SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Johnny Cueto’s timing was off. When the Reds had the money to spend, he was still under contract. When his contract was up, the rebuild was on.
Still, Cueto said he thought the Reds would make an effort to keep him.
“I kind of expected for them to keep me,” he said. “Unfortunately, they didn’t give me an offer. Nothing.”
Cueto’s eyes showed a little bit of disappointment as he talked about the trade.
But it's tough to argue that he's in a better situation now: Cueto signed a six-year, $130 million contract with the San Francisco Giants.
“Thanks to God,” he said. “I’m happy here.”
But back to timing -- the Reds signed Cueto to 4-year, $27 million deal with an a $10 million option for fifth before he ever reached arbitration. The Reds picked up the option, so the deal lasted through 2015.
Had his deal been up in the 2014 -- like Homer Bailey’s was -- the Reds might have had the money to keep him. But 2014 turned out to a rough year, followed by a rougher year in 2015.
Cueto’s representative and the Reds had some talks in the spring of last year, but they didn't come close to a deal.
When the season went south, it was a matter of time before Cueto was gone.
The Reds did well in the trade for Cueto; John Lamb, Brandon Finnegan and Cody Reed could all be in the rotation as some point this year. Not to mention, together they’ll make only one-tenth of Cueto’s salary this year.
From a business point of view, it was the right move.
But of all players who have departed the Reds recently — Cueto, Todd Frazier, Mike Leake, Aroldis Chapman — Cueto was the hardest to cut loose. Fans watched Cueto come into his own, and he was the first true No. 1 starter the Reds developed in 35 years.
Reed has a chance to be an ace. But the Reds have had countless pitchers who had the potential to be an ace over the years. Cueto, signed for $35,000 under Dan O’Brien, was the only one who did.
I’ve been thinking about Cueto a lot this spring. The Reds' fortunes changed when Cueto and Edison Volquez burst onto the spring training scene in 2008. You knew they weren’t quite ready, but you knew when they were ready, they were going to be good.
If Robert Stephenson and Reed look like that this spring, better days are ahead for the Reds — and soon.
But Cueto figured out how to turn his potential into production. He was fascinating to watch develop. He went from this hard-throwing kid to a master of touch, control and variety. He never seemed to throw the same pitch at the same speed more than once.
He went 92-63 with a 3.21 ERA in the eight years wait the Reds. Over the last his last five years with the Reds, he was as good any pitcher (not named Clayton Kershaw).
It says something that the Giants -- the most successful franchise of the last six years -- signed him.
“He’s tremendous talent,” Giant manager Bruce Bochey said. “I’ll start with that. He’s a No. 1. You look at what he did when he went to Kansas City. They talk about the little hiccup he had there, but then he bounces back and pitches the the way did in the postseason.
“To pitch in Cincinnati in that small park the way he did is impressive. He’s athletic. He’s got great stuff. Throws. What is there not to like about him?”
A lot has happened for Cueto since he last pitched for the Reds: He was traded to Kansas City in July. He won a World Championship with the Royals. He pitched two gems in the postseason, limiting Toronto to one run on two hits over eight innings in Game 5 of ALCS and limiting the New York Mets to a run on two hits in a complete game in Game 2 of the World Series.
“What I can I say? It was great,” he said. “I was happy to win the World Series. I blended in with teammates there.”
Cueto held the attention of the baseball world on the nights he pitched in the postseason. The knock on him before last year was he hadn’t done it in the postseason -- he showed he could.
“I felt really good,” he said. “I loved the fans supporting me. I want to thank them for being there for me.”
Cueto is one of the biggest stars in the Dominican Republic now, although he downplays it.
“I’m just of them,” he said.
Cueto won’t be the Opening Day starter for the Giants -- Madison Bumgarner will be.
Cueto started the last three openers for the Reds, and he said he’s okay ceding that spot.
“I’m fine with it,” he said. “Being the Opening Day pitcher just happens once. After that, you pitch whenever your turn comes.”
Although he may be on our minds, Cueto said he moved on from the Reds.
“Honestly, I really don’t keep up with them,” he said. “My concentration is right here with the Giants.”