Even before the Kansas City Royals traded for ace pitcher Johnny Cueto, folks both inside the Royals organization and outside it knew there was little chance they would have his services beyond the end of this season. Now it looks like that chance is zero — and it also appears Cueto knows one likely place to sign once everything is done for 2015.
Quoting interview excerpts from WEEI, NESN says Cueto is very interested in signing with the Red Sox, the team that actually handled Cueto a few days ago and just concluded a four-game split with KC.
“It depends,” Cueto said before Thursday’s game. “Because I’m a free agent, and I’m just going to pick the best choice to go. The main thing — I would like to come here because it’s a championship-caliber team.”
And the Royals aren’t?
I’m scratching my head over this one because, well, Kansas City is a better team now than the Red Sox are. Sometimes the standings can lie or not tell the whole story. In this case, they don’t: Kansas City with a 12.5 game lead on Minnesota, the biggest division lead in baseball by far this season; Boston 13 back of Toronto and in last place in the AL East. Even if Cueto signs with Boston this upcoming offseason, I believe the Royals have fewer holes on their roster than Boston does.
If you’re looking strictly at the short-term championship window, as the Cueto quote references, Kansas City is your choice, not Boston. At least for now, it’s no question.
There are likely other factors involved. Boston media say Cueto would love to follow in the footsteps of Pedro Martinez. And we’d be smoking something if we thought the Royals could match the contract offer Boston could put in front of Cueto.
What’s interesting is Cueto’s comments to Boston reporters came on the same day Ben Zobrist, Kansas City’s other notable trade deadline acquisition, told 610 Sports in KC he would be willing to sign a deal to stay with the Royals just based on his short stay with the team.
As much as we would like to, we can’t fault Cueto for looking ahead and being willing to talk openly about what he’s thinking. He’s a free agent at the end of the year and he’s in line to make more money in a year than I could hope to make for the rest of my natural born life. He has to do what he believes is right and best for him and his family.
The problem for Cueto in this case is twofold. First, he has probably alienated a good chunk of the Royals clubhouse, even though he’s speaking honestly — and even though it’s unlikely any of the Boys in Blue will say much about it. It’s something you just don’t say during the season, especially when you are in the driver’s seat to get into the playoffs and maybe make a run all the way to the World Series trophy.
Second, though, is the reaction from the fan base. Remember how Cueto was welcomed like a rock star, a conquering hero, a demigod even before he threw a complete-game four-hitter Aug. 10? He pitches Wednesday at home against Baltimore, and it would not surprise me if we heard a fair amount of boos directed Cueto’s way. No fan base wants to hear it will come in second to another team, especially from someone anointed to be the guy to bring the title home. It doesn’t matter if you last won a championship in 2014 or in 1985.
Cueto has some explaining to do, whether he really wants to admit it or not. And it looks like we may not be seeing many #HappyCuetoDays in the short term until he can get things resolved with his teammates and Royals fans.