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How Johnny Cueto could fit with the Miami Marlins

A recent report suggests that the Marlins would be interested in Cueto under the right circumstances.

Johnny Cueto #47 of the Chicago White Sox reacts after giving up a two run home run to Gio Urshela #15 of the Minnesota Twins during a game at Guaranteed Rate Field on October 03, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

On Tuesday, Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported that the Miami Marlins have “kept in touch” with 2x All-Star and former World Series champion Johnny Cueto. Both Morosi and SportsGrid’s Craig Mish note that the Marlins currently have a full starting rotation. Cueto would only be a target for them is one of their established starters is traded.

At this point in the offseason, the Marlins still are yet to sign any free agents to a guaranteed MLB deal. Cueto signed a minor league deal with the Chicago White Sox last winter, but will command more money this time around after making interesting adjustments to extend his days as a starting pitcher. He revived his career with the White Sox and held a rotation spot from mid-May through the end of the 2022 season (8-10, 3.35 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 158.1 IP, 33 BB, 102 SO, 1.225 WHIP).

Cueto missed a lot of time with injuries in previous years and he’ll be turning 37 years old in February. Those risks help explain why he is one of the few starting pitchers remaining on the free agent market.

Cueto made a drastic change to his pitch mix while with Chicago. He went from using his 4-seamer 35.9% of the time in 2021 to only 19.4% in 2022, making himself more unpredictable by relying heavily on his secondary pitches. He threw the 4-seamer, sinker, changeup and cutter at similar percentages. The 4-seamer produced the best whiff rate of Cueto’s pitches, so using it less led to him posting the lowest K/9 of his career at 5.80, but he kept his walks very low at 1.88 BB/9.

Baseball Savant

Cueto also uses different versions of his windup. Similar to Nestor Cortes of the Yankees, he sometimes pauses before delivering a pitch. Not only is it fun to watch, but you can make the argument that it is actually a competitive advantage because it messes with hitters’ timing at the plate. Here are two examples of how Cueto uses this:

Current Marlins Rotation

As currently constructed, the Marlins would have a 2023 rotation of Sandy Alcantara, Pablo López, Jesús Luzardo and Edward Cabrera, with Trevor Rogers, Braxton Garrett and Daniel Castano among the candidates battling for the fifth spot. In his Cueto report, Jon Morosi specifically mentioned López as a possible trade candidate. López is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $5.6 million next season, so moving him would save a solid amount of money that could be used to sign Cueto to a short-term deal.

However, the main goal of a trading away a starter would be to acquire a much-needed bat. You won’t see the Marlins force anything that doesn’t help their offense. Morosi reported on Thursday that the Pittsburgh Pirates are “looking for at least one top starting pitcher” in exchange for star outfielder Bryan Reynolds—that’s the kind of situation I could see the Marlins getting involved with.

Should the Marlins Sign Johnny Cueto?

Minnesota Twins v Chicago White Sox Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

If the Marlins use one of their current big league arms in a trade, then yes, they should sign Johnny Cueto to fill out their rotation. Cueto would benefit from making half of his appearances at LoanDepot Park, where it’s difficult to hit. Although his career numbers in Miami haven’t been good (1-2, 6.33 ERA, 21.1 IP, 5 BB, 18 SO, 1.453 WHIP), that should improve over a larger sample. Cueto, who usually has a higher FIP than ERA, relies on his defense. The Marlins were a much better fielding team than the White Sox in 2022 by both outs above average and defensive runs saved, and most of the players responsible for that are still on their roster.

The downside of signing Cueto, in my opinion, is he might not actually be an upgrade over their internal options. In addition to all the names I mentioned earlier, Miami’s top prospect Eury Pérez could be ready to start the season off on the Opening Day roster. Eury is a special talent, the best prospect that the Marlins have had since José Fernández, who skipped the upper levels of the minor leagues to make his debut in 2013 and win NL Rookie of the Year.

First things first: let’s see if the Marlins finally pull the trigger on a trade to help out their struggling offense.