Indians and Johnny Cueto Makes Sense

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Sep 28, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) throws a pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first inning at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

You probably saw the article on ESPN.com the other day suggesting that the Reds trade Johnny Cueto.  Cueto will be a free agent after the 2015 season, and it is very unlikely that the Reds can afford him long-term.  The article gave the usual list of suspects for destinations, like the Red Sox and Dodgers.  The thought kept going through my mind, though, why not the Indians?  True, this is not the sort of trade that Chris Antonetti ever makes, trading young and cheap players for someone he is certain to lose in a year, but has there ever been a better time to consider making an exception?

With Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and whatever other pitchers emerge from spring training, the Indians have a chance to take an elite rotation into the 2015 season.  The core of a strong offense is there, assuming bounceback years from Jason Kipnis and Nick Swisher and the addition of a decent right handed bat to reduce the reliance on Ryan Raburn.  While it is never safe to make assumptions about a bullpen, there is enough depth in the Indians’ pen that four or five guys should emerge to pitch well in the late innings, even if it takes a month or two to identify those guys.

So the Indians should finish with a record more in line with the 92-70 mark of 2013, if things go their way.  In addition, the Royals are likely to lose James Shields and Billy Butler, and the Tigers stand to lose Max Scherzer and Torii Hunter.  To me that puts the Indians a move or two away from being the favorites in the AL Central.

Now we all know that the move or two referenced above will not involve anyone making more than about twelve million.  If the Indians make any long term commitments this winter it will be to Kluber, and any other big contracts will likely wait until Swisher and Michael Bourn come off the books.  The beauty of Cueto is that he is locked up for next year at ten million dollars.  After that you make a qualifying offer and walk off with a first round pick.  In a world where A.J. Burnett can get 8.5 million and be said to giving a discount, ten million for someone who finished second in Cy Young voting is a steal.

Think about a rotation with Kluber and Cueto at the top.  Put Carrasco in the third spot, then any two from Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, T.J. House, and Zach McAllister in behind them.  That rotation would match up favorably with anyone in the AL Central.

So what would it take to do such a deal?  Well, as it turns out, the Reds and Indians match up well for a trade.  The Reds are in dire need of middle infielders.  Brandon Phillips is 33, declining in skills, and playing on a contract that the Reds would love to unload.  Zach Cozart, the shortstop, is never going to be even a replacement level hitter.  The Indians, as is well known, have two shortstop prospects in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, plus a couple more further back in the pipeline.  If this trade ever gets past the point of me blogging about it, the first thing the Reds will do is ask for Lindor.  My guess is that will never happen, but Ramirez would be a good enough starting point to get such a deal moving. More, however, would be needed.  Fortunately, adding Cueto means that the Indians can afford to add a pitcher to the deal.  Kluber is obviously untouchable, and Carrasco is probably nearly so.  That probably leaves a choice between Salazar and Bauer.  It would be a tough choice, because you can probably see either of those guys being Cueto in a couple of years, but if you think the Indians can actually do something special right now, than this is a price you should be willing to pay.  My preference would be to include Bauer rather than Salazar, and I might insist that the Reds throw in something else to include Salazar, but at the end of the day I would make that trade.

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