The Marlins have shown interest in free agent starter Johnny Cueto, tweets Jon Morosi of MLB.com. Miami joins the Blue Jays and Reds as clubs known to have touched base with the veteran righty’s camp.
Miami’s an odd fit for a rotation pickup. They’re already deep in starting pitching, with Trevor Rogers, Pablo López, Edward Cabrera, Braxton Garrett and Jesús Luzardo on hand as options behind Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara. There’s enough talent on the pitching staff the Fish have apparently looked for ways to swap out a starter for offensive help this offseason, though nothing has come together on that front.
Any interest in Cueto would seem to be contingent on dealing one of their current starters. He’s sure to find a rotation spot somewhere after a solid 2022 season in Chicago. The 36-year-old (37 in February) made 25 appearances and threw 158 1/3 innings this past season. Cueto posted a 3.35 ERA, based largely on his plus control. He only walked around 5% of opponents, maintaining the quality strike-throwing ability he’s shown throughout his career. He struck out a below-average 15.7% of batters faced while averaging just above 91 MPH, but his pitch-to-contact approach served him well this year.
That solid showing is likely to earn him a raise over this past season’s $4MM base salary. A pitcher-friendly home ballpark would be a particularly strong fit. Cueto has shown himself capable of succeeding in the hitter-friendly Guaranteed Rate Field (to say nothing of his run of high-end play early in his career with Cincinnati), but he saw just 7.7% of fly balls surrendered clear the fences this year. He’s unlikely to replicate a rate that extreme, but a more spacious park could help mitigate the effect of any regression in that department.
Marlins Park certainly qualifies, though there’s no room in the Opening Day rotation for Cueto at present. Morosi suggests an earnest free agent pursuit may be more of a fallback possibility in the event they align with another club on a López trade. There haven’t been many substantive rumors on the righty this offseason, though reports have suggested Miami would consider trades of anyone other than Alcantara or top prospect Eury Pérez. Teams like the Dodgers and Yankees were linked to López at this past summer’s trade deadline. New York has since acquired Frankie Montas and signed Carlos Rodón, but the Dodgers still make sense as a speculative fit for a rotation addition.
As part of a reader mailbag, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post writes that the Rockies have shown modest interest in López but don’t seem to be heavily pursuing him. Colorado entered the offseason seeking starting pitching help. They’ve yet to make any acquisitions of note outside of the bullpen. Yet Saunders suggests that López’s remaining two seasons of arbitration control may not align with the Rox’s target, as they’re facing an uphill battle to compete for a playoff spot in the next couple years.
Other teams with a more immediate path to contention figure to show stronger interest in the 26-year-old hurler. Dealing López would be one way to add to a lineup that was among the league’s worst in 2022, though the Marlins could also dip into the lower tiers of free agency in that regard. Craig Mish of SportsGrid reported last night (Twitter link) that Miami had shown interest in Brandon Drury, but the righty-hitting infielder instead agreed to terms on a $17MM deal with the Angels.