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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Southpaw Surprise: Reds Exchange Cueto for Three Pitching Prospects

Steve Mancuso at Redleg Nation kindly asked me to write a post about the Johnny Cueto trade, which just went live this afternoon.  In it, I compare the return the Reds received for Johnny Cueto to other deadline deals for quality starting pitchers, 2012-2015.  Here's the money bit:
It seems clear that the return for Johnny Cueto was pretty fair, given what the market has been paying for rental starters over the past several years.  If I had the choice, I would have preferred the return that the Brewers got for Greinke, based on what we knew at the time of the deal.  But given that Brandon Finnegan and Jean Segura were ranked at exactly the same spot in BA’s prospect rankings, someone who was really sold on Finnegan’s stuff could probably argue otherwise.  Furthermore, Cueto brought with him some degree of injury risk that was less of a concern with Greinke.  And, frankly, there has been discussion among journalists (whether or not they’re correct) that the market for rental players is getting weaker every year.  Therefore, for the Reds to fall within a few breaths of the Greinke return seems reasonable.  I’d expect that the Reds went with this deal because it was the best offer they received, based on their evaluations of the players. 
The Cueto return does look better than every other trade deadline return for a rental starting pitcher from the past four years.  While it’s not the most likely scenario, there’s a legitimate chance that each of the three starters the Reds acquired could be a valuable member of the Reds’ rotation by 2017.  None of them is likely to ever be the kind of pitcher Cueto was, but this is a substantial infusion of talent at a position where the Reds have been looking pretty weak.

While writing the article, I also whipped up quick profiles on each of the players involved.  I felt they made the article too long, however, and were kind of redundant with work already published by Redleg Nation authors this week.  So, here is what got cut:

Johnny Cueto, RHP, 29 years old

We all know he’s amazing.  How amazing he is depends on how you evaluate him.  By pure FIP-WAR (FanGraphs’ default, which is based strictly on his FIP), Cueto ranks 21st in baseball over the past calendar year at 4.2 WAR.  However, Cueto has consistently posted numbers better than his ERA estimators thanks to a consistent skill to induce low average on balls in play (career BABIP against = 0.271, and it’s been in the .230’s the past three seasons) and an exceptional pickoff move that shuts down the running game.  As a result, by RA9-WAR, he ranks 5th in baseball over the past calendar year with 6.1 WAR, behind only Greinke, Keuchel, Scherzer, and Kershaw.  His true talent probably lies somewhere in between, but I’d peg Cueto as among the top 10 or 15 pitchers in baseball.

Brandon Finnegan, LHP, 22 years old

The 2014 draftee has outstanding stuff: he throws hard, especially for a left-hander, has a plus slider, and his change-up is usable.  The main questions surrounding him are his height and build; at 5’11, 185 lbs, he’s not a big guy, so there are concerns about his ability to hold up to a starter’s workload.  He also has suffered from lapses in control.  That all said, the 22-year old has been in professional baseball for one year, has major league experience, has been constantly jerked across the minor and major leagues since signing.  He has yet to throw more than 25 innings with any one club, and was frustrated with how he was being handled.  He ranked as the #55 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America entering the season, and Kiley McDaniel recently reaffirmed his preseason 55 Future Value scouting rating on Finnegan.

Cody Reed, LHP, 22 years old

Reed has been a rising star in the Kansas city Royals system this year.  Like Finnegan, he also throws hard, hitting the upper 90’s regularly, and has a plus slider to go with a developing change-up.  Unlike Finnegan, he has a more traditional power-pitcher body that scouts like to see at 6’5”, 220 lbs.  The knock on Reed has been his control, which has ranged from bad to horrific.  This year, however, he seems to have taken a major step forward, showing much better control and command across A+ and AA levels.  McDaniel rated him as a 50 FV prospect this week, and he made Baseball America’s midseason Royals list as their #9 prospect.  His strikeouts have taken a hit with his promotion to AA, but it's early and he's young.  I'm pretty bullish on him.

John Lamb, LHP, 25 years old

Lamb is a former top prospect with the Royals, reaching #18 in all of baseball on Baseball America’s 2011 prospect list.  That was the same list that featured five Royals in the top-20; he was one of those guys.  It was that year, however, that his ulnar collateral ligament gave out, and he submitted to Tommy John surgery.  Lamb’s recovery did not go very well.  He missed most of 2012 in recovery, lost a lot of velocity, and had lackluster results in 2013 and 2014 between high-A and AAA.  This year, however, reports have it that his velocity is back up in the low 90’s, almost where it was at his best.  His results have improved as well: his strikeouts are up over the past few years, and his walks are WAY down.  Having already spent a year and a half in AAA, he is thought to be almost ready for his big league debut.  I expect we'll see him this year, and probably before the other two pitchers.