Kevin Ruprecht: The trade deadline is still a few days away, but one of the biggest players available, Johnny Cueto, was traded to the Royals on Sunday. Despite being a jaded Royals fan, I feel like Dayton Moore and Walt Jocketty made a solid trade. Quickly, before we get into the meat of this, what are your thoughts on the trade?
Tom O'Donnell: I think the fact that so many members of the media were able to project that Cueto would end up in Kansas City is a testament to how much sense he makes there. The return seems fair, but I think it's hard to call the Royals a loser on this one.
Michael Bradburn: I actually really like it from a Kansas City perspective. In your article (Kevin), I know you suggest that the net value in gained wins isn't that much for the Royals specifically (as opposed to other teams with bad rotations, like the Blue Jays or even division rivals like the Indians or Tigers). I think it's a great move for what was a starved fan base last season and who have really been wildly supportive of their team this year. It's nice to see a front office make a push like that. And, in my opinion, they didn't really sell the farm even a little bit.
KR: I agree with both of you. Shaun Newkirk at Royals Review called the trade a win for both sides. The Royals get a very talented pitcher while giving up assets they could afford to give up. The Reds get long-term control over a few pitchers, perhaps one of which will work out.
Basically, the initial reaction is full of hugs, rainbows, and positivity for most people (at least on the Royals side of things). However, the Royals (before Monday’s games) stood 7.5 games ahead of the second-place Twins in the AL Central, and they had the best record in the AL. The Royals did these things while throwing spaghetti at a wall with their rotation. Given their current position, I don’t feel like a trade was necessary in order to make the playoffs. Do the Royals need an ace for the stretch run?
MB: Yeah, I totally agree. To me, this trade isn't about getting an ace to win the division though. It's about getting an ace to win a . Obviously trading for one starter (even one of Cueto's skill set) doesn't guarantee that, but the more arms you have I think the easier October becomes. Don't forget, the World Series puts the AL team in an NL park for games three, four, and five so the better you can make your 4th and 5th starters (who frequently become relievers in the post-season) the easier your stretch becomes.
TO'D: That is a good point, Michael. Not only does Cueto replace (presumably) Jeremy Guthrie down the stretch, he also takes the place of Chris Young in the postseason. The value of throwing Cueto twice in a five game series against a team like Houston seems especially useful to a team like Kansas City, with a patched up back end of the rotation. Plus, the strength of the Royals bullpen gives them the option to pitch Cueto just six innings in a playoff game, which would let them start him three times in a 7 game series with more ease, if need be.
KR: There are two main points in your responses. 1) The need for an ace in the World Series. 2) The Royals bullpen. The Royals had an "ace" last year in James Shields. Many pegged him as a really good #2 starter, but he filled the role of "reliably strong performance" during the season. It was good enough. Then, in the playoffs, he kind of tanked. Shields gave up 17 runs in 25 innings - the "Big Game James" moniker got some shade in KC.
The other point about the bullpen - the presence of Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar, Ryan Madson, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland, each good enough to close for most teams this season, mitigates the performance of the back-end starters. Ned Yost often pulled Vargas and Guthrie early to get to the bullpen. Why couldn’t the Royals do the same thing this year?
TO'D: While it is true that the presence of Shields couldn't carry the Royals to a World Series last season, that does not necessarily mean that Cueto cannot deliver a title this season. There is no reason to think that Cueto will pitch as poorly in the postseason as Shields did last season, especially now that he is with KC. Since the beginning of 2013, Cueto has induced "soft" contact on 22.4 percent of batted balls, second best in the majors. In front of Kansas City's elite defense, he should thrive.
To the second point, I agree with you to a certain extent. However, I would rather throw Ventura or Volquez for a few innings than Young in the postseason.
MB: I definitely would not stop Ned Yost from doing that again. But, I mean, in a fictional world where I managed a team like the Royals, I probably would never let my pitcher bat in a National League park. That's the big improvement to me. And to many that might seem like a tiny, tiny payoff but to me it isn't. Imagine a scenario where you can send out Cueto to start a game in the National League park, but you get to the ninth spot in the order after Cueto pitches only two innings. To me, I want to see a team try to generate runs and pinch hit in a scenario like that. Then send Yordano or Volquez or even Young out for the next two innings, pinch hit again. Always work on generating runs. Your pitching and defense will do the rest (at least in Yost's case).
KR: It seems like both of you have the same main point: Adding Cueto makes the Royals’ depth situation much more favorable. A playoff rotation of Cueto, Ventura, Volquez, and probably Danny Duffy is much better than Ventura, Volquez, Duffy, and …Chris Young? Jeremy Guthrie? Guthrie started Game 7 of the World Series, and that didn’t work so well.
In the end, the Royals have an excellent chance to advance late in the postseason again. Like Tom said about Cueto and Shields’ playoff performances being completely unrelated (which, of course, they are not related), the Royals can’t hope for a miracle run like last season. They should be doing what they can to increase their chances for a title while their window is open. Cueto increases those chances.
As a final question: Will Cueto drop the ball again in the playoffs?
MB: What a great question and I definitely don't know the answer. A lot of people like to say Cueto's poor performance in the playoffs was because of the crowd and PNC Park. This time though, Kauffman Stadium is the park for opponents to fear and Cueto gets to pitch in those friendly confines. I'm getting all whimsical for October baseball already.
TO'D: I think he should be fine. When he's been healthy, he's been great, and he only threw three innings in that playoff game in 2013, so the sample size could not be smaller. With Alex Gordon an impending free agent and some of the Royals' young talent getting pricey, this seems to be KC's best shot, at least with this core. Cueto may not be a foolproof fix, but he moves the needle in the right direction.
KR: If all things hold (health, record, etc), Cueto's first playoff start with the Royals will take place at Kauffman Stadium. Instead of hearing "Cuuueeeeeetooooo", he'll hear "Let's Go Royals!" about a thousand times. The Royals fans have that chant down. He'll be fine.
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Michael Bradburn is a Featured Writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @mwbii or reach him at email@example.com
Tom O'Donnell is a Contributor at Beyond the Box Score. Follow him on Twitter at @od_tommy.