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Yoenis Cespedes, Johnny Cueto trade a pipe dream

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Could the Red Sox get a legitimate ace in return for Yoenis Cespedes? Not without giving up quite a bit more in the process.

Jamie Sabau

The MLB offseason is here, but as always, it takes a while for the stove to heat up. Consequently, early November is a time of speculation and guesswork, leading to some interesting trade proposals popping up. Case in point: Dave Cameron's Cueto-for-Cespedes idea.

If this jumps out as a wildly unbalanced trade, well, that's because it is, at least at face value. Johnny Cueto's last four seasons have been absolutely dominant. His ERA over that period is a measly 2.48 with a K:BB ratio north of three. If ERA+ is more your style, Cueto clocks in at 155. As a reference point, that's dead-even with Jon Lester's 2014 mark.

Cespedes, on the other hand, has been...fine. He's provided a consistently above-average bat over the course of his three-year career, throwing out enough baserunners to make up for some less-than-stellar actual fielding. But where Cespedes is an MLB regular or fringe All-Star type, Cueto is the kind of player who deserves end-of-season award considerations.

Cameron, to be fair, recognizes this. To be fair, he still doesn't really make the ends meet at the end of the day. Cameron proposes that the Red Sox chip in a "talented-but-flawed hurler," naming Anthony Ranaudo and Allen Webster, and absorb the contract of closer-turned-disaster Sean Marshall, owed $6.5 million in 2015. Neither of those additions should give any Red Sox fans even the slightest of pause. They're nothing compared to the addition of Cueto to a Red Sox team in need of not one, but two strong starting pitchers.

In fact, they're very nearly nothing in any context. Ranaudo and Webster are well down on the long list of Boston's depth starters in terms of expected value, coming in after the likes of Rubby De La Rosa, Matt Barnes, Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, and Eduardo Rodriguez by most estimations. $6.5 million, while not insignificant, would still leave Cueto a bargain even when added to his $10 million salary in 2015.

And what do the Reds get out of this? Well...I really don't know.

The idea, I suppose, is to toe the line between competing in 2015 and working towards a future without Cueto, who they presume will be gone in free agency come 2016 either way. But this sort of trade strikes me as more of a quarter-measure than anything else.

In the present, no matter how well-suited Cespedes is to the Great American Ballpark, he's not going to match Cueto's value to the Reds. And if $6.5 million could help Cincinnati find a warm body for the rotation, that doesn't buy enough of an arm these days to cover the gap between Cespedes and Cueto, even ignoring the opportunity cost of a roster spot.

In the future...Well, Webster and Ranaudo just aren't much to go on. Webster's stuff keeps his upside plenty high, but it's becoming more and more difficult to imagine him actually harnessing it as the years go by. Anthony Ranaudo, meanwhile, has some serious issues of his own. These are not the sort of players you count on for the future. If the Reds were getting back more impressive prospects, then maybe this makes some sense. But the point where the Red Sox start including the likes of Henry Owens is the point where they have to wonder just how much they should be willing to give up for one year of any player, particularly when they have plenty of money and a well-stocked free agent market to work with.

With the additions of Rusney Castillo and Mookie Betts to the 2015 outfield picture, the Red Sox seem very likely to deal Yoenis Cespedes in the coming months. And with power as rare as it is in the league these days, they should not take whatever offer is thrown at them by the first team to show an interest. Cespedes, however, is just not on Cueto's level, and throwing in the sort of scraps Red Sox fans are forever hoping to foist on some unsuspecting trade partner is not going to change that. Until we're talking about including real prospects, Cespedes-for-Cueto will remain a pipe dream.