The Kansas City Royals made the first blockbuster trade of the summer on Sunday, acquiring Johnny Cueto from the Cincinnati Reds in a deal completed well in advance of the July 31st trade deadline.
Was anything about this surprising – either the timing of the acquisition or the acquisition itself?
“Actually, it didn’t surprise me at all,” CBS Sports Eye on Baseball and Fox Sports MLB analyst C.J. Nitkowski said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “We always try to first-guess in this business to make us look really smart, and more often than not, we miss. But last week I said that . . . I thought Cueto was going to go to the Royals for Brandon Finnegan – or a deal at least based on Brandon Finnegan. Just because it made a lot of sense.”
As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened. The Royals sent Finnegan, John Lamb and Cody Reed – all southpaws – to Cincinnati for Cueto, who has been arguably the best NL pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw the last two seasons. Cueto went 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA, a 0.96 WHIP and 242 strikeouts in 2014, and is 7-6 with a 2.62 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 120 strikeouts in 19 starts for the offensively changed Reds this season.
Adding Cueto was a huge move for a Kansas City team that already had the best record (59-38) in the AL.
“The Royals are not the old Royals,” Nitkowski said. “We’ve seen this now for a couple of years. They’ve finally gotten out of that phase of just developing young players and (instead are) making some bold moves. The first one was moving Wil Myers to get James Shields a couple of years ago, and they were heavily criticized for it. I figured there was going to be a bold move coming up pretty soon by Dayton Moore, their general manager, and I kind of took a guess that it would be Johnny Cueto. I happened to be right. I knew absolutely nothing about what they were talking about, but it worked out that way.
“So it didn’t catch me that much off guard,” Nitkowski said. “You knew they were going to go for somebody. Their starting rotation, for as good of a team as they are, is not good. I mean, it’s just not good at all. They win with defense, and they win with the bullpen. They need some starters, and they go out and get one of the best available.”
Nitkowski believes stepping on the gas and going for it is absolutely the right move for the Royals, especially after three decades of futility – and because they might not be able re-sign key players like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas once they hit free agency.
“Yeah, you have to take advantage of when your team is playing well,” Nitkowski said. “Sometimes the fan base likes to think bigger picture, but most of your fan base wants to win right now. I think . . . the Royals (have) been thinking long-term and big-picture for a long time, and it’s very difficult to keep your team together. It’s going to be difficult for them to keep that great bullpen together as it gets more and more expensive. Now they’re doing very well locally with their TV ratings, and hopefully those dollars will help a little bit. You got to expect that their payroll is going to come up a little bit, but to try to keep a team together, to try to keep a team healthy that is playing as well as this one is – in a market like Kansas City – yeah, if you’ve got an opportunity, you got to go for it. You don’t know how long it’s going to be, and right now with the parity in baseball, you have to take advantage of it. It’s a great time to be a Kansas City Royals fan, and it’s a greta time for that organization, so absolutely you go for it – for a lot of reasons.”