It Can’t Get Much Worse




Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, they do.

The Reds have lost nine games in a row. All-Star catcher Devin Mesoraco has finally been placed on the disabled list, and is likely headed for season-ending surgery. Heck, Cincinnati’s manager can’t even exchange lineups with the other team without being ejected.

And mere days after some dumb baseball writer lamented the state of the Cincinnati rotation, ace hurler Johnny Cueto missed a start with “elbow stiffness” or “elbow soreness,” depending on the source. Evidently, rest didn’t help as much as they had hoped, so Cueto’s right elbow was examined on Monday by team doctor Tim Kremchek, and we await the results.

Check out the quotes in those last two links. Do they make you feel any better?

Cueto: “I’m not worried about it.”

Bryan Price: “We can…make sure Johnny has adequate rest before we put him back on the mound.” Plus this: “I don’t think it’s anything anybody is concerned with.”

Then, after it was announced that Cueto would be checked out by the Reds medical staff:

“I don’t feel any different than I did before in the sense that our initial findings were a little bit of extra stiffness and work the muscles and get them to loosen up in the elbow,” Price said. “We also need to do due diligence on this, because he hasn’t had total relief. I’d have thought by now, he would.”

Move along, nothing to see here, according to the Reds. Maybe I’m being cynical, or maybe I’m just irrationally concerned that Cueto might be seriously injured, an injury that the Reds certainly can’t afford. I’m sure you all remember how the Reds tried to minimize Homer Bailey’s flexor mass strain at every turn last season (and we saw how that turned out). So every time I hear the Reds urge caution, one thing pops into my head: The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

If Cueto is out for any extended period of time, this could turn out to be the worst-case scenario for Bob Castellini and the Reds. Let’s close our eyes for a moment and imagine all the problems that could potentially, possibly, conceivably be on the horizon.

Problem #1: Cueto is the best starter in this organization, so losing him for more than just the one start he’s already missed means more starts for lesser pitchers. You don’t have to be a stat nerd to understand that losing one of the league’s few bona fide aces would be a nearly insurmountable problem for a team such as the Reds.

Raisel Iglesias got the start in Cueto’s place on Sunday, but what a Cueto injury really means is that we will be subjected to even more Jason Marquis. The only kinda-sorta-justification that I can imagine for Marquis remaining on this roster is that the Reds have three very young starters right now (Anthony DeSclafani, Michael Lorenzen, Iglesias), and their innings will have to be limited this year. Hence, the presence of a “veteran” starter in the rotation. If Cueto is injured, it provides another excuse for the continued employment of Marquis and his 6.36 ERA.

Problem #2: If Cueto misses a few starts, the Reds could really go into the tank. I know what you’re saying: Chad, they’ve lost nine in a row. This team is already in the tank.

That’s a fair point. But if things get worse or, at the very least, don’t improve, it might prompt management to jump-start the fire sale and begin trading away whatever valuable assets the club still possesses. If you’re like me, you want to see the Reds win. It’s never a happy day when the Reds decide to throw in the towel on the season.

Even worse, given the state of the Reds roster, it’s likely to be a few years before the Reds are competitive again. That is, unless you trust the current management of this team to do a quick rebuild of this roster, in which case you have more faith in Walt Jocketty than I.

Problem #3: What if the trade market for Cueto dries up?

Before the season, I think we all understood that the Reds had to have everything go right in order to compete this season. I was okay with that strategy. If things went poorly, however—and things are going exceedingly poorly right now—everyone knew that the Reds would be looking to deal Cueto around the non-waiver trade deadline. Hey, Cueto was the second-best pitcher in the National League last year; surely, he would bring a nice return in a trade, right?

Well, maybe not. Even a hint that Cueto has an elbow problem might cause some potential suitors to decide to look elsewhere to fill their pennant-race pitching needs. It’s not inconceivable to think that this injury means that the Reds won’t be able to get as much of a return as they had hoped, and that’s bad news. The Reds needed a healthy Cueto in order to create a de facto bidding war among the Dodgers and whoever else might be in the market for a big-time starter.

All of a sudden, the Reds might regret trading Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon rather than Cueto in the off-season (although it was absolutely the right thing to do at the time).

Problem #4: What if the injury is worse than they are letting on, and the Reds can’t trade Cueto at all, at least not for something more valuable than the compensation draft pick they would receive when he left as a free agent after the season?

What if the injury is so bad that the Reds aren’t comfortable making the qualifying offer that is required in order to get that draft pick, and so they lose Cueto without getting anything at all?

What if the injury is bad, the trade market dries up, the Reds finish in fourth place, and yet Bob Castellini still decides to offer Cueto a five-year contract worth millions and millions?*

*Sorry, I think I’m letting my imagination get away from me. But why stop now…

Problem #5: Then again, the Reds could be telling the truth, and the elbow injury is nothing to be worried about it. Let’s imagine that Johnny Cueto, while wearing a Cincinnati Reds uniform, starts the mid-season All-Star Game and finishes the year as the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the World Series.

That’s not a problem at all, of course; it’s a pipe dream.

So now, all we can do is wait. Perhaps we will discover soon that the Reds aren’t being sneaky, and a little more rest will make Cueto as good as new. Let’s hope so, because the alternate scenarios are all frightening for Reds fans.

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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