The Winter Meetings in Nashville are nearly through and many of the open market’s starting pitchers have found their homes for 2016 and beyond. However, one of this class’s very best, Johnny Cueto, is still searching for his big payday. Cueto is a bona fide ace with years of experience at the head of the Reds’ rotation, but a number of his expected suitors have already allocated major funds towards the top of the starting five. Even though some might have the impression that Cueto’s market is shrinking, agent Bryce Dixon told MLB Trade Rumors in a 1-on-1 interview that he doesn’t see things that way.
“You can always add an ace pitcher to your staff. All thirty teams can use a Cueto,” Dixon told MLBTR on Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee. “So, yeah, there are teams like the Diamondbacks that have added a [Zack] Greinke and a [Shelby] Miller, so maybe their appetite for him has lessened but, no, I don’t view the market as shrinking up. I’m still finding interest and there still seems to be enough out there for him to land comfortably with a team.”
So far, Cueto has yet to receive an offer that clearly separates him from the second tier of starting pitchers and Dixon says that he is comfortable in waiting. A few weeks ago, Cueto’s camp was handed a sizable offer from the Diamondbacks, one that was worth $126MM over six years, according to ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (on Twitter). Some observers suggested that the offer was a strong one given Cueto’s second half issues and 50/50 showing in the postseason, but Dixon says that he did not discuss the offer at length with the pitcher before they turned it down.
Dixon concedes that the Diamondbacks are one club that does not have a clear fit for Cueto at this stage, but, on paper, the Cardinals do stand out as a team that would have the need and the resources required to sign the veteran. Still, some outsiders have suggested that unpleasant history between the two sides could get in the way of a union. In 2010, the Reds and Cardinals got into a brawl and, in one exchange, Cueto kicked catcher Jason LaRue in the head while wearing spikes. The impact of the kick left LaRue with concussion issues that forced him to retire at the end of the 2010 season. The brawl may still be fresh in the minds of some Cardinals fans, but the Cardinals organization has not brought up the incident in their talks with Cueto’s camp.
“I can’t speak to how the Cardinals feel. ..Obviously [Johnny] regrets how the fight went down,” Dixon told MLB Trade Rumors on Wednesday afternoon. “He’s expressed regret over it in the past. He loves pitching in the NL Central. He’s the best pitcher of our era in the NL Central. It would be a good marriage [between] Johnny and the Cardinals. I think once the fans got past the fight and they saw what a gamer Johnny is and what he could bring to the team, I think they would be able to embrace him now, though I don’t think that they’ll do that overnight.”
Dixon went on to explain that the circumstances of the brawl were complicated. Cueto was pushed up against the screen and, feeling trapped, he made a split-second reaction that he deeply regrets. For a time, the fight may have defined him as someone who is angry or violent, but those who work with and around Cueto, he says, can attest to his mellow character and positive attitude. Ultimately, Dixon can see the Cardinals being a great landing spot for his client.
“Johnny’s best friend is Brayan Pena (Pena signed a two-year deal with St. Louis this winter). Johnny would love to pitch to him and a catcher like [Yadier] Molina, so I think it would be a good fit. Whether the Cardinals step up with the necessary resources, that remains to be seen. But he has no problem towards the Cardinals and the manager of that [2010 Cardinals] team [Tony La Russa] is with the Diamondbacks organization now. He came down and met Johnny and they had no problem. It’s in the past. It’s unfortunate that it happened, but, on our side, we’ve moved on,” said Dixon.
Dixon could see Cueto forming a strong rotation alongside Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, and Carlos Martinez, but he could also envision his client looking good in Dodger blue next to Clayton Kershaw in L.A.’s rotation. Those are just two of the fits that Dixon can see for Cueto at this stage and he’s still willing to wait for what he feels is an appropriate pact. When asked to put a timetable on a Cueto signing, Dixon indicated that it could happen in a matter of minutes or a matter of weeks. One option he’s not considering at this time, however, is a one-year pillow deal to allow Cueto to cash in next winter.
“I don’t think we’re going to have to go down that road. We’ll remain flexible but I don’t anticipate something like that,” he said.