Jocketty: 'Never say never' on bringing back Cueto

Reds GM aware of large looming contract in 28-year-old ace's option year

Jocketty: 'Never say never' on bringing back Cueto

CINCINNATI -- Reds general manager Walt Jocketty is certainly aware of the long odds to keep ace Johnny Cueto in Cincinnati beyond 2015. But Jocketty maintained on Thursday that the team has not given up hope.

"With Johnny, we'll never say 'never.' We are going to do everything we can to try and come up with some sort of plan to keep him," Jocketty said on MLB Network's Hot Stove. "I'm not sure we'll be able to, because the numbers are obviously starting to skyrocket and it's very tough in our market to continue to retain guys at a high price like that. We'll continue to work on that and see where it comes out."

Cueto, who will be pitching in the option year of his contract and earning $10 million in 2015, set an Opening Day deadline for extension negotiations in order to avoid in-season distractions.

The 28-year-old right-hander was 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA, while leading the National League last season with 34 starts and 243 2/3 innings. He was also tied for the league lead with 242 strikeouts.

Cueto second in NL Cy Young

The skyrocketing numbers Jocketty likely referred to was the seven-year, $210 million contract free-agent pitcher Max Scherzer signed last month with the Nationals. Another top free agent, Jon Lester, signed a six-year, $155 million contract with the Cubs in December.

Besides Cueto, another major offseason storyline for the Reds has been the health of their returning players. The team is banking much of its hopes to contend in the NL Central on the strong returns of stars like Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips.

In addition, starting pitcher Homer Bailey (torn flexor mass in right forearm) and reliever Sean Marshall (left shoulder) are coming off of surgeries.

"We've really paid extra attention to that this offseason," Jocketty said of the team's health. "We've really stayed on top of the guys who finished the season injured or were injured during the season. We had very definitive plans and programs they needed to follow during the offseason.

Duquette on Votto in 2015

"We're two weeks away from the start of Spring Training. At this point, these guys should be ready for Spring Training and the start of the season."

Reds strength and conditioning coach Sean Marohn paid another visit to Votto's hometown of Toronto earlier this week to check in on his progress. Votto was limited to 62 games last season because of a distal strain of his left quadriceps, and he struggled in the first half when he was in the lineup.

"Votto spent the entire winter in Toronto working out there and he has made great progress," Jocketty said. "He feels very good. His strength is back."

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.