Boston Red Sox considering Johnny Cueto


Priority No. 1 for the Boston Red Sox this offseason will be upgrading their underwhelming pitching staff, with an emphasis on finding a true ace to anchor the rotation. Could Johnny Cueto be on their wish list?

Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald reports that the Red Sox are “at least considering making a serious push” for Cueto this winter. The right-hander turns 30 prior to next season, putting him on the edge of Boston’s comfort level when discussing long-term deals for pitchers. Of course, that was under the old regime. Dave Dombrowski has never been shy about handing out expensive deals to pitchers that will last into their late-30’s (looking at you, Justin Verlander), so he may be willing to challenge ownership’s philosophy on the matter. This could be the first real test of Dombrowski’s power within the organization.

Age won’t be the only concern that the Red Sox will need to factor in. He was brilliant through 19 starts to begin the season as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, but never seemed to acclimate well to his new environment once he was shipped to the Kansas City Royals at the trade deadline. Take a look at the discrepancies in his performance between the two leagues.

Reds (19 starts): 7-6, 2.62 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 8.27 K/9, 151 ERA+, 3.7 WAR
Royals (13 starts): 4-7, 4.76 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 6.20 K/9, 87 ERA+, 0.2 WAR

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It’s as if he was a completely different pitcher after switching leagues. His strikeout rate plummeted, resulting in significantly more balls in play. Pitching to contact isn’t usually an issue in Kansas City, but even the Royals’ league-best defense couldn’t save him. Cueto allowed nearly twice as many hits per 9 innings, from 6.4 H/9 to 11.2, following the trade, while his home run rate raised from 0.8 HR/9 to 1.1, despite moving to a less homer-friendly ballpark.

The Red Sox place significant value on postseason performance, which also isn’t helping Cueto’s case. He has a career 6.93 ERA in the playoffs, which as been inflated by this year’s poor performance in which he owns a 7.88 ERA through 3 starts. In his last outing he was torched for 8 runs in only two innings of work in Game 3 of the ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Watching Cueto take the mound in Toronto, it was clear he never looked comfortable. He uncharacteristically had trouble locating his pitches and repeatedly had to call out catcher Salvador Perez to the mound for a discussion. His frustration was evident in the way that he punched the inside of his glove and the game continued to unravel as he let his emotions get the better of him.

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Struggling to keep your emotions in check can lead to disastrous results in the postseason and would certainly get him eaten alive in a pressure-packed city like Boston. Cueto’s a talented pitcher when he’s at the top of his game, but before the Red Sox look to invest in him they must first be satisfied that his mental makeup can handle that pressure.

Opening up John Henry‘s wallet for the flashiest names on the free agent market isn’t necessarily a recipe for success, as the Red Sox found out the hard way this season. Dombrowski will explore all options for upgrading this pitching staff, with Cueto certainly being one of those options.

If the Royals advance to the World Series then Cueto may still get the chance for redemption before hitting the free agent market. Perhaps he’ll have that dominant signature game that his talent suggests he’s capable of. Otherwise he’ll enter the market carrying the burden of questions about whether or not he’s worth the type of contract he’ll demand.