Tag: Johnny Cueto

Johnny Cueto Would Return to No-Doubt Ace Status in AT&T Park

We spend a lot of time early in the free-agent season discussing good fits and where players would like to go. And then it still almost always comes down to which team offers the most money.

It probably will with Johnny Cueto, too, but in his case, maybe it shouldn’t. Well, maybe it should, if the team that offers the most money is the San Francisco Giants.

Cueto and the Giants feel like the ultimate good fit, especially from the pitcher’s standpoint. And if there’s any player on this winter’s free-agent market who should be shopping for the best fit, it’s Johnny Cueto.

The Giants may well favor Zack Greinke, and as I wrote a couple of weeks back, he would be a great fit for them. Cueto wouldn’t be a bad second choice for them—and they would be a great first choice for him.

With their pitcher-friendly ballpark and their pitcher-friendly combo of manager Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti, the Giants would be a nice, comfortable choice for any pitcher. But if there’s one pitcher this winter who seems to thrive on comfort, it’s Cueto.

Remember in the World Series, when the Kansas City Royals arranged their rotation with the main goal of making sure Cueto would only pitch at home? The Royals said publicly they believed Cueto could pitch anywhere but acknowledged privately they had an ultra-sensitive ace who responds best in an environment where he’s comfortable.

Sure enough, Cueto pitched like a no-doubt ace twice during October, both times in crucial games—both times in his Kauffman Stadium comfort zone. He beat the Houston Astros there in Game 5 of the division series and was even better in his World Series Game 2 complete-game win over the New York Mets.

The Royals traded for Cueto as a rental ace, and those two wins justified the price they paid. They’ll let him move on now, fine for him because while Kauffman Stadium was a great place for him to pitch, the American League as a whole wasn’t.

So now he’s a free agent, in a market heavy on starting pitchers but featuring just two true aces in David Price and Zack Greinke. Or maybe it’s three aces, if you can count Cueto.

You can count him, if he’s the guy we all saw in the World Series. You can count him, if he’s the guy whose National League ERA since the start of the 2011 season is 2.51, second to Clayton Kershaw (2.11) and better than Zack Greinke (2.75) and Madison Bumgarner (3.05), among others.

Remember, Cueto made half of those starts in homer-friendly Great American Ball Park, where he’s the only guy to survive at least 10 career starts with an ERA under 3.00.

Imagine what he could do at AT&T Park. Or instead of imagining, check out Cueto‘s three career starts in San Francisco, where he pitched 21.1 innings and allowed just four earned runs (a 1.69 ERA) and 14 hits.

We’ve gotten a long way into this without mentioning Cueto‘s health, not because it’s not an issue, but simply because we don’t really know. His agent made the point that he looked plenty healthy in that World Series win over the Mets, but the Giants or any other interested team will want assurances from their own medical staff before proceeding.

The whispers about his elbow have been around for months and gained steam when the Cincinnati Reds pushed back a couple of Cueto‘s starts early in the season. He was still able to top 200 innings for the third time in four years and was able to make all his starts in October without any hint of health issues.

Cueto‘s October included those two outstanding starts against the Astros and Mets, but also that total clunker in Game 3 of the ALCS in Toronto. He seemed overly concerned about possible sign-stealing, just as he had seemed to get overly rattled by the sing-song “Cue-to! Cue-to!” chants during the 2013 National League Wild Card Game in Pittsburgh.

If you’re shopping for an ace who will command the type of money Cueto will likely get (Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com predicted a six-year, $144 million contract), maybe you want a guy who doesn’t get rattled. But every free agent comes with warts. Price is going to get more money than any free-agent pitcher on the market, and he has never won a postseason start.

Cueto had two huge wins just last month. Put him in his comfort zone, and he can pitch like a true ace.

Put him with the Giants in AT&T Park, and he can earn that title.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MLB Free Agents 2016: Latest Rumors and Predictions on Top Talent

There is no shortage of talent in the Major League Baseball free-agent pool, and a World Series champion is starting to make some waves in the market.

Ben Zobrist came to the Kansas City Royals in a midseason trade with the Oakland Athletics and was rumored at one point to have both teams from The Big Apple interested him.

Now, the New York Yankees have backed off, but the New York Mets are still interested, per Ken Davidoff and Dan Martin of the New York Post.

Let’s take a look where Zobrist could end up, as well as two top free-agent pitchers.

Zobrist Could Re-Sign with Royals

Zobrist’s versatility, which includes playing second base and outfield along with switch-hitting, should be enough to have nearly every team interested him in. Just because a player is in demand, though, doesn’t mean he fits with every team. As Martin and Davidoff wrote, believe it or not, the Yankees aren’t willing to shell out the cash for him.

“According to industry sources, the Yankees aren’t willing to spend as much as Zobrist likely will receive on the market, even if he does fill a need in the infield and is a switch-hitter,” the Post reported. 

The Mets are looking to replace National League Championship Series MVP Daniel Murphy after he rejected the team’s one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer, per Davidoff and Martin, which would open the door for Zobrist.

It would be interesting if he signed with the team that the Royals defeated in the World Series, but don’t look for it to happen.

Per Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com, Zobrist said during the regular season Kansas City was on his list of choices for 2016 and even gave his newborn the middle name Royal.

With most of the core talent returning for the 2016 season, it would make sense for him to re-sign with the Royals.

Prediction: Multiyear deal with the Royals


Cueto Testing the Market

Zobrist’s teammate Johnny Cueto played a big role in the Royals’ championship season as well, throwing a two-hit, complete game to give Kansas City a 2-0 lead in the World Series.

However, as soon as Kansas City traded key minor leaguers to get him right before the deadline, there was speculation Cueto was just stopping by for a visit.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote during the playoffs that the Royals had no plans to re-sign the 29-year-old: “The Royals already know they will not be trying to retain Johnny Cueto. They expect his free-agent price tag to go beyond their comfort level and, also, they have seen enough of his inconsistency to be worried about trying to keep him long term anyway.”

Despite some strong playoff starts and a complete-game shutout in his first home start with Kansas City, Cueto was just 4-7 with a 4.76 ERA after the trade.

The Royals don’t shell out contracts like he’s seeking—which varies, per Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports—and they probably feel like his time in town was worth the trade considering they ended the season as champions.

The Boston Red Sox, on the other hand, make a habit of doing just that. Per Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald, the Red Sox are looking to fill a hole at the front of the rotation via free agency, after trading for All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel.

Cueto, and his 96 career wins and 3.30 ERA, would fill that void nicely.

Prediction: Multiyear deal with the Boston Red Sox

Zach Greinke Commanding a Huge Contract

If you want to make some money, go 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA in a contract year. That’s exactly what Zach Greinke did in 2015 with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Now he is commanding a contract somewhere in the neighborhood of $125-$150 million over five years, according to John Heyman of CBSSports.com.

Greinke is 32, and as Mark Saxon of ESPN.com recently wrote, the Dodgers “probably” won’t look to re-sign him:

The Dodgers are looking to get younger, and another mega-contract makes that more difficult. Also, team president Stan Kasten has a blanket policy against extending pitchers beyond a certain number of major-league pitches and Greinke, who has been durable throughout his career, has thrown more than 33,000.

It can’t be easy to let a guy go who has gone 51-15 the past three seasons, but that appears to be the case.

Greinke is a private person and has given no indication of where he might end up. It’s all speculation at this point, but count on him going to a contender if he doesn’t change his mind and re-sign with Los Angeles.

He forced his way out of Kansas City in 2011 and was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, who made the postseason that year. He left a year later to sign a six-year deal with the Dodgers.

Prediction: Multiyear deal with the New York Yankees

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Of Dollars and Deals: Previewing a Most Intriguing 2015-16 MLB Offseason

A former general manager in Philadelphia has become the first base coach in Boston (Ruben Amaro), a former GM who became an interim manager in Miami was fired and told he couldn’t return to his old GM job that had been promised (Dan Jennings), and the GM who pulled off a second-half miracle in Toronto (Alex Anthopoulos) walked away from a five-year extension offer because he couldn’t stomach working with the Blue Jays’ new president (Mark Shapiro).

Meanwhile, a deal for one manager in Washington (Bud Black) fell through when the Nationals essentially offered newbie terms (one year? Really?), and the Yankees fanboy owner in Miami nearly strained his groin leaping at the chance to grab the ex-Dodgers skipper and former Yankees first baseman as his new manager (Don Mattingly).

Storylines for the hit television show Scandal?

Um, not quite.

Not since the Bizarro episode of the No. 1 Mets fan’s old show (Jerry Seinfeld) have things been this backwards around the grand old game, which only leaves one giant question: What else is sneaking up to the wintertime on-deck circle?

Well, I can’t guarantee that the one-time rock star Padres GM (A.J. Preller) won’t hire a Kindergarten Cop to help his new boy wonder manager (Andy Green), but I can guarantee that what follows is much of what we’ll be talking about during the next two or three months.

A road map to this winter’s Hot Stove League:


Most Intriguing Team

The Boston Red Sox.

With new president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski now running things, don’t expect the Red Sox to be shy this winter. Industry wonks fully expect the Red Sox to make a big splash in the free-agent starting pitching market after last year’s failed run at Jon Lester.

Boston’s plan to collect workhorses (Wade Miley, Rick Porcello, etc.) instead of show horses for its rotation landed the 2015 Sox in the glue factory. There is no question that the Sox need an ace, and with resources even deeper than he had in Detroit, Dombrowski could tap into his relationship with David Price. And if that doesn’t turn out, the Sox could tap into senior vice president Allard Baird’s relationship with Zack Greinke. Baird was the GM in Kansas City when Greinke was there, and the two are close.

The Red Sox would love to trade Hanley Ramirez, who is so difficult that he doesn’t even listen to himself. When he was with the Dodgers, the Hanley Man proudly plastered a sticker reading “Attitude is Everything. Pick a Good One” above his locker. With this guy? Yeah, right.


Most Intriguing Team, Bronx Edition

OK, so if the Red Sox are the most intriguing team, what about the Yankees?

In recent years, the Yankees have shown a disinclination to push their luxury tax to any further heights. Indications are that will continue, which means New York GM Brian Cashman will spend a lot more time talking to Jeff Samardzija than to David Price or Johnny Cueto.

Masahiro Tanaka (mostly) made it through the year with his elbow intact, Michael Pineda is a force much of the time, and Luis Severino left the Bronx wanting more. CC Sabathia was headed into alcohol rehabilitation the last we heard from him, and as the sun sets on his career, it is hard to say what he will provide for the Yankees in 2016.    

What this club needs is an upgrade at second base, badly. They could look crosstown, where Daniel Murphy spent part of October imitating Babe Ruth and then spent the World Series imitating a rusty gate. Howie Kendrick, the former Angel turned Dodger, is a free agent as well.


Most Intriguing Player

Right-hander Johnny Cueto.

Last July the Royals traded for Johnny B. Ace, but too often he was only Johnny B. Goode, or Johnny B. Mediocre. That is, until Game 2 of the World Series, when he was brilliant in a complete-game, 7-1 victory.

Whether that was the exclamation point on a career resume that could score Cueto something close to Max Scherzer‘s $15 million annual salary over five or six years, we’re about to find out. When Cueto went into a second-half funk, there were whispers that he was homesick for Cincinnati. The trade was hard on him.

What the Royals eventually learned is that this is one sensitive cat, and rowdy road crowds (Toronto in the ALCS, Pittsburgh in the Wild Card Game a couple of years ago) can get into his head. Which is why the Royals arranged their rotation to ensure that Cueto pitched at home in the comforts of Kauffman Stadium in the World Series, starting the aforementioned Game 2 and, had the Series lasted beyond five games, Game 6.

When he’s on, Cueto is one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. When his sensitive nature takes over, he can get rattled enough to drop the ball on the mound. As his market develops, look for the Giants, Cubs, Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees, Astros and Diamondbacks, among others, to check in.


The Wreck That Is the Nationals

Just three years ago, the Nationals posted the best record in the major leagues and looked like locks to at least play in a World Series, if not win one, in the very near future.

Since then, this vast collection of talent with no soul has shifted into reverse. You wonder why this year’s team disappointed? How in the world it could have acquired a buffoon like Jonathan Papelbon at the deadline? How a manager could not notice Papelbon trying to choke Bryce Harper in the middle of a game?

All of that was disgusting enough.

Now, instead of digging out of the humiliation, the Nationals are digging in.

The collapse of the deal for Bud Black to manage the Nationals speaks volumes about this organization and a culture so misguided that at this point, MapQuest couldn’t even help point it in the right direction.

The initial offer to Black, according to Bleacher Report sources, was one year at $1.6 million. When Black rightfully balked, the Nats increased the offer to two years at a salary lower than Black made when he was managing the Padres.

Though the dollars were a joke, the worst part of the entire thing was the initial offer of one year. What that screams in neon letters is, “This organization is not committed to you.” Former manager Matt Williams had completely lost the clubhouse, so the new manager has much heavy lifting to do, and that is impossible on a one-year deal because the players will just read that as a ship passing through the night.

There is industry speculation that the Nationals could trade Stephen Strasburg this winter. Starters Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, center fielder Denard Span and shortstop Ian Desmond all are free agents this winter.

It is impossible to read the one-year offer to Black as anything other than that of a confused organization unsure of its near-term plans. Is a fire sale forthcoming? A major overhaul of the roster?

Into this mess sails manager Dusty Baker. Good luck. He’ll need it.


The Heat Index: Pitchers

Top starting pitchers on the free-agent market:

David Price: In the past, he’s waxed rhapsodic about the Cubs, and his former manager in Tampa Bay, Joe Maddon, is in Chicago. But with the Cubs already paying a small fortune to Lester, it’s difficult to see them paying Price, too. The Red Sox, Dodgers and Giants are among those expected to pursue him hard. And if St. Louis jumps in, the Cardinals could become instant favorites.

Zack GreinkeBy the time he signs with somebody, Greinke could have a second Cy Young Award on his resume. The Dodgers have a chance to re-sign him at a significantly higher deal than the one he just opted out of—they’ve got the money, and he likes it there. If not, the Red Sox and Giants will be among the suitors.

Johnny Cueto: Game 2 of the World Series will be a big selling point.

Jordan Zimmermann: Overshadowed in the Nats‘ rotation by Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, Zimmermann has thrown 195 or more innings in each of the past four seasons and went 13-10 with a 3.66 ERA in 33 starts last season.


The Hit List: Hitters

Top hitters on the market:

Yoenis CespedesWill he score a $150 million deal? Not from the New York Mets, he won’t. Sensational in the second half in leading the Mets to the NL East title, Cespedes wasn’t the same hitter after he took a fastball to his left hand in a Sept. 30 game against the Phillies. Then, last we saw of him in the World Series, he fouled a fastball off of a kneecap and limped off the field. What is working in the Mets’ favor right now is that there do not appear to be a lot of teams that will be in his market.

Jason Heyward: The Cardinals would like to re-sign him. And they probably should; otherwise, that Shelby Miller trade might haunt them.

Justin Upton: Streaky hitter who can carry a team for two weeks and then disappear for two weeks. With Carlos Beltran fading, the Yankees could really use him.

Chris Davis: The last two years that he’s played in 160 games, he’s hit 47 homers (2015) and 53 homers (2013). In just 127 games in 2014, he hit 26 homers. He’s 29 and becoming a free agent just as many teams are looking for offense.

Ben Zobrist: He’s played on winning teams in Kansas City and Tampa Bay and is incredibly versatile, able to play second base, shortstop, third base and the outfield. The one downside is he turns 35 next May.


World Champions: What About the Royals’ Winter?

The business of baseball never stops, but it especially brings the reality of a cold winter home to the World Series champions. This year, it is Kansas City’s turn, and the Royals are facing the loss of four key players: outfielder Alex Gordon, the versatile Ben Zobrist, ace Johnny Cueto and closer Greg Holland.

It should be noted that the Royals have never paid more than $55 million for any free agent. That was for right-hander Gil Meche ahead of the 2007 season—and four years later, unable to perform up to his own expectations, he graciously walked away and let the Royals keep the remaining $12 million on his contract.


Ex-and-Future World Champions: What About the Giants’ Winter?

Well, if they stick to their modern win-in-even-years script, the Giants will enter 2016 as World Series favorites, right? After all, they’ve won it all in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

If last year’s pursuit of Jon Lester is any indication, as well as their pitching-rich structure under GM Brian Sabean (Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson), expect the Giants to be in on David Price, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann, among others this winter. Re-signing Mike Leake isn’t out of the question, either.


Who Leads the Dodgers?

There is just one managerial opening left, and it is in Dodger Stadium. Industry speculation is that farm director and former outfielder Gabe Kapler is the favorite to land the job, being that his philosophy and thoughts are copacetic with the analytic-strong brain trust of Andrew Friedman, Josh Byrnes and Farhan Zaidi.

Dave Roberts, most recently the Padres’ bench coach, interviewed very well the other day, according to Bleacher Report sources. And bench coach Tim Wallach and third base coach Ron Roenicke from Don Mattingly‘s staff are possibilities. The Dodgers also interviewed Nebraska coach and former Angels outfielder Darin Erstad.

And now that the deal with the Nationals fell apart, Bud Black remains available.


The Daniel Murphy Question

Fortunately, Mets GM Sandy Alderson appeared OK after fainting while meeting with the New York media on Wednesday. Tabloid Fever, perhaps? He was answering a question at the time about outfielder Juan Lagares, not whether the Mets would make a $15.8 million qualifying offer to second baseman Daniel Murphy.

That was the hot topic a couple of weeks ago when the Mets were meeting the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS and Murphy was in the process of slamming home runs in six consecutive postseason games. Then came a look at his fielding in the World Series, and the question sort of answered itself. The Mets can’t make that qualifying offer to Murphy, can they?


Stephen Strasburg and This Winter’s Trade Market

The Nationals could deal right-hander Stephen Strasburg, who is a year away from free agency and surely won’t sign a hometown discount deal with the Nationals given that his agent is Scott Boras. The Nats at least listened on Strasburg last winter, according to sources, and industry speculation is that they could move him this winter. Also, look for them to deal closer Drew Storen, who badly needs a fresh start.

The Dodgers could trade outfielder Yasiel Puig as they continue to transform the clubhouse culture there post-Matt Kemp. With Enrique Hernandez and Joc Pederson emerging in the outfield, and with Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier there, Puig could be the trade bait that brings another much-needed starting pitcher.

The Cubs could fill a starting pitching need by dealing infielder Starlin Castro, who has been displaced at shortstop by Addison Russell. By cheerfully moving to second base, Castro only helped his trade value.

The Padres badly need to retool their roster and will shop closer Craig Kimbrel and starter James Shields. They will listen on starters Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner.

The Reds likely will deal closer Aroldis Chapman after shopping him last July, and lots of teams will ask them about third baseman Todd Frazier.

The Red Sox picked up the option on right-hander Clay Buchholz, but don’t be surprised if they deal him away as Dombrowski looks to remake the rotation.

With Alex Anthopoulos splitting from Toronto, indications are that the Blue Jays may trim salary, and it could begin with Troy Tulowitzki, who is guaranteed $98 million through 2020.

The Rockies, after breaking up their one-two punch last summer with the Tulowitzki deal, could follow that by trading outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. Colorado is a team badly in need of a fresh start.


Don’t Do That Again

Reminder: We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary (Nov. 28) when Oakland gifted Toronto by trading Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays.

Donaldson, of course, is expected to be named AL MVP later this month.

So now what do the quick-trigger A’s do this winter? Trade away ace Sonny Gray? Believe this: Many teams will put on the full-court press to acquire Gray, and don’t be surprised if the Red Sox and Yankees are among them.


Will the Padres be Wild and Crazy?

Last winter, there was no deal GM A.J. Preller wouldn’t have made, including swapping 12 fish tacos for a brand new basketball. It was riveting. It was refreshing. It was, ultimately, all sizzle and no steak. The Padres finished 74-88, worse than they did in 2014 (77-85).

Don’t expect Preller to command the spotlight this winter to the degree he did last year. But among the many reasons why the Padres were several tacos short of a combination plate this season was a gaping hole at shortstop. The Padres will look at free agents Ian Desmond and Asdrubal Cabrera, and this week the White Sox non-tendered Alexei Ramirez.

If the free-agent market isn’t the ticket, the Padres could acquire a shortstop via trade, and they will be open for business all winter. Closer Craig Kimbrel and right-handed starter Tyson Ross are their best chips. They will shop starter James Shields hard, and Andrew Cashner is another possibility.


Two Under-the-Radar Free Agents Who Could Turn Things Around

Toronto’s Marco Estrada went 13-8 with a 3.13 ERA in 34 appearances (28 starts) and threw 181 innings.

Texas’ Yovani Gallardo went 13-11 with a 3.42 ERA in 33 starts and threw 184.1 innings.

For those clubs that are in need of pitching but don’t have the bankroll to chase Price and Cueto, Estrada and Gallardo are pretty good alternatives.


Too-Early Predictions: The 2016 World Series Winner Will Be…

If the Cubs make a couple of right moves to improve their rotation, look out. We know their core of young players featuring Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber and others is legit. Let’s see…add, hmmm, David Price, or Johnny Cueto, or even a couple of second-tier arms for better depth, and the Cubs could be in business.


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Why Johnny Cueto Should Be Blue Jays’ No. 1 Target This Offseason

The Toronto Blue Jays have a new team president, and some big additions are to be expected. A slight change in franchise culture could be on deck as well, and one free agent who would match their needs nicely is starting pitcher Johnny Cueto

After Alex Anthopoulos shocked the baseball world by parting ways with the Blue Jays after getting them to the postseason for the first time since 1993, Mark Shapiro has come in from Cleveland to be president. 

With Shapiro comes a new offseason strategy, one that Toronto fans hope will revolve around pitching, given the current state of the Blue Jays’ depth chart.

Three out of the five starters from last year’s rotation are now free agents.

David Price and Marco Estrada will both be difficult to re-sign, and veteran Mark Buehrle is considering retirement. Sure, the team exercised a club option to bring back R.A. Dickey, but the 41-year-old is no longer considered a front-of-the-rotation guy.

During an interview on MLB Network, Shapiro was quick to applaud Anthopoulos’ ability to trade for Price: 

Pitching is their most glaring hole, because we all know they can hit. They have that “Bat Flip” guy: 

They have that “Parrot” guy: 

They have the “Bringer of Rain,” Josh Donaldson

Heck, they even traded for another bat with the deal for Troy Tulowitzki last summer, just for good measure. It was a move that was somewhat perplexing given the fact that their need has always been pitching, not more offensive help.

Sure, they also added Price, which helped tremendously, but perhaps they could have been better off by adding even another starting pitcher, similar to what the Oakland Athletics did during the 2014 season. 

Even the trade for Donaldson last winter was surprising at the time. Obviously, it worked out really well for the Blue Jays, as Donaldson went on to have an MVP-caliber season, but trading away young pitchers for another bat seemed risky.

That’s why Shapiro and interim GM Tony LaCava need to make starting pitching their top priority this offseason. The Blue Jays lost a lot of depth in those Anthopoulos deals. Blue Jays Radio play-by-play announcer Mike Wilner has faith in LaCava, according to his tweet:

Since it will be difficult to re-sign Price, the duo should focus on an external option such as Cueto.

“Johnny Beisbol” could bring much-needed stability to the top of the Blue Jays rotation. 

As it stands, there are injury concerns that exist with Marcus Stroman. Right-hander Drew Hutchison is expected to return to the rotation alongside Stroman, as reported by the Toronto Star’s Brendan Kennedy, but his 5.47 ERA as a starter last year is worrisome.

Sure, Cueto struggled after coming over to the American League from the Cincinnati Reds last season, but he was outstanding in the American League Division Series and the World Series.

Perhaps Cueto just needs some time to adjust to the new league. In his career, he is 14-6 with a 2.68 ERA during interleague play. Yes, he got hit hard in his start at Toronto in October, but he is 2-0 in three career regular-season starts at the Rogers Centre.

What about concerns over pitching in such a hitter-friendly ballpark, you ask? Well, Cueto pitched at the bandbox that is Great American Ball Park for seven-and-a-half years and had a winning percentage above .600.

His home runs per nine innings pitched have been below the league average for most of his career, according to FanGraphs:

Cueto would be a great acquisition for any team but would be especially valuable to the Blue Jays, because they’ve needed a guy like him for so many years. Just look at the impact Price had on the team in the second half of last year.

Cueto would be more affordable and has been healthy every year of his career save one. He represents an opportunity for the new GM to make a real splash.

The Blue Jays’ bats may have carried them for a couple of months at a time last season, but we all know pitching wins championships. Imagine the impact a true ace like Cueto could have over the span of a full season in Toronto.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Johnny Cueto Deals Royals the October Ace They Coveted with Game 2 Masterpiece

The Kansas City Royals didn’t trade for Johnny Cueto to beat the Boston Red Sox in August or the Baltimore Orioles in September.

Good thing, too, because Cueto gave up 15 runs in those two games.

Doesn’t matter now, does it?

Doesn’t matter that Cueto had a 4.76 ERA in his 13 regular-season starts for the Royals. Doesn’t matter that he can crumble in big-stage starts on the road.

All of the above may well hurt his case as a free agent this winter, but all that counts for the Royals is that the two times they really needed Cueto, he delivered, and he delivered big.

He beat the Houston Astros in the decisive Game 5 of the division series, giving up two hits in eight innings. He beat the New York Mets in Wednesday night’s important Game 2 of the World Series, giving up two hits in nine innings in a 7-1 victory at Kauffman Stadium.

As my buddy C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer tweeted going into the ninth inning:

He’s right. With their big lead in the American League Central, the Royals didn’t need Cueto to pitch like an ace in the regular season. They’ve needed him to be an ace two times—in Game 5 against the Astros and again on Wednesday.

He delivered both times. Sure, he mixed in a bad one in Game 3 of the ALCS, giving up eight runs to the Toronto Blue Jays.

But as Royals manager Ned Yost said Wednesday, “He’s had one bad start and two tremendous starts.”

If the bad start at the Rogers Centre raised some questions, it also provided the Royals with one very important answer as they planned their World Series rotation. Cueto pitched Game 2, and he’ll pitch Game 6 if the series gets that far.

Neither of those starts would be on the road.

So when Cueto ran into trouble in the fourth inning Wednesday, walking two of the first three batters he faced and getting frustrated with Mark Carlson’s strike zone, he didn’t hear the sing-song “Kway-toe! Kway-toe!” that haunted him in the 2013 Wild Card Game in Pittsburgh or last week in Canada.

All he heard was catcher Salvador Perez, reminding him to just follow his mitt.

“Keep aggressive, please,” Perez repeated after the game to Fox’s Erin Andrews.

Cueto gave up a run on Lucas Duda’s bloop single, but the Mets didn’t get another baserunner until Cueto walked Daniel Murphy with two out in the ninth. He finished off the first complete-game two-hitter in the World Series in 20 years (Greg Maddux threw the last one in 1995) and just the second in 44 years—and the first World Series complete game by an American Leaguer since Jack Morris’ 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of 1991’s Fall Classic.

It wasn’t the best game Cueto has ever pitched. He had a two-hit shutout against the Washington Nationals in July, with 11 strikeouts. He had a three-hit shutout last year, when he was a 20-game winner with a 2.25 ERA.

He was one of two true aces on the trade market in July. The other was David Price, who went to Toronto and had a great regular season followed by an underwhelming October.

Cueto got his underwhelming out of the way early on in his stay with the Royals, back when they didn’t need him. He always knew what the real goal was.

“That’s what they brought me here for was to help win a World Series,” Cueto said. “And that’s what I’ve worked for.”

The Royals have a real chance now to win a World Series. It’s certainly not over—Mets fans will point out that their 1986 champions lost the first two games at home, and Royals fans will remember that their 1985 champs lost the first two—but Cueto’s performance Wednesday has the Mets in a real bind as they head back to Citi Field.

Yes, the Mets are going home, but they’ve already lost two games started by Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom. The two real kids in the rotation, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, start the next two contests. Both are talented, but with neither likely to pitch deep into a game, the pressure will be on the Mets’ shaky middle relief and on the slumbering offense.

Game 2 was the one in which the pitching matchup supposedly favored the Mets, with the dominating deGrom against the inconsistent Cueto. Instead, Cueto was the one who dominated.

“This is why they got him,” Pete Rose said on the Fox postgame show. “This is the Johnny Cueto we knew in Cincinnati.”

This is the Johnny Cueto the Royals traded for. No matter what, that trade now stands as a total success.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

World Series 2015: Pitchers with Most Pivotal Roles in Mets vs. Royals

If pitching truly wins championships, congratulations to the New York Mets on their 2015 World Series title.

The Mets finished the season No. 4 in team ERA (3.45), an edge that carried over into October. Through nine postseason bouts, they sport a 2.81 ERA, accumulating 91 strikeouts through 80 innings.

Despite their bullpen’s best efforts, the Royals have allowed 4.3 runs per playoff game against tough offenses. A flimsy starting staff remains their biggest flaw, entering the World Series with a 5.56 postseason ERA and 4.75 walks per nine innings.

Of course, anything can happen in a best-of-seven series. A Mets rotation with two rookies and two former Tommy John surgery recipients could finally succumb to fatigue while the Royals’ erratic starters keep cleaning up their messes with runners in scoring position. Or maybe the National League champions jump out to early leads before the American League representatives can fully utilize their prolific bullpen.

Keep an eye on these hurlers during the Fall Classic.



Noah Syndergaard, SP

Per MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, Mets manager Terry Collins confirmed his World Series rotation:

This order sets up Noah Syndergaard to start at Citi Field, where the 23-year-old rookie has notched a 2.41 ERA through 13 starts. This is hardly a demotion for Thor, as the hard-throwing newcomer would be available to pitch a potential Game 7. 

Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey receive more attention atop New York’s stellar rotation, but Syndergaard may prove the best of the trio down the road. After concluding the season with a 3.24 ERA and 9.96 strikeouts per nine innings, he has amassed 20 punchouts through 13 postseason innings, frequently reaching 100 on the radar gun.

As he told Newsday‘s Marc Carig during their pennant celebration, this group is going to be a force for a while:

The pure power hurler will clash against an aggressive offense that rarely strikes out. Although the Royals have succeeded against high heat, there’s a huge difference between 95 and 100 miles per hour.


Tyler Clippard, RP

There’s a security breach in New York’s stellar pitching staff. If the Royals can force the starters out before bridging to closer Jeurys Familia, Mets fans everywhere will leave the series with damaged fingernails. 

Tyler Clippard is a disaster waiting to happen. According to FanGraphs, a 5.30 expected fielding independent pitching (FIP) and 60.6 fly-ball percentage muddy a 2.92 ERA. Since Sept. 1, he has relinquished 13 runs, including five homers, through 18.1 frames.

For New York’s sake, let’s hope he got the regression out of his system during Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. Kris Bryant clobbered a hanging changeup in the eighth inning, but the two-run homer merely lessened the lead to five. As Collins’ preferred setup man to Familia, Clippard usually pitches in more high-leverage situations.

The Mets don’t have a conventional southpaw specialist, but the right-handed Clippard would help against left-handed hitters. Lefties hold a career .179/.265/.307 slash line against the 30-year-old reliever. Those splits could come in handy against Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon.



Johnny Cueto, SP

In two drastically different starts, Johnny Cueto went from allowing two hits in eight innings to eight runs through two innings. The great outing led Kansas City past the Houston Astros, but the debacle cost the team an 11-8 shootout against Toronto. 

According to ESPN Stats & Info, the letdown performance set a dubious record:

When the Royals acquired Cueto from the Cincinnati Reds in July, they hoped to gain an ace to lead their October rotation. He sunk any such confidence before the season ended, registering a 4.76 ERA and 1.45 WHIP for his new organization. 

Yost has not set his World Series rotation, but he may prefer Yordano Ventura and/or Edinson Volquez to open the series. Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star wondered if Cueto‘s catastrophe at Rogers Centre will cause the Royals to use him at home in Game 1 or Game 2:

Citi Field is not the same treacherous hitters’ park, but the Mets are no cupcake matchup. If the good, or at least decent, Cueto doesn’t show up, the Royals are in trouble.


Kelvin Herrera, RP

Wade Davis’ promotion to closer has derailed his overall worth. If Greg Holland were still around, manager Ned Yost would have certainly used his current stopper more than twice in the American League Championship Series. He also wouldn’t have waited for Ryan Madson to blow a 3-1 lead before reluctantly using Davis (gasps) outside of the ninth inning in Game 6.

Unless Yost alters his bullpen usage, Kelvin Herrera becomes the club’s most vital reliever. Free from the foolish save shackles, the middle reliever has appeared in eight of Kansas City’s 11 playoff bouts. He has shined through them all, allowing seven baserunners with 16 strikeouts through 8.2 innings.

As noted by Beyond the Box Score, he’s the only pitcher generating a higher whiff rate than New York’s power starters this postseason:

His playoff success is a huge relief for the Royals, as he limped out of the season with 10 runs relinquished over his last 14.1 innings. For the second straight year, he’s the guy Yost comfortably turns to in high-leverage spots. Given Kansas City’s tumultuous rotation, Herrera and the bullpen have no margin for error.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Top World Series MVP Candidates Ahead of the Fall Classic

Major League Baseball’s postseason can make stars out of the ordinary, and it can also legitimize existing ones. 

This year’s postseason is no exception, as it has already produced wonderful storylines for the likes of Daniel Murphy, Alcides Escobar and the New York Mets starting pitchers. With the World Series starting Tuesday night, those angles could continue to develop, or give way to new players to perform in the spotlight when the Mets and Kansas City Royals meet in the Fall Classic.

The World Series MVP trophy has been scattered between superstar players like Madison Bumgarner and David Ortiz as well as players with lesser reputations like Edgar Renteria and David Eckstein. Based on big names and recent postseason performances, choosing who could win the award in 2015 can be a somewhat accurate exercise.

Here is a look at which players in the World Series have the best chances to be forever known as its MVP, starting with the least-likely candidate, though that is hardly a negative.

Begin Slideshow

World Series 2015: Full Schedule and Players Who Will Decide MLB Championship

The New York Mets didn’t want to leave any doubt in the minds of the casual fans. An 8-3 thrashing in Game 4 on Wednesday and a sweep of the Chicago Cubs meant they secured their place as the best team in the National League and a spot in the World Series.

Things haven’t been quite as cut-and-dry in the American League, with the Kansas City Royals holding a 3-2 lead on a Toronto Blue Jays team that got a big performance from its bats at exactly the right moment in Game 5.

But with only two games at most remaining in the American League Championship Series, the World Series is nearly upon us—which means it is time to start previewing the Fall Classic and what it will take to bring home the crown.

Let’s take a look at the remaining schedule for the playoffs and preview which players will have an impact on the final outcome of the World Series.


Players Who Will Decide World Series

Mets 2B Daniel Murphy

Has anyone ruled out the theory that Daniel Murphy is a wizard? Until there is substantial evidence to the contrary, I’m not willing to ignore the chance that the Mets second baseman is a practitioner of the Dark Arts.

Murphy finished the regular season with 14 home runs to his name—not a bad number among second baseman but not exactly the type of stats that would hint at what he has done in the postseason. Going yard seven times and in each of his last six games, the 30-year-old is playing like the best player in baseball heading into the World Series.

It would be fair to assume that Murphy is bound to come back to earth at some point in the near future, but seeing as he is already in uncharted territory in terms of baseball history, predicting anything for him would be folly.

The Mets have become the most exciting team in baseball in recent weeks and after completing a sweep of the Cubs are a step closer to securing the franchise’s first title since 1986, in large part thanks to Murphy.

Whoever wins the ALCS—the Royals lead the Blue Jays 3-2 heading into Friday’s Game 6 in Kansas City, Missouri—will have to be wary of Murphy now or risk watching the ball sail into the stands every night.


Royals P Johnny Cueto

As stated above, the Royals carry a 3-2 lead into Game 6—the first of two games at home—and look like the likelier of the two teams to advance to the World Series, even with the hitting the Blue Jays bring to the plate.

Brought in by the Royals at the trade deadline this season from the Cincinnati Reds, Johnny Cueto was the big-name pitcher Kansas City wanted as it became clearer and clearer that a second straight shot at the World Series was in the cards.

Since coming to Kansas City, though, Cueto has been less than consistent, recording a 4.76 ERA in 13 starts with the team in the regular season. Since the playoffs started, things have gotten even worse, with a 7.88 ERA masking an incredible performance in Game 5 against the Houston Astros.

When Cueto is on, he is still one of the best pitchers in the league and has the ability to shut down any lineup, but when he isn’t, having a stellar day in can be brutal—just ask the Blue Jays to whom Cueto gave up eight earned runs in two innings pitched.

The ALCS schedule has Cueto set to pitch in Game 7 against the Blue Jays should it be necessary, meaning even if the Royals don’t make the World Series, it will be partially on their ace pitcher. But if Game 6 does go in favor of Kansas City, Cueto will likely get the Game 1 start against New York and could set the tone for the series to come.


Mets P’s Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey

It doesn’t seem entirely fair to lump the Mets’ three young elite pitchers together—to say nothing of leaving out rookie Steven Matz, who has only started nine games in his career in the majors—but should the Mets win the World Series this year, it will be hard to separate 27-year-old second-year Jacob deGrom, 23-year-old rookie Noah Syndergaard and 26-year-old third-year Matt Harvey.

The Mets have been carried by their core of young pitchers this season in that trio, and even with the offensive explosion, not much has changed since the calendar turned to October.

The three have combined for eight starts in the postseason, allowing 12 total runs among them with the Mets, and won all but one of the games they have started, a 5-2 Game 2 defeat to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series.

While Murphy is busy hitting an unbelievable amount of home runs for the Mets and stealing all the headlines, the pitchers have been going about their business like nothing has changed from the regular season, and that is all New York can ask of them.

This is a group of three pitchers—who are incredibly inexperienced—had never been to the playoffs before this season and are pitching like some of baseball’s greatest historical rotations. Whichever team emerges from the ALCS has a tough task on its hands in figuring out how to beat these pitchers. No one else has done it so far, so odds aren’t in the Royals’ or Blue Jays’ favor.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Johnny Cueto Finally Validates Big Investment in Pitching Royals into the ALCS

Better late than never, as the saying goes. And certainly, this is doubly true when “late” is somehow the same thing as “right on time.”

Just ask Johnny Cueto.

When the Kansas City Royals acquired Cueto from the Cincinnati Reds in a late-July trade, the idea was for him to be the ace the club badly needed. It didn’t take long for that wish to go “pluh.” Through his first 14 starts in a Royals uniform, Cueto was a bitter disappointment.

But at long last, he finally set things right in start No. 15. And not a moment too soon.

Cueto got the ball in Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Houston Astros at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday night, with his task being to pitch the Royals to their second straight AL Championship Series. He did exactly that, leading the Royals to a series-clinching 7-2 victory with eight innings of two-run ball.

Cueto definitely had help in Game 5. After the Royals had fallen behind, 2-0, in the second inning on Luis Valbuena’s two-run homer, Alex Rios put the Royals ahead for good with a two-run double in the fifth inning. And in the eighth inning, Kendrys Morales provided the dagger with a three-run homer.

But really, this game was all about Johnny Cueto pitching like, well, Johnny Cueto.

After posting a 4.76 ERA in 13 regular-season starts as a Royal and then getting knocked around by the Astros in Game 2 of the ALDS, it seemed for a moment that Cueto was in for another rough one when he gave up a single and a homer in the second inning. But as it turned out, those would be the only two baserunners he allowed. There were no more hits and no walks, and Cueto struck out eight.

“That’s the reason why we got him,” said Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, “for games like this.”

All told, the 29-year-old right-hander retired 24 of the 26 batters he faced, including each of the last 19. As MLB Stat of the Day noted, it had been quite a while since a pitcher had done that in the postseason:

For a starting pitcher going to work in the postseason, there’s surely nothing like making a bit of history.

Except, maybe, for finding a bit of redemption.

Remember when the Royals traded for Cueto?

Of course you do. It was a big deal. Along with David Price and Cole Hamels, Cueto was one of the top starting pitchers available on the summer trade market. And when the Royals pulled off a deal to get him, it required them to send a decent handful of young players to Cincinnati. It was a win-now move that came at a high price.

But at the time, it was easy to predict that Cueto would be worth it.

All he had done in the last four-and-a-half seasons was establish himself as one of baseball’s elite pitchers, carving out a 2.51 ERA over 808 innings. With the Royals already leading the AL Central at the time, even despite lacking a true ace, we here at B/R were among many who immediately pegged the Royals as the favorites to represent the American League in the World Series now that they had one.

But then, of course, came the darn-near-5.00 ERA down the stretch in the regular season, followed by Cueto’s decidedly “meh” performance (six innings, four earned runs) in his first postseason start.

What happened?

What, indeed. Up until, as Brooks Baseball shows, his velocity took a dive at the very end of the season, Cueto’s stuff seemed fine. And because he actually posted a lower walk rate in Kansas City (4.9 BB%) than he did in Cincinnati (5.6 BB%), his control also seemed fine.

As such, maybe Cueto was being plagued by the little things. As Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star noted, Cueto himself has admitted that his upcoming free agency has been on his mind. And as the Star’s Andy McCullough reported in September, Cueto may have also been thrown off by Salvador Perez’s method of setting targets.

But really, nobody seemed to know what was dogging Cueto. Without an obvious explanation, the only thing that was clear was that he didn’t look like himself.

And that, naturally, is what changed in Game 5.

It was apparent early in Wednesday’s action that Cueto had brought some nasty stuff to play with. After sitting below 93 miles per hour in his previous three outings, Brooks Baseball indicates that Cueto came out throwing over 94 early on in Game 5. That’s where he stayed, as he was still throwing in the mid-90s deep into the game.

But just as important as Cueto’s stuff was what he was doing with it. With the obvious exception being Valbuena’s home run ball, Royals skipper Ned Yost hit the nail on the head in noting after the game, via MLB Network Radio, that Cueto basically didn’t throw a bad pitch:

This admittedly presents a hard picture to paint with data, but not so much with the eye test.

Cueto has always been at his best when he’s mixing and matching his complete arsenal of pitches—four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter and changeup—and playing with the edges of the strike zone. Never mind on an inning-to-inning basis. For the first time in a long time, that’s what he was doing on a pitch-to-pitch basis against the Astros. 

Understandably, Houston hitters were baffled. In collecting 10 swinging strikes, per ESPN.com, Cueto enjoyed double-digit whiffs for the first time since Sept. 18. And though he also induced 12 fly balls to just four ground balls, the only fly ball that was hit hard was Valbuena’s home run. 

In the end, Cueto made it look easy for what was really the first time in his career as a Royal. At long last, Kansas City fans were treated to an up-close look at one of the most dominant pitchers of recent seasons.

And as enjoyable as it all was in the moment, it should be far from the consensus that Cueto’s gem was a parting gift.

Up next for the Royals is a dance with the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series. Their power bats made mincemeat of the Texas Rangers in the final three games of the ALDS, and could very well do the same against the Royals if their pitching staff doesn’t band together and put forth a performance of a lifetime.

Cueto will need to be a part of that. But whereas noting as much might have come off as an ominous warning for the Kansas City faithful as recently as Wednesday afternoon, now it suddenly sounds like an ominous warning for the opposition.

Cueto is no longer that guy who used to be an ace pitcher. After what he just did, he once again looks like that guy who is an ace pitcher. 


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

Follow zachrymer on Twitter 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Keys That Will Decide Rangers vs. Blue Jays, Astros vs. Royals ALDS Game 5s

The do-or-die, win-or-go-home sporting event is the pinnacle of athletic drama.

It creates undeniable excitement before kickoff, tipoff, the puck drop and first pitch. Pins, needles, sweaty palms and butterflies are all in play when one game defines an entire season.

On Wednesday, Major League Baseball gives us two such contests.

Both American League Division Series have improbable Game 5s to decide who meets in the Championship Series—fates that seemed entirely unlikely at certain points during both series. Yet, here we are with the slates wiped clean and the brink of elimination tangible for all four teams.

The Texas Rangers go back to Toronto to face the Blue Jays, a team they beat twice there to start this series, but then lost to at home, failing to close it out. Later, the Houston Astros, who at one point in the seventh inning of Game 4 in their own park had a 98.4 percent win probability, according to FanGraphs, will try to beat the Kansas City Royals and expunge their missed opportunity.

There are distinct keys for each team’s victory. While they might not ensure a trip to the ALCS, they certainly would go a long way in helping.

Begin Slideshow

Copyright © 1996-2010 Kuzul. All rights reserved.
iDream theme by Templates Next | Powered by WordPress