The Detroit Tigers scouted Cincinnati Reds ace Johnny Cueto during his start against the Chicago Cubs over the weekend, according to Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports. The Tigers were one of several teams with scouts at the game, as the Reds have fallen well out of the playoff race after losing three out of four against the Cubs.
Cueto, 29, has been one of the elite starters in the National League for the past four seasons, posting an ERA under 3.00 in each of them. He is 4-4 with a 2.85 ERA and 3.15 FIP on the 2015 season. Despite reaching his highest innings total of his career last year, he has come back pitching better than ever.
A power pitcher who averages 93-94 miles per hour with his fastball, Cueto also heavily on an excellent cutter and changeup. He doesn't walk many and his home run rate is very good for a fly ball pitcher who makes his home in Great American Ballpark. He will be one of the most pursued free agents in the game this offseason, and with the Reds mired at 28-34, and 13 games back of the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central, he is a prime candidate to be traded before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Acquiring Cueto would be a huge coup for the Tigers rotation. Imagine rolling David Price, Justin Verlander, Cueto and either Anibal Sanchez or Alfredo Simon against potential playoff opponents. Cueto is easily the best starting pitcher likely to be available as a second-half rental, and the New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers have also shown interest already as well. No doubt they aren't alone.
Could the Tigers make this happen?
Jason Beck of MLB.com reported that the Reds had a scout at a Double-A Erie game earlier in the week. There aren't many trade prospects on the Erie SeaWolves roster, yet Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski has time and again made deals that have surprised the most seasoned observers. Dombrowski and Reds president and general manager Walt Jocketty do have some recent history together as well. Dombrowski acquired Alfredo Simon from the Reds for Eugenio Suarez and pitching prospect Jonathon Crawford this past offseason.
If Cueto proves too costly for the Tigers, there is still Reds starter Mike Leake, who will also be a free agent after this season. He's no Johnny Cueto, but he would not cost as much and would likely give the Tigers everything they expected from Shane Greene. How aggressive the Tigers are will likely depend on how Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander pitch over the next month.