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Johnny Cueto was the next big name to be traded on Sunday as the Cincinnati Reds decided to get something in return for the impending free agent. Their trade partner was the Kansas City Royals who sent three prospects over to Cincinnati: Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, and Cody Reed — all of whom are left-handed pitchers. Let’s first take a look at what this trade does for the Royals and the fantasy impact it makes.
The reigning American League champion Royals have not slowed down at all this year as they have a 7.5 game lead in the AL Central and own the best record in the American League. They have been so successful behind a relentless offense, tremendous defense, and a dominant bullpen. The Royals offense is surely not a powerful one as they rank just 24th in the Majors in home runs, but they are very pesky and strikeout the least in all of baseball, which means they are constantly putting the ball in play and making things happen on the base paths. By any defensive rating system, the Royals defense ranks as the top defense in the league by a large margin. And their bullpen, also ranks the best in the league with a 2.12 ERA with the “HDH” formula of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland to work the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings.
What the Royals have severely lacked though this season with the loss of James Shields to the Padres is an ace type pitcher to step up and be the leader of the pitching staff. The young fireballer, Yordano Ventura, was expected to kind of take over the reigns, but he has struggled to put together a consistent performance. Jason Vargas, Danny Duffy, and Jeremy Guthrie are unspectacular options that are back end of the rotation type of starters who have not contributed much at all, and Vargas got hit with a season-ending injury this past week. Their most reliable starting pitcher so far has been the free agent signing of Edinson Volquez, but seldom does he display the ability to blow anyone away with ace type of stuff anymore and is not someone to anchor a staff. Out of starting pitchers this season, the Royals have received a 4.27 ERA, which ranks 22nd in the Majors, and they also have received the 2nd lowest amount of innings pitched from their starting pitchers.
So the need in Kansas City was apparent. Enter Mr. Cueto. Since 2011, Cueto has had the 2nd best ERA (2.51) next to Clayton Kershaw out of all pitchers with a minimum of 500 innings pitched. What’s most impressive about that is he has done so despite pitching his home games in one of the most hitter friendly parks in the league at Great American Ballpark.
During those years, Cueto has posted BABIP marks of .249, .296, .238, and .234 this season. Now the .296 mark is around league average, but all the other marks are very low and the question of whether or not it is sustainable comes into play. Over the last two seasons, Cueto has been giving up more fly balls and has had a knack for inducing soft contact. So while the BABIP marks are low and he shouldn’t be expected to maintain his current season mark, he still should have the ability to keep his BABIP lower than average over the course of the rest of the season with Kansas City. Throw in the fact that his new team has incredible range and defense all around the diamond and that speaks even more to the notion that Cueto can be a low BABIP machine as his defense will track down a lot of batted balls for him.
The switch from the NL to the AL should hurt his strikeout rate in theory since he will have to deal with pitching to the designated hitter instead of opposing pitchers. His current strikeout rate is at 8.27 K/9, so I would imagine that he might fall to a rate near 7.50 K/9 or lower over the remainder of the season. However, the home park switch from Great American Ballpark to Kaufmann Stadium is a nice move for him with Kauffman Stadium being much more friendly to pitchers. Also helping to offset any regression that he may incur in strikeout rate is the fact that he will be pitching for a winning team that has a shutdown bullpen. Despite an excellent 2.62 ERA, Cueto’s win-loss record sits barely over .500 at 7-6. The Reds bullpen blew three wins for Cueto, so he could easily be in double digits in the win column already. So his new buddies down in the bullpen should be able to provide him a boost in win potential.
Overall, I definitely don’t think that the trade for Cueto has any negative impact on his fantasy value. If anything, it should help him a bit as long as he doesn’t falter under the greater spotlight of pitching for a 1st place team. And for the Royals, this is obviously a huge get for them as they look to make a return to the World Series. The Royals certainly needed to make a move to acquire an ace because it was going to be a rough go if they entered the post-season with Volquez as their number one guy, and Cueto’s presence will also ease the workload of one of the most used bullpens in the league. Now let’s take a look at the Reds side of it.
Out of the three prospects that the Reds received, Finnegan is by far the most attractive so he will be the main focus on the Reds side of the deal. Finnegan was drafted by the Royals in the 1st round just over a year ago and he made a rapid ascension to the Majors as the Royals brought him up late in the season as a bullpen arm. Finnegan then went on to shine in some high leverage situations in the post-season. The left-handed Finnegan is relatively small in stature for a Major League pitcher at 5’11” 185 lbs. and because of that, he often draws comparison to former closer great Billy Wagner. Finnegan doesn’t throw as hard as Wagner did though, but he still comes in with some good velocity as he averages around 93 MPH on his heater. He complements his fastball with a slider and changeup, with the slider functioning as his primary out pitch.
He has compiled a 2.59 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 21 K/13 BB in 24.1 IP as a relief pitcher in the Majors, but the Reds will send him to AAA to get stretched out as a starting pitcher where he could possibly debut for them before the season ends. Finnegan’s most immediate area of work appears to be in his control. In college at Texas Christian University before he was drafted, Finnegan did show some control issues and those same issues seem to be present in his short Major League work thus far. If he can figure out how to issue less walks then he can have a pretty good future in the league, but with just 85.1 IP as a professional since he was drafted last June, it’s a little difficult to gauge where he is at and how he may or may not progress.
For redraft leagues, Finnegan is not really someone to pay attention to because he will be getting stretched out in the Minors, and if he does make it to the Reds Major League rotation this season, I wouldn’t necessarily expect immediate success. For keeper and dynasty leagues though, Finnegan is well worth a look, though in any competitive dynasty league he shouldn’t be available as a free agent.
Now let’s take a look at the rest of Sunday’s slate of action.