The Cincinnati Reds head into this offseason on the heels of a disappointing 76 win season in 2014. Coming into this week’s Winter Meetings, the Reds’ highest priority is to find someone to man left field in 2015. GM Walt Jocketty has been on record saying that the Reds will have to move payroll in order to add another player, and that could come from the rotation. With four pitchers entering their final year of control, it is believed that Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake, and Alfredo Simon could all be available for the right price.
With six players on one year deals, 2015 has all the makings of an “all-in” season for the Milwaukee Brewers. GM Doug Melvin has been relatively quiet this offseason, his only big move being the acquisition of half of the 2015 version of the first base platoon, Adam Lind. That’s not to say the Brewers aren’t open to making moves, however. Doug has a history of making unforeseen deals during all-in campaigns (Sabathia, Greinke), and the rumor mill has the team in the market for pitching and outfielder Gerardo Parra on the block.
As previously stated, Doug Melvin has a penchant for blockbuster deals for big time pitchers. The Brewers current rotation of Peralta, Gallardo, Lohse, Garza, and Fiers/Nelson, while solid, lacks a true ace that can shut down an opposing team. In order to try and match the upgrades the Cardinals and Cubs have made recently and become the early favorites in the division, the Brewers should pursue Johnny Cueto.
Johnny is coming off a season in which he finished second in the NL Cy Young voting after leading the league in games started, innings pitched, strikeouts, and h/9. He was second in wins and ERA, and third among pitchers in WAR with 6.4. He limited batters to a .192 average and carried a 0.96 WHIP. Despite a FIP of 3.30 last season verses his 2.25 ERA, Cueto has consistently shown he is able to outperform ERA estimators. Over the last four seasons, Johnny has bested his FIP by an average of .92, while his highest ERA in that stretch was 2.82 in 2013. Cueto is in the option year of a deal he signed with Cincinnati in 2011, and he’ll make a very affordable $10 mil in his age-29 season. Cueto is the Reds’ starter who can make the greatest impact, and therefore will command the greatest return. The Brewers, however, have a good enough mix of major league ready talent and minor league prospects to be able to sway Cincinnati to trade their erstwhile ace within the division.
Milwaukee’s package would likely consist of at least three players to send to the Reds. The headliner of the deal would be 25 year old pitcher, Jimmy Nelson. Nelson had long been a top prospect for Milwaukee, ranked Brewers #1 prospect and #87 by mlb.com prior to this season. Nelson transitioned to the majors full time in 2014, taking over Marco Estrada’s rotation spot midseason. Though Nelson struggled at times during first extended shot at the majors (4.93 ERA in 69.1 innings), his 3.78 FIP and 3.0 k/bb ratio should be encouraging. He has six years of team control remaining, with only 107 days of service time. Nelson would be able to fill Cueto’s spot in the rotation upon his departure for years to come.
Given the Reds need for an outfielder, Gerardo Parra would be the second major leaguer in the group. The Brewers have been said to be willing to move Parra, who isn’t projected to be a starter on the team next season. Parra is projected to make $6.4 mil by MLB Trade Rumors in his final year of arbitration eligibility, and carries with him a career .274/.326/.395 line and a stellar defensive reputation. Parra could fill the hole the Reds currently have in left, and when combined with Billy Hamilton and Jay Bruce (if he isn’t moved) the trio forms one of the best defensive outfields in baseball.
The final piece the trade would likely be a prospect. The Reds would likely prefer a young pitcher, and the Brewers have 20 year old Devin Williams or 21 year old Jorge Lopez to offer. Williams, the Brewers #6 prospect, has been described by mlb.com as having possibly having the highest ceiling in the system. He is a righty that throws in the low 90s (with room to add more velocity as he grows) and struck out 66 in 66.1 innings in the Pioneer League in 2014. Lopez, the Brewers #8 prospect, was the team’s representative in the Future’s Game last season. Lopez is currently playing Puerto Rican winter ball, and one scout has called him the best pitcher in the league this season, where he currently sports a sterling 1.76 ERA.
There’s no doubt the impact Cueto would have on the Brewers if he were acquired. He would immediately step into the #1 spot in the rotation and give the Brewers the true ace they’ve lacked since trading Zack Greinke. This would allow the Brewers to use Mike Fiers out of the bullpen, where he has held hitters to a .192/.287/.333 line with a 2.08 ERA over his major league career. Johnny would bolster a starting staff that ranked 16th in ERA and 21st in total WAR in 2014. Perhaps Cueto, a native of the Dominican, could even play a mentoring role in countryman Wily Peralta’s continuing development.
The Brewers offseason has been a relatively quiet one so far, to the point that the team has reportedly has yet to meet with any teams or agents during the Winter Meetings. With the Cardinals getting Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden, the Pirates bringing back Francisco Liriano and AJ Burnett, and the Cubs bringing in John Lester and Miguel Montero, the Brewers need to make something happen so they don’t get left in the dust next season. GM Doug Melvin has a history of dramatic deals, and this offseason should be no exception. With the Reds needing to move as much as $17 mil in salary this offseason, the Brewers are well positioned to match the Reds needs as a trading partner and save them some money. The Brewers best possible move to bring home a World Series in 2015 would be to bring Johnny Cueto to Milwaukee.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs