Now that free-agent pitchers David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, Zack Greinke and Jeff Samardzija have all signed deals with new teams, the most coveted remaining target for MLB teams in pursuit of a #1 starter is Johnny Cueto, who recently pitched with the Kansas City Royals as they won the World Series. Cueto came to the Royals as a trade deadline rental from the Cincinnati Reds and how enters free agency. However, Cueto’s agent, Bryce Dixon, told ESPNdeportes.com this past weekend that Cueto was not in a hurry to ink a deal and would not be shocked if Cueto has not completed a contract by Thursday, when the league’s winter meetings come to an end in Nashville.
MLB Odds Report: Who will sign Johnny Cueto?
Wrote in today’s column about the risk LAD assume in creating a Chapman/Jansen bullpen. https://t.co/8uW2sgPAFg Plus Cueto, lots of notes.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 7, 2015
Dixon said, “I don’t have a specific timetable. It may occur during or after the winter meetings. We are in no hurry. We have some offers and we will have several meetings in Nashville, but right now I could not tell if Cueto will have a team after the conclusion of the meetings. We have plenty of time until the beginning of the season.”
Price is now a member of the Boston Red Sox pitching staff, with a seven-year, $217 million deal. Greinke is in Arizona (six years, $206 million), Zimmermann is in Detroit (five years, $110 million) and Samardzija (five years, $90 million) is in San Francisco. Arizona offered Cueto six years and $120 million, but he declined the offer, leading them to pursue Greinke. Dixon characterized the Diamondbacks’ offer as low given the market for a top starter.
If you look at Cueto’s 2015 statistics, though, it’s worth asking whether he is still worth #1 starter money. He went 11-13 this season with an ERA of 3.44 between Cincinnati and Kansas City. That is a fairly low ERA, but he did not pitch that well in key games down the stretch — with the exception of his World Series start. In other playoff starts and in his starts down the stretch in Kansas City, he was not the catalyst that many had thought he would be. Over an eight year career in MLB, Cueto has a 96-70 record and a career ERA of 3.30. He is highly durable, averaging 214 innings per 162 games.
Obviously, just about every team would love to have a #1 starter. There are still quite a few franchises who don’t have that top-line starter locked down. It’s hard to imagine that someone won’t be able to come up higher in the per-year salary than the Diamondbacks did. Given that Price is getting $31 million a season — and he didn’t do much at all for the Blue Jays in the postseason, continuing a career-long trend, I expect Cueto to get at least $25 million per season, if not more. Patience is the name of the game when the dollars are that high, so expect the bidding war to heat up in the next few weeks.