Cincinnati Reds fans have never been in such a blessed predicament before. It's hard to understate exactly how wealthy the top end of the organization is with pitching talent, something that's never truly been said about the Reds for the last 30 years, if ever. The talented arms driving the best stretch of starting pitching in team history has been good enough to drive a $30 million projected starter to the closer's role and to render the potential exit of an 8 year rotation anchor (who is reportedly very willing to stay) a foregone conclusion. The Reds, once perceived as a franchise unwilling to invest in developing a staff in favor of banking - both literally and figuratively - on assembling enough mash-potential to simply outscore opponents, have morphed into a pitching/defense first team that has managed to thrive despite playing in the Altuve of major league ballparks.
It's been special. It's been weird to root for, and an odd transition to be sure. Many media members who cover this franchise know only how to spit out articles decrying the current offense's state in relation to the exploits of yore, neglecting (or declining) to mention how delicious the resident pitchers have been.
But pitching is pricey. Very, very pricey. While much of it may be attributable to being Brian Price-y, it's also going to be banana stand pricey, and soon. As a result, it's been hard to prognosticate exactly how the mid-market Reds, despite their uptick in payroll of late, will be able to afford to keep around such a core of proven, yet still young, starting pitchers as they speed like a fastball towards being available free agents.
I've stated they should look into trading Johnny Cueto. I've felt bad about saying that, but I've said it. I've also gone on record as calling him the best Reds pitcher of this generation, both in print and on radio. His build and his injury history have given me pause about advocating he be signed to a 9 figure contract, and his favorable team contract for the next two seasons has made me dream of what the Reds could get in return for their resident ace. Given the potential outlay to sign any combination of him, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, or Mike Leake, it's nearly impossible to imagine a scenario where they're all around long term, and it's been hard to wrap my head around trusting Cueto's unorthodox mechanics and stature to be able to stand up long term.
Which brings me to tomorrow night's game in Pittsburgh. Much of the speculation I just mentioned stemmed from Cueto's 8 pitch outing and subsequent injury in the 2012 National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants. So much of the 2012 dream season came squarely on the back of Cueto's 217 brilliant innings, and watching him be forced to leave was one of the hardest things this lifelong Reds fan has ever had to watch. It was the beginning of the end, the injury that put a premature end to an otherwise perfect storyline, and it's continued to plague both Cueto and the rest of the team throughout 3 more DL stints in 2013.
But now he's back. Cueto, who many of us had written off entirely following his last trip to the shelf in August, has not just returned, he's returned in a role larger than the one he held at this time last season. Latos' arm is "barking," Homer's got a leg issue of some sort, Cingrani's been injured and limited, and Bronson Arroyo is apparently fighting a sore back. All of a sudden*, it's Cueto who is the healthiest and most rested, and it's he who is thrust into the spotlight in Tuesday's one game playoff.
Maybe it's symmetry, Cueto returning healthy to a team in need a year following the injury that took down a seemingly invincible roster. Maybe it's karma. Maybe it's another word that means something like those two that only Cy Schourek knows the definition to.
Maybe it's the perfect subplot, a redemption story that, come November, will have me clamoring for Walt Jocketty to extend Cueto for years upon years. Maybe tomorrow, Johnny Cueto will take steps to not just erase our most recent postseason memory of him, but to write his name in the lights of Reds' postseason lore alongside Eric Davis' home run, Billy Hatcher's doubles, and Joe Morgan's 9th inning single.
The timing is near perfect. Hopefully, Cueto will be, too.