The KC Royals, a team single-mindedly focused on a second straight trip to the World Series, made a key trade deadline deal with Cincinnati July 26, 2015. Just two days before acquiring Ben Zobrist from the A’s, Kansas City traded pitcher Brandon Finnegan, the previous season’s darling whose bright light had started to dim, and two others to procure electrifying starter Johnny Cueto.
The excitement the deal generated was palpable, first off the field and then on it when Cueto, 7-6 with a 2.62 ERA before arriving in KC, shut out Detroit on four hits in his first Kauffman Stadium appearance. He struck out eight and didn’t walk a single batter, and the masterful complete game performance, replete with Cueto’s trademark mound gyrations and various perplexing motions, all but proved the value of the deal.
Cueto and the Royals went on to win the American League pennant and then the World Series, with Cueto dominating the New York Mets with a two-hit complete game win in Game Two to give his club a 2-0 Fall Classic lead. Kansas City won the Series in five.
But things haven’t gone well for Cueto or the Royals in the five years since that magical season. Cueto moved on after the campaign, signing a six-year, $130 million contract with a one-year club option with San Francisco that he never really lived up to, and Kansas City hasn’t had a winning season.
Now, Cueto’s time in San Francisco is likely over, and the Royals could certainly use a veteran starter. But a reunion is something to avoid if Cueto and the Giants part ways.
If Johnny Cueto becomes available, the KC Royals shouldn’t pursue him.
That Johnny Cueto will certainly be a free agent soon is well-explained by our FanSided friends at Around the Foghorn, who write convincingly that the Giants aren’t likely to bring him back at the high cost of picking up the righthander’s $22 million option for next season. Declining the option would, of course, make Cueto a free agent.
And make him available to everyone, including the Royals who, despite their unstable rotation, should pass on the 14-year veteran should he leave San Francisco.
Why? Cueto isn’t the pitcher the Royals badly wanted and landed in 2015. Yes, he went 18-5 with a 2.79 in his first season as a Giant, but is 21-22, 4.38 since, which doesn’t justify another year at $22 million, or even the salary Cueto is likely to demand.
Cueto’s injury history with San Francisco, which includes time spent on the Injured List with blisters, an ankle sprain, right elbow inflammation, a latissimus strain, and a right elbow strain, also weighs against Kansas City showing interest.
And because he’ll be entering his age-36 season in 2022, Cueto doesn’t represent a long-term investment the KC Royals should consider.
Reuniting with Johnny Cueto would certainly be interesting, draw some fans to Kauffman Stadium, and produce a few wins, but it’s a move Kansas City simply shouldn’t make.