Up until the Johnny Cueto deal became official on Sunday. The Kansas City Royals were one of the few division leaders in the MLB that contained no legitimate starting pitcher worthy enough of taking them deep into October.
Now, after many days of struggle and anticipation, the Royals were able to find their elite starter and dependable arm that Kansas City needed every so badly.
While to some it may have come at a costly price. Royals’ GM Dayton Moore’s decision of going “All In” with a top of the line pitcher like Cueto, shows that the Royals are adamant to re-create the same magic they constructed last year, and for the first time is shown with no signs of reluctance.
Everybody knows just how much of a gamble this move may turn out. However there are a many reasons to why Kansas City not only bolstered their odds as World Series favorites, but robbed the Cincinnati Reds on the opposing end of the deal.
The prospects that the Royals gave up can be replaced
It wasn’t much, but the three minor leaguers the Royals sent over to Cincinnati basically were all identical. John Lamb, Brandon Finnegan, and Cody Reed are all left-handed pitchers and ostensibly really only Lamb has a legitimate shot of becoming a quality starter in the near future.
Lamb, in which might be his last full season in the minors went 9-1 and recorded a 2.67 ERA through 17 starts for the Royals’ minor league squad the Omaha Storm Chasers this year. The loss of another potential starter in the coming years won’t hurt the Royals as they already have their young star, and his name is Yordano Ventura, who at 23 is still growing.
Finnegan was slowly brought in from the minors at the earliest as last seasons’ wild card game, where Finnegan tossed two scoreless innings in extras. Finnegan played a minor role in molding the Royals bullpen into a dominant force as they pushed their way to the World Series. Even though Kansas City loses a budding bullpen arm, this won’t go as a large problem for the Royals in the long run. Now that Finnegan is gone, this frees up space for starter Chris Young to rest and rebuild as a long reliever, helping compliment Franklin Morales and Ryan Madson nicely.
Of course the Reds may wreak the benefits of adding another arm alongside Aroldis Chapman. At the age of 22, Finnegan still has a long way to go to ever becoming a starting pitcher that the Reds expect.
The old saying in baseball is that you can never have enough starting pitchers, and while that is a high incentive to take in. There is no realistic timetable on how long it will take these minor leaguers to progress in the coming years. The best situation the Royals are in right now via the farm system is that coveted 19 year-old short stop Raul Mondesi and power pitcher Kyle Zimmer are still in place to make big strides for the future, and holding onto a decent number of prospects will balance out.
Cueto adds a consistency and confidence the Royals rotation lacks
Besides Edinson Volquez, the confidence surrounding the Royals starting pitching staff was a bit apprehensive.
A week ago lefty Jason Vargas tore his ucl in his elbow, causing him to miss the rest of this season and into 2016. Typically used during bullpen duty, rushed-in starter Chris Young’s influx of innings had resulted in him becoming overworked and his production steadily declining. Over the last two months of this season, Young’s ERA shot up from 2.02 in May to an alarming 5.05 in July in less than 10 starts. To make matters worse, the Royals future Yordano Ventura survived harsh reality checks and nearly a demotion back to minors to revive his diminished performances.
Basically, the Royals needed a big time arm in every way possible. The numbers that Cueto has put up completely reflects over his dominating starts this entire season.
Since the start of the 2014 season, Cueto has racked up 242 strikeouts, tied with Stephen Strasburg for fifth most in baseball. Only David Price (271), Corey Kluber (269), Max Scherzer (252) and Felix Hernandez (248) are ahead of Cueto. To put this into perspective, Volquez leads all of the Royals starters in strikeouts this year with just 91.
Cueto’s durability and ability to go deep into his starts is eye-opening. Through a season and a half, Cueto has gone at least eight innings in 21 of his starts. The only pitcher with more starts of eight-plus innings is Detroit’s David Price, who likely may be traded to a contender. Combined, all of the Royals current starters since 2014 have gone at least eight innings only 4 times.
This might be an overload on his stats. But over his last 100 starts, which dates back to roughly 3 years. Cueto’s ERA stands at 2.51, which is 2nd in all of baseball behind Clayton Kershaw. The simple matter is that Cueto is a guy that the Royals haven’t had in a long time. Even if he may be a rental player, Cueto out-performs every starting pitcher the Royals have had maybe since Zack Greinke.
With Cueto as #1 starter, this gives the Royals an overwhelming edge in American League
Before the deal became set in stone, the Houston Astros had hands-down the best starting rotation out of all the contenders in the AL. Dallas Keuchel as of now holds a 12-5 record and equips a 2.32 ERA, and through his last 10 starts, 8 of them have been quality ones.
*If you don’t know what a quality start is, it means a pitchers goes at least 6 innings while surrendering 3 runs or less.
Keuchel is found along the lines of a Chris Sale or a Corey Kluber as the best in the league as far as starters go. While Keuchel is a top commodity the Astros currently hold. Scott Kazmir is another ace pitcher that resides on Houston’s staff. Coincidently Kazmir’s first start as an Astro came against these Royals as he dazzled seven scoreless innings and maintains a 2.32 ERA.
Right now with Cueto’s transition to the American League. This makes the Royals rotation good as if not better than Houston’s. Regardless of where everyone stands with Ventura, his display of surrendering 1 run through seven innings on Sunday afternoon may have changed the past narrative surrounding him. Duffy over his last four starts has thrown 26.1 innings and has only surrendered 4 earned runs. Did I mention his ERA through that span is a microscopic 1.47?
By the way everything is going, from Ventura figuring out what he has, Duffy turning the corner, and Volquez developing into the “rock’ of the Royals staff. Cueto’s move to the top of the rotation makes this couplet of arms poised for the best run possible.
Does this really make the Royals the top dogs to win the World Series?
On paper it does. But there are no guarantees in baseball, if there were than the Detroit Tigers’ staff of David Price, Justin Verlander, and Max Scherzer would have won multiple World Series championships by now and the historic duo of Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw would have actually made it past the National League Championship Series.
Considering where the Royals are at. Kansas City’s offense can produce runs in a hurry this year. Not only is KC’s defense something that is well-known, but the indispensable depth all over the Royals roster is becoming more unknown. Since the loss of Alex Gordon, the Royals haven’t missed beat as far as the outfield goes. Paulo Orlando is nearly batting .250 this season and Jarrod Dyson already has a +3 runs saved in just three weeks. Alex Rios is actually driving runners in and since the start of July is batting over .315.
Lorenzo Cain has torn through the 2o15 season at an illustrious pace. His numbers are undoubtedly MVP worthy and the regular season still has two months left to go. Cain’s .312 batting avg, .366 OBP, and .866 OPS gives reason to why he may be the Royals most consistent and dangerous hitter top to bottom within their lineup.
Chances are that the Royals might not re-sign Alex Gordon for next year and Greg Holland is let go (the combination of Herrera, Davis, and Holland are responsible for almost 20% of the team’s payroll).
Cueto is making $10 million this season and will be a free agent at the start of 2016. Because the Royals acquired him in a midseason trade, they still have to owe him well-over $5 million as a remainder of this season. Possibly the Royals can use the left over money from Gordon and Holland to re-sign him to a $10-$20 million contract for at least two years, though it won’t be easy.
The Royals were put into a “boom or bust” scenario the remainder of this season. Players from the core of the Royals may no longer be with the organization in the coming years. Dayton Moore’s move was essential because it puts Kansas City in the best position possible of bringing home a championship that the city needs, that the city deserves.