Can the Cincinnati Reds keep Johnny Cueto beyond 2015?


The Cincinnati Reds have a decision to make and it’s not going to be an easy one. Johnny Cueto, a pitcher who undoubtedly would have won the Cy Young Award in 2014 if not for Clayton Kershaw, will be a free agent after the 2015 season. The Reds have already given heaps of money to Homer Bailey, Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto. What then is Johnny Cueto worth, according to MLB salary standards?

Recently, Cueto’s agent told the media his client would not listen to any offers past Opening Day. This makes sense for Cueto, as he doesn’t want any distractions once the season starts. But that puts the Reds on a deadline if they want to sign him to a long-term deal.

As everyone knows, the price range for elite MLB pitchers is a steep one. Jon Lester just signed with the Cubs for $150 million. Kershaw is currently signed for $215 million through 2020 with the Dodgers. Even former Red, Edinson Volquez, just got $20 million for two years with the Royals.

Kershaw is probably the closest comparison to Cueto, meaning the Reds would probably have to give Cueto near the same. And if Homer Bailey got $105 million, then Cueto’s definitely going to be closer to $200 million. All of this has Reds fans asking the question, can the Reds afford to keep him?

Would I love it if the Reds could keep Cueto after 2015? Of course. Do I think they can sign him long-term? Not really, and here’s why:

In 2016, the Reds will be paying a combined $63.5 million to four players: Joey Votto, Homer Bailey, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce. Let’s say the Reds sign Cueto for seven years at $200 million. That would average out to $30 million a year. The contract would most likely be back loaded, just as all four of the other players’ contracts are. I would have to guess then that the Reds would end up paying Cueto about $12 million in 2016. This means the Reds would have about $75 million tied up in five players (of a 25-man roster).

It might be feasible if it’s the Yankees, the Dodgers or even the Cubs. But here in Cincinnati, the mid-market team doesn’t have that kind of money. The Reds had the 12th highest payroll in MLB in 2014 and that’s not going to change much next year. Obviously, they will get money from a new TV contract, and season ticket sales are almost certainly up this year because of the All Star Game. But will that money be enough?

I’d absolutely love to see Johnny Cueto in a Reds uniform for years to come. And I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Bob Castellini signs him long term before the season starts. But if Opening Day comes and Cueto’s not signed, I’ll sit back and enjoy every one of his starts as there’s a good chance it could be his last season as a Red.