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Cincinnati Reds Will Continue to Lean on Johnny Cueto, For Now

Johnny Cueto's season will be affected by the club's decision, but it won't be defined by it.

The delightful look of Johnny Cueto
The delightful look of Johnny Cueto
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

(Ed. Note: Hey, you been waiting for the 2015 Redleg Annual? Well, guess what? IT'S COMING. SOON. Stay tuned for details.)

Name: Johnny Brent (Ortiz) Cueto
DOB: February 15, 1986
Hometown: San Pedro de Macoris, DO

Tale of the Tape
Position: Starting Pitcher
Bats: Right      Throws: Right
Height: 5'11" Weight: 215lbs

Cuet the Great, Johnny Beisbol

Notes from the Past
Johnny Cueto signed with the Reds as an amateur free agent in 2004 at the ripe old age of 18. He made his professional debut in 2005 for the Rookie Reds, throwing 43 innings before getting a 6 IP tryout in A+. The numbers are what they are. Nothing to see here. Johnny was just getting his feet wet.

In 2006, Johnny broke with the Dragons and broke the spirits of a lot of young pups in single A. In his 76 innings pitched, Cuet-the-Soon-to-be-Great pounded the league with 2.59 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP while striking out 9+ per 9 innings. That earned him another trip to Sarasota, where he cooled off a bit but was still 3 full years younger than his peers and starting to turn some heads at only 20 years old.

Cueto raced through the minors in 2007, starting 14 games for Sarasota before getting the call up to AA. Johnny exploded once more when he hit Tennessee; in 61 IP, he posted a 3.10 ERA, 1.033 WHIP, and a gawdy 11.4 SO9. Louisville came calling for the breakout star and nothing changed at the next level, albeit in only 22 IP. I'll give you the "Johnny Cueto 4 Dummies" version: he struck out everyone, he walked almost no one, and was generally just a bad ass. The Reds recognized the bad-assery (and the 34th prospect ranking by BaseballAmerica) and decided enough was enough.

The Majors
Johnny Cueto made his major league debut on April 3rd, 2008 for the Reds against the Arizona Diamondbacks. And please Cueto don't hurt 'em; the rookie future ace took a perfect game into the 6th inning. Then, he allowed a home run to Justin Upton and everything came crashing down, right? Wrong. The home run would be the only base runner Johnny would allow, as he struck out 10 through 7 innings. Johnny would flash mastery throughout that rookie year, but all in all he turned in an inconsistent first year. But the core was being built.

Johnny continued this pattern in 2009, flashing brilliance at times, but also still vulnerable. He started strong, and took a 2.17 ERA into mid-June. Be he faded in the dregs of summer. On July 6th, he was completely shelled by the Phillies, giving up 9 earned in 0.2 innings pitched in a game that the Reds got shallacked by the score of 22-1. Cueto ended the year with a 4.41 ERA in 171 innings pitched.

2010 was a bit of a breakout for Cueto and the Reds. Cueto got off to an average start before turning in a 1 hit shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates (who else?) in May. Oh, and he stomped some Cardinals in this game that you might remember, and that's always a good thing. Cueto lowered his ERA by nearly a full run, and while the rest of the peripherals were similar, the Reds as a team finally got over the hump, becoming NL Central Champions for the first time in 15 years. Cueto got the ball for Game 3 of that ill-fated NLDS and turned in a nice showing, allowing two runs through 5 innings in a game that saw the Reds empty the kitchen sink. As per usual, the Reds failed to provide any run support and they were sent packing for the season.

Johnny inked himself a new contract before 2011, but started the season on the DL and didn't pitch until May. But when he pitched, he was something to behold. He flirted all year with the ERA title, but was never quite on pace to have enough innings to qualify. Eventually, Cueto ended the season how he started it, on the disabled list with a strained lat (and as the old saying goes "lats will haunt"). However, he was starting to show up on people's radars from the strong season (156 IP, 2.31 ERA, 1.090 WHIP, 171 ERA+).

He followed that up in 2012 with another huge season, anchoring a staff that was historically good. He cracked 200+ IP for the first time in his career and a sub-3 ERA for the second time in his career. At this point, Johnny was squarely on the map, finishing 4th in the NL Cy Young award voting.

Unfortunately for Cueto and Reds fans, Cueto's back flared up only 8 pitches into the 2012 NLDS against the Giants, which proved to end his season. The Reds would follow suit shortly thereafter. In 2013, Johnny continued to be awesome when he pitched, however the season proved to be lost. Cueto appeared in only 11 games while struggling with his injured lat. Cueto was healthy enough to get the ball for the one game playoff against Pittsburgh, but that ended poorly and the Reds were shown the door in the playoffs again.

Johnny Cueto returned healthy for the 2014 and had his greatest season to date. He pitched 243 innings and was basically on a completely different level than anyone else not named Clayton Kershaw. Johnny was elected to his first All Star game and finished second in the NL Cy Young award voting. He was fourth in the MLB in ERA (2.25), second in wins (20), third in WHIP (0.960), first in hits per 9 IP (6.242), second in IP, fifth in strikeouts (242), tied for first in games started (34), tied for fourth in complete games (4), tied for fourth in shutouts (2), and fourth in ERA+ (160). I'm just gonna let all that sink in for a minute.

Final year of a 4 year/$27 million dollar contract. Reds picked up the option for a fifth year at $10 million.


Baseball Reference


Scouting Report
via The Baseball Cube

Control: 64

K-Rating: 67

Efficiency: 69

vsPower: 43

2015 Projections

Steamer 182.0 3.31 3.53


8.59 0.94 74.5%
ZiPS 181.3 2.88 3.48 2.48 8.09 0.84 77.8%

PITCHf/x Profile, Brooks Baseball (Major Leagues)

Looking at 2015
What 2015 comes down to for Johnny is, "What his team does," mixed a little with, "What his team does with him?" The answer to the first question will probably determine the answer to the second. There's a chance that the Reds get some injury luck, their core players can play the vast majority of the season, and play well. At that point, the Reds can be contenders in a tough division and the Powers That Be could be content with keeping their ace in the last year of his contract and making one last push at a pennant.

Or, the Reds can perform at the level all of the projection systems have them (around 75 wins) and there will be nothing to play for by July. If that's the case, Reds fans could be seeing the last of Johnny Cueto taking his turn on the mound in a Reds jersey. If Cueto can do what he's done recently while also avoiding any lingering back injuries, there could be some contending teams that would be willing to give up a haul for a potential Cy Young winner at $5 million for the balance of the year. If that situation presents itself, Walt could be fielding a lot of calls this summer, trying to choose the right deal. It's depressing to think about, but it could become reality. Even then, it's also possible that the Reds won't hear a deal that they like and be content to lose with Johnny, offer the QO and take the comp pick when he leaves on another contract to a richer team. There are a lot of moving parts here and it will be a storyline all season if the Reds start slow and continue to struggle.

Of course there's the nuclear option. The Reds could choose to sign Cueto to an extension in the next few weeks or keep him all year, win or lose, in anticipation of extending him next winter. This seems unfathomable; depending on what happens this season, Johnny could certainly command north of $200 million. Conventional wisdom says that the Reds already have too much money tied up in long term salaries to be able to swing a contract for Johnny, but with Bob Castellini, who knows? I certainly didn't think he'd hand Joey Votto $250 million dollars and then, after he did, I certainly thought Brandon Phillips was a gonner. Bob wants to win and the team is obsessed with keeping its homegrown players. Whether or not this would actually be the best move for Reds management can be debated in another article by another writer at another time. The possibility of this scenario happening, however remote, is certainly there.

As far as Johnny Cueto on the field? I'd be silly to expect anything less than the best. Assuming his back doesn't flare up or his elbow doesn't suddenly explode, why can't Cueto continue to dominate? The defense should continue to help him, FIP should continue to hate him, and all should be normal (and normal with Johnny Cueto means "spectacular"). Also worth keeping in mind (as if you could forget after reading all of the above), it's a contract year for Johnny. Contract years tend to bring out the best in athletes. If that's the case, and last year doesn't qualify as "bringing out the best," we could be in for a very special season (or half season).