Cueto to KC; Pirates Pursue Red Sox Pair

On Sunday, the Kansas City Royals acquired ace starter Johnny Cueto from Cincinnati, ending the sweepstakes for a premier pitcher in whom the Red Sox were rumored to hold an interest.

The Reds received a strong package of three well-regarded southpaw pitchers in return Red Soxfor their 29-year old superstar, who will be a free agent following this season. Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb and Cody Reed will move from Kansas to Cincinnati, as the Reds wave a white flag and declare themselves as deadline sellers.

With a 2.55 ERA and 1.042 WHIP over the past five years, Cueto is a genuine ace who will anchor the rotation of a Royals team destined for another run deep into October. Cueto also won 60 games and struck out 687 batters in that span, distinguishing himself as a truly elite performer.

As virtually everybody on the planet knows, the Red Sox desperately need an ace of that caliber; a genuine workhorse to spearhead a weary rotation. However, there is no indication that Boston ever got seriously involved in the Cueto negotiations, beyond courtesy scouting trips and general due diligence. In all likelihood, Red Sox management would’ve viewed the acquisition cost as prohibitive.

But, even as Boston lurks in the American League basement, it is still apparently shopping for logical upgrades. General Manager Ben Cherington said as much in a recent media session, explaining how the Red Sox have “still got to pursue things that are going to make us better and continue to try to build a good team.”

In this regard, the Red Sox seem to be targeting long-term pieces. A recent report by Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports suggests Boston has inquired on the availability of numerous cost-controlled Cleveland Indians pitchers, without much traction. However, the Red Sox’ desire to add sustainable arms, such as Carlos Carrasco or Danny Salazar, fits with the recent ideology set down by management.

Yet, even while cautiously roaming the buyer’s market, Boston must also remain realistic. Right now, the Red Sox are 12 games back in the AL East, and 8.5 adrift of a Wildcard berth. To reach the postseason, this team would, at best, have to outperform four other club’s and, at worst, overcome thirteen other ‘contenders.’ The likelihood of that occurring is very slim and, thus, the Red Sox are listening to offers for certain veterans on their roster.

Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported last night that the Pirates have engaged the Sox in talks for Mike Napoli and/or Shane Victorino, two upcoming free agents who have under-performed massively in 2015. I can definitely see this kind of deal happening. Not only would it free the Red Sox from remaining salary obligations, but either player could be a very decent buy-low pickup for a contending team such as Pittsburgh.

Ultimately, we’re still waiting for the first domino to fall on Yawkey Way. Either the Red Sox clinch a deal for a long-term building block, or they begin trading away expendable pieces. Sooner or later, a decision is going to be made, which should set the precedent for how Boston will play the impending trade deadline.