When the Kansas City Royals traded for Johnny Cueto in July, they did so for one reason. Cueto was to be the Royals ace for the postseason. With no James Shields, and Yordano Ventura struggling, the duties of leading a staff to the World Series would fall on Cueto, the 29-year-old right-hander who had previously appeared in only three playoff games while a member of the Cincinnati Reds.
While it wasn’t pretty at times, Cueto gave the Royals exactly what they needed.
The final line on Johnny Cueto’s time in Kansas City reads something like this — 4-7 record, 4.76 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 6.2 K/9. Ugly stuff to be sure. Whether or not this drastic decline in performance — joining a team with a pitcher’s park, no less — harms Cueto on the open market remains to be seen. For the Royals, however, Cueto did his job when it mattered most.
If, like the Toronto Blue Jays who acquired David Price, the Royals were counting on Cueto to be the horse they rode to the playoffs, the trade would have been a massive disappointment. Ned Yost has been down that road before, as he Seabiscuited CC Sabathia to the playoffs while managing the Milwaukee Brewers. The Royals were making the playoffs regardless of whether or not they traded for Johnny Cueto.
Cueto was acquired to do one thing, and one thing only — win big games in the postseason. For whatever reason, Cueto struggled terribly during his time with the Royals. There may well have been an underlying arm injury, nothing major, that sapped just a little bit of velocity or movement from Cueto’s assortment of fastballs. Whatever the reason, there is no denying the fact that some would have preferred the Royals to begin the postseason with Cueto out of the rotation.
What a mistake that would have been.
Cueto picked himself up off the deck, and turned in some very fine starts in the playoffs. It was Cueto who recorded the deciding victory in the winner-take-all Game 5 of the ALDS. Cueto was masterful in that game after allowing two runs and two hits in the second inning. Those would be the only hits the Houston Astros would record the rest of the way. Yes, Cueto got roughed up in his only ALCS appearance. He lost his cool and melted down against the Blue Jays, at one point using his own hand signals to relay pitches to home plate.
Nevertheless, Cueto came back yet again and dominated. His Game 2 start in the World Series — a complete game, two-hit shutout — is the stuff of legends. The New York Mets had no chance that night against Cueto.
For Johnny Cueto, going 9-1 with a 2.00 ERA after being traded would have been nice. Such a performance would have done wonders for his value on the free-agent market. For the Royals, however, the trade was a smashing success, even if it did come with some bumps in the road along the way. Cueto was traded for to win World Series and playoff games. He did just that, and in dominant fashion. Johnny Cueto’s time in Kansas City can only be viewed positively when considering the end result.