Cueto won't talk contract beyond Opening Day

Reds ace doesn't want extension negotiations to be distraction

Cueto won't talk contract beyond Opening Day

CINCINNATI -- Not wanting to be sidetracked over prolonged contract negotiations, Reds ace Johnny Cueto has set a deadline for an extension to be completed with the club.

Cueto and the Reds have until Opening Day to work out a deal, agent Bryce Dixon said.

"I told the Reds that at the meeting we had during the Winter Meetings," Dixon told MLB.com on Tuesday. "Nothing has changed. It's not something that's adversarial. Johnny said to me at the end of the season to 'work something out but if not, I don't want to be the guy messing with contracts in the middle of a season.'

"His rationale is there is plenty of time to get it worked out. If not, no hard feelings."

Reds general manager Walt Jocketty was not available for comment.

Cueto, 28, will make $10 million in 2015 -- the option year of his contract -- and will become a free agent for the first time after the season if he is not signed by Cincinnati.

In a 2014 season where he finished second for the National League Cy Young Award, Cueto was 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA over an NL-leading 34 starts and 243 2/3 innings. The team's first 20-game winner since 1988, he was also tied for the league lead with 242 strikeouts.

Cueto second in NL Cy Young

"He loves Cincinnati and wants to stay with the Reds," Dixon said. "But he does not want to be a distraction in the middle of the season if he has not signed. He wants there to be some sort of closure once the season starts."

Dixon and the Reds held preliminary talks during the Winter Meetings earlier this month in San Diego. The two sides have exchanged text messages since, Dixon said, but have held no further talks.

The Reds entered the offseason faced with four members of the starting rotation being one year from becoming free agents and knew they could not sign all of them to extensions. Two of the pitchers -- Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon -- were traded Dec. 11. That leaves Cueto and Mike Leake, but a difficult road could still be ahead for the small-market club to re-sign both.

During the Meetings, Cueto and the Reds got an idea of where the market begins when free agent Jon Lester signed a six-year, $155 million contract with the Cubs. Another big free-agent starter, Max Scherzer, and agent Scott Boras are reportedly seeking a $200 million contract.

Now the Reds will have the rest of this winter to try to keep Cueto from heading to the open market next winter.

"He wants to stay if the numbers are right," Dixon said.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.