And Now His Watch Is Ended

 

 

ESPN’s Dave Schoenfield once called Johnny Cueto “our generation’s Luis Tiant.” Tiant, of course, was the star hurler of the 1970s Red Sox. You may remember him from such hits as the 1975 World Series.

Schoenfield also uncovered this gorgeous passage about Tiant, from baseball’s poet laureate, Roger Angell: “His repertoire begins with an exaggerated mid-windup pivot, during which he turns his back on the batter and seems to examine the infield directly behind the mound for signs of crabgrass.”

Does that sound like anyone to you?

Johnny Cueto was traded to the Kansas City Royals over the weekend, in a deal that actually, probably benefits both teams. I understand why the Reds had to trade Cueto; the team’s reasons were sound, and the return on Cueto seems pretty good to me. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.

I’ve written about Cueto in these digital pages of Cincinnati Magazine on a number of different occasions (for example, this one from last August). This will likely be the last time. As a lifelong fan of the local nine (and a certified gooey, Field-of-Dreams-type), that makes me very sad. We may never see another Johnny Cueto in a Reds uniform.

But before I deliver my eulogy on the Cueto era in Cincinnati, let’s see what everyone else is saying.

Steve Mancuso, Redleg Nation: It’s been that way for many of us with Johnny Cueto. We’ve swooned over his determination and dreadlocks (not to mention that glorious slider). We’ve agonized over every…twist…and turn of his career. We’ll miss the confidence Johnny Cueto gave us every fifth game. And we’ll miss the implicit, weekly proof that a dynamic player, packed into a small frame, can be large in stature.

Grant Bisbee, SB Nation: The common link between these two disappointing parts of the Cueto trade, though, is the sense of starting over. The Reds were close to breaking through with their young group of hitters and pitchers. They were close to finally getting their franchise-defining pitcher for the history books. And now they’ll have to start all over.

Still, the dream is over. Also, the dream is over. The Reds did the practical thing, but that doesn’t mean the trade wasn’t a total downer on a couple different levels.

Christina Kahrl, ESPN: He’s the real deal, someone so good whom the Royals might never get via free agency, so they have to pay with prospects in their moment of need. And that’s OK—farm systems aren’t just about creating talent to hoard, they create commodities to barter with to get the things you can’t afford on the open market. Cueto is the best starting pitcher the Reds organization has created in decades. And he should be the best starting pitcher the Royals have had since Zack Greinke.

Clark Foster, Royals Authority: Well, in 2015, Cueto has tossed 131 innings, struck out 120, allowed 6.4 hits per nine innings, fashioned a 2.65 ERA, and an ERA+ of 145. His FIP is 3.12 and Cueto has already provided 2.9 fWAR. I was told that Cueto had a bad May and he did, for him, allowing a 4.45 ERA. In other words, the worst month (by far) that Cueto had was better than what the Royals have gotten this year from Jeremy Guthrie, Yordano Ventura, and Danny Duffy (before his last two starts).

Johnny Cueto is a Kansas City Royal.

Jeff Sullivan, Fangraphs: If things go according to plan, maybe the Royals can start giving relievers more rest during the final few months. Cueto would help that, too. If things don’t go that way, and the Royals slip back toward the pack, well, again, Cueto helps. Cueto helps everything. He increases the odds of good things, and he decreases the odds of bad things. He makes it more likely the universe spins the wheel and Royals fans come away smiling.

Grant Freking, Redleg Nation: Cueto was finally traded Sunday, and that’s certainly a tough pill to swallow. But as time goes on, I’ll remember the good times. When I’m reminded of Cueto, I’ll remember how he was part ace, part entertainer. I’ll remember the sliding mid-90s heater. I’ll remember the shimmies and shakes, the tricks and twists.

Because in life, things are taken from you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t remember the good times. It’s all part of growing up.

I’ve been writing about Johnny Cueto in various places for more than a decade, and now that our fling is over, I’m really not sure what else I can say. Cueto is great, one of the best pitchers in Reds history, and everything you’d want in a player for the hometown team. How do you say good-bye to a player like that?

The answer, as Grant noted: by remembering the good times. And there were plenty of good times for Johnny Cueto and the Reds.

I remember the first time I wrote about Cueto for ESPN, three years ago. At the time, the Reds were in the process of winning the NL Central division, and I was trying to make the case that Cueto should be on the national baseball radar: Excellent control, a deceptive delivery, the ability to keep the ball in the ballpark and on the ground, a great work ethic: These are the ingredients of an ace, no? Even better, Cueto is just 26, with room for improvement. That’s not too bad considering he’s already one of the best pitchers in the majors.

The question now is: When will America notice?

America noticed, and Cueto was soon an All-Star who was destined to rival Clayton Kershaw for the honor of best pitcher in the majors. (Cueto never got there, but there’s no shame in being worse than Kershaw.) Earlier this season, I lamented Cueto’s final Opening Day start for the Reds. And the piece I wrote here six weeks ago, examining Cueto’s place in Reds history, still holds up, methinks. But it’s that word—history—that haunts me now.

Johnny Cueto, one of the best Reds pitchers any of us have ever seen on the mound, is now plying his trade for the Kansas City Royals. He is, and forever will be, a highlight in Reds history. We’ll never see him shimmy again in Reds uniform. We’ll never see those dreadlocks flying as he unleashes another fastball. We’ll never see him dominate the Cardinals.

Yeah, we may watch him do those things in the future—and I hope Cueto has a long, productive career—but he’ll be wearing the wrong colors. He’s ours, and he always seemed to enjoy being a Red. His teammates clearly loved him, and you can see the emotion on his face when Cueto discussed the trade. He wanted to be here. He was one of us.

I know, that’s overly dramatic, but this is a real inflection point for devoted fans of the Cincinnati Reds. We are losing one of the best pitchers in franchise history, sure, but this also signifies the end of the recent window of competitiveness, a time in which we enjoyed a lot of good moments. The rebuilding process has officially begun. Who knows when the Reds will be winners again? And who knows when we’ll ever again see a pitcher like the newest Royal?

Godspeed, Johnny Cueto. We’re going to miss you.

Chad Dotson is a Nuxhall Way contributor. He is also the founder of Redleg Nation and a contributor to ESPN’s SweetSpot blog. You can follow him on Twitter at @dotsonc.

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