The Kansas City Royals acquired Cincinnati Reds ace Johnny Cueto for left-handed pitchers Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, and Cody Reed on Sunday afternoon, according to the team’s official site at MLB.com.
The natural question that came up among KC Royals fans on Twitter was: did general manager Dayton Moore pay too much?
Yes the price was steep. John Lamb is 25 years old and finally has recaptured the form that caused Baseball Prospectus to rate him the 11th best prospect in MLB in 2011. Brandon Finnegan is the only player to pitch in the College World Series and the Major-League World Series in the same season (2014). Cody Reed is 22-years-old and was the Kansas City Royals 2nd round draft pick in 2013. He’s pitched well at High A Wilmington and AA NW Arkansas this season going a combined 7-7 with a 2.53 ERA.
Yet, the KC Royals system has the pitching depth to make the deal. The Kansas City Royals still have top pitching prospects Sean Manaea, Ryan Zimmerman, and 2015 top draft picks Ashe Russell and Nolan Watson.
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While Finnegan has already shown that he is major-league ready, the KC Royals apparently believe he is a reliever rather than a starter. Meanwhile, I expect Lamb to immediately move into the Reds starting rotation in place of Cueto. He’s been dominant in AAA Omaha with a 9-1 record, 2.67 ERA, and a K/9 of 9.2.
I hate giving up Lamb, because he could become a long-term starter and Finnegan (at the least) an outstanding lefty reliever. And, don’t forget Cody Reed. Scouts think he owns a mid-rotation upside at this point. However, Cueto gives the Kansas City Royals rotation what they lacked this season: a true ace to carry them in the playoffs.
Cueto was 7-6 with a 2.62 ERA and a 8.3 K/9 for the Reds this season. Expect the strikeout rate to fall in a league where pitchers don’t hit, but his ERA might remain close to the same standard moving from a bandbox in Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark to Kauffman Stadium, with the Kansas City Royals defense behind him.
Cueto is a guy that can go head-to-head with the Madison Bumgarner’s and Zack Greinke‘s of the world, and give you a solid chance to win. Back Cueto with the league’s best defense and bullpen, and he becomes scary.
Getting Johnny Cueto sets up the Kansas City Royals rotation for their expected 2015 playoff run. Cueto becomes the staff ace. Edinson Volquez slots in at no. 2, with Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura making a formidable top 4. Now, Chris Young can become a tough long man out of the pen, allowing KC Royals manager Ned Yost the luxury of pulling a struggling starter early.
The rotation goes from a weakness, to a strength.
Also, don’t count out the possibility that Dayton Moore can sign Cueto long term. The Kansas City Royals’ attendance has jumped to the 10th highest in baseball this season.
While I view it as a solid move, the trade could end going down in Kansas City lore as our version of the Doyle Alexander deal in which the Tigers sent John Smoltz to Atlanta. While I don’t see Lamb, Finnegan, or Reed becoming John Smoltz (see Baseball America’s breakdown of each pitcher here and Fangraphs.com’s analysis here,), they could stock Cincinnati’s pitching staff with a full quota of lefties for most of a decade.
The bottom line is that if the KC Royals win the 2015 World Series, then the price was well worth it. But, that isn’t the deal Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore made. Instead, he bought an increased CHANCE to win the 2015 World Series.
That’s why being a major-league general manager isn’t for the faint of heart.