If the Cincinnati Reds choose to stay in-house for their 2023 starting rotation, it’ll have talent. Plenty of it, really. Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, and Graham Ashcraft all looked the part when tasked with the job in 2022, while Justin Dunn comes with the pedigree of a former 1st round draftee. Connor Overton even looked serviceable - serviceable! - in his limited time on the bump, and there’s hope the Reds have unlocked something in him overlooked by his previous teams.
There’s just a tremendous amount of inexperience there. Greene (125.1 IP), Ashcraft (105.0), Lodolo (103.1), Dunn (133.2), and Overton (31.1) have a combined total of 498.2 innings logged as starting pitchers at the big league level for their careers. Even if they turn back to starter-turned-reliever-turned-emergency-starter Luis Cessa again, he’s only compiled 44.0 IP as a starter since the 2018 season, a season when the New York Yankees abandoned the idea of him in that role for the coming years.
During the 2014 season that saw him finish 2nd in NL Cy Young Award voting and the 2015 season he split between the Reds and the Kansas City Royals, Johnny Cueto logged a remarkable 455.2 IP by himself as a starting pitcher. Since he broke into the bigs in 2008, the 2192.2 he has put up ranks tied for 10th among all big leaguers with Madison Bumgarner, and he’s fresh off a resurgent 2022 campaign spent with the Chicago White Sox that saw him fire 158.1 IP of 3.79 FIP/3.35 ERA ball.
That would seem to be precisely the kind of pitcher the Reds could use for the 2023 season, one who could eat innings, play a bit of mentor to the youthful staff, and help put the icing on the cake of a tremendous MLB career. We’ve been over that much here before. That he could maybe do so with the franchise with whom he made his name seems all the better, and that’s something the Reds are reportedly interested in pursuing.
Per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, the Reds - who love reunions, by the way - would love to explore one for 2023.
Source: #Reds have expressed interest in a reunion with Johnny Cueto, a free agent after pitching 158 1/3 innings this year.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) December 15, 2022
Cueto, who turns 37 in February, made his @MLB debut with Cincinnati in 2008. @MLBNetwork
The need is certainly there, as it was when the Reds turned to Mike Minor last year to the tune of $10 million, even though that didn’t quite work out. The money’s there, too, even if the Reds won’t admit it - their meager $73-ish million on the books right now for payroll is a far, far cry from the nine-figures they’ve spent in recent years. The question comes down to whether or not Cueto views it as a fit.
If money is not an issue, would he value pitching for nostalgia’s sake with the Reds over the opportunity to pitch for a second World Series ring somewhere else? Did the back of his baseball card paired with the renaissance year he had in 2022 vault him back into the echelon of starting pitchers that teams with eyes on a 2023 playoff run will covet?
It’s hard to see the Reds putting together an offer of any kind that would outweigh the chance to, y’know, actually win some baseball games. Still, some pitcher is going to eventually fall through the cracks and be looking for a guaranteed job, and there are few others I’d enjoy watching in a Reds uniform next year more than Cueto - even at age 37.