The Red Sox have been in touch with Johnny Cueto, according to Jon Heyman, who says the Sox were one of a number of teams to make "calls of interest" to the free agent ace.
Cueto has taken center stage on the hot stove these past 24 hours after news broke that he had received and rejected a six-year, $120 million offer from the Diamondbacks. This, however, is the first clear indication that the Red Sox have been involved in his market, with their attention to this point seemingly focused squarely on David Price.
Heading into 2015, Cueto seemed likely to be neck-and-neck with the likes of Price as the top arm available in free agency. But an unimpressive stint with the Royals to close out 2015 has done a decent number on his stock, with many wary that the soon-to-be-30-year-old righty will cost whatever team signs him a great deal of money for the privilege of hosting his rapid decline.
There's certainly a big payoff for that risk, though. From 2011-2014, Cueto produced 677 innings of 2.48 ERA ball, proving one of the most effective pitchers in all of baseball. His peripherals don't quite live up to those levels, but they were still quite good. Even in 2015, he built up enough of a cushion in Cincinnati that his time in Kansas City still couldn't bring his season ERA higher than 3.44.
Still, my initial reaction to news of Boston's interest in Cueto is one of almost visceral fear. Cueto could be exactly what the Red Sox need at the top of their rotation. But, with his price having been established as north of the six-year, $120 mark offered by Arizona, he's also the one option who actually has a good chance of really sinking the team. As it stands, the Sox are already in a less-than-ideal financial situation for the best years of the current youth movement thanks to the struggles of Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, and Rick Porcello. Some of that money may still prove productive, but this is not the team to add a huge risk to right now. If the Red Sox are going to be investing that much money, it makes sense to go the extra mile for a pitcher like David Price in order to ensure that said money is productive, particularly during the years where the Sox still have those underperforming players on the payroll.
The good news, then, is that so far this is the lightest of smoke. The Red Sox have shown some interest, but perhaps that interest died with the news of the Diamondbacks' offer. There's been a strange sort of phenomenon this offseason whereby those who want their team to sign Cueto and those who don't have similar evaluations of the player, differing more on what they expect him to sign for. Perhaps the Red Sox were in that same sort of situation, checking to see if he'd come in low, and moving on now that he's coming in high instead. We'll see, but it might be a nervous few weeks until we do.