For the Cincinnati Reds, the Johnny Cueto deal is a good deal.
No Reds fan wanted to see Cueto traded. The right-hander is the best starting pitcher the organization has developed in generations. Whenever Cueto took the mound, you knew Cincinnati had a better than average shot of winning. And yet the economic reality of the situation dictated the free agent-to-be had to go and had to go now, when the franchise could get something in return rather than at the end of the season when surely the ace would leave for a higher offer.
Sunday, the deal was finally made. Cueto was shipped to the American League Central-leading Kansas City Royals in exchange for three left-handed pitchers — Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb and Cody Reed.
Let’s look at each individually:
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Brandon Finnegan pitched for TCU in the 2014 College World Series, was taken by the Royals in the first round of the 2014 Major League Baseball Draft then pitched for Kansas City in the 2014 World Series. He has bounced back and forth between AAA Omaha and Kansas City this season as the Royals have attempted to stretch out his innings. The 22-year-old is 0-2 with a 7.07 ERA for Omaha over just 14 innings. Four of his six appearances have been starts. With the big club, Finnegan is 3-0 with a 2.96 ERA in 14 appearances over 24.1 innings. He’s allowed just 16 hits. His walk-to-strikeout ratio is a little high at 13 walks to 21 K's.
The Reds will send Finnegan to Louisville with the idea of stretching him out to make him a starter. If that fails — and some scouts believe Finnegan is better suited for relief — he still has the makings of an excellent bullpen piece.
The 25-year-old John Lamb was considered a top prospect before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012. It has taken him awhile to bounce back. He was 5-14 with a 5.80 ERA in the minors in 2013. But he improved to an 8-10 record with a 3.97 ERA last season and is a sparkling 9-1 with a 2.67 ERA for AAA Omaha in the Pacific Coast League this season. In 94.1 innings, Lamb has struck out 96 with 29 walks. His WHIP is 1.155.
Cody Reed could be the sleeper in the deal. Not included in the preseason reports on the Royals' best prospects, he has pitched well this season, going 7-7 in 18 games, 15 of them starts, between Class A Advanced Wilmington and AA Northwest Arkansas. His WHIP is just 1.188. He has 84 strikeouts compared to just 26 walks. He’s also just 22 years old, having pitched for Northwest Mississippi Community College before being taken in the second round by the Royals in 2013.
As much as run production has been a problem for the 2015 Reds, the bullpen has also been a letdown. Aroldis Chapman has been Aroldis Chapman as the closer. J.J. Hoover has had a bounce-back year. After that, the Reds’ pen has been a hodgepodge of journeymen, castoffs and underachievers that have struggled throughout the season.
Left-handed specialist Manny Parra has been on and off the disabled list all year and has a 4.00 ERA. Offseason signee Burke Badenhop has been nicknamed Badenflop. His ERA is 4.46. Ryan Matteus was picked up after being released by the Angels and has a 4.13 ERA. Jumbo Diaz is back up with the big club despite a 5.79 ERA. You get the picture.
The Reds have some good young starters developing in the minors, but you can never have enough good arms. The much-maligned Walt Jocketty added three more, and by most accounts he did a good job of getting a strong return for Cueto.
Next up? Perhaps Aroldis Chapman. Can the rebuilding Reds really afford to keep a closer who will be a free agent after 2016? I say no.