t go any farther this season with Cueto than they would have without him. But their odds of winning both the division and the World Series for the first time in 30 years increased substantially.
Once Cueto’s likely brief time as a Royal is done, Kansas City will turn back to Yordano Ventura or Danny Duffy or maybe even eventually Zimmer or Manaea to develop into its next ace.
But the bottom line is the Royals likely didn’t give up anybody who will be a star for years just to get one for a few months. This is the kind of move championship clubs make.