KC Royals ace Johnny Cueto told Boston area reporter Rob Bradford that he’d like to sign with the Red Sox as a free agent next winter before his start Friday night (a 7-2 loss). When Bradford spotted Cueto chatting with Red Sox outfielder Hanley Ramirez during pre-game warm-ups, he asked the Kansas City Royals ace, and pending 2016 free-agent, about his interest in playing in Boston:
"“It depends,” said Cueto on if he would sign with the Red Sox after this season. “Because I’m a free agent, and I’m just going to pick the best choice to go. The main thing — I would like to come here because it’s a championship-caliber team.”“Yeah, that’s what I think,” he said when he believed the Red Sox might be a landing spot when trade rumors started swirling prior to this season. “I think, ‘I’ll wait for Boston.”"
What the Cueto was that, Johnny?
Right at this moment, you’re pitching for the Kansas City Royals, and—yes—they’re a championship caliber team. That’s where your focus should be, not where you’ll sign for big bucks next season.
On one hand, I’d like to think Johnny Cueto‘s statements are a whole lot of nothing. A Boston-area reporter asked him leading questions, and it’s a normal human impulse to please the crowd. Certainly, a pending free agent doesn’t want to say anything BAD about a potential suitor—especially when the team in question is a big market club that could drive your price up if they go hard after you.
Even so, Johnny Cueto went a little farther than politeness required on Friday.
He’d have been better served to say something like, “Right now,I’m too busy trying to win a ring with the Kansas City Royals to think about anything else. My contract status is something I’ll consider this winter.”
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Of course, Johnny Cueto is from the Dominican Republic. English is a second language for him. The truth is, it’s harder to avoid media pitfalls when operating outside your mother tongue—even for people who are quite fluent in the alternative language.
KC Royals fans also have to remember that Cueto’s childhood idol was Dominican star Pedro Martinez, who made his reputation playing for the Red Sox.
Even so, Johnny Cueto would be well-served to follow the example of his KC Royals teammate Alex Gordon—who replied that he would pick up his option in 2016 when reporters asked about his contract during last season’s World Series. Sure, it stretched the bounds of credibility that Gordon might pass up what figures to be a big payday just to play one more year in Kansas City. But, Alex Gordon‘s comment told his teammates that he was all-in for the playoff run.
That singular team focus helped an inexperienced KC Royals team come within 90 feet of playing for a title in extra innings last season. Cueto would be well served not to leave any lingering doubts about his commitment. Cutting off such a potential problem with a strong one-for-all, and all-for-one public statement might be a good idea.
Let’s hope Johnny Cueto can clean up his PR come October, or the Kansas City Royals could fall short of last year’s standard—much less win the title.