GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- When talking to reporters, Spanish-speaking Reds ace Johnny Cueto often uses a translator. But when asked Thursday if it made him happy to see free agent Max Scherzer sign a $210 million contract with the Nationals, Cueto did not need the Spanish translation. He cracked a big smile.
"Good for him," Cueto replied through translator Tomas Vera. "But you never know what can happen. All I ask is for health, faith in God. You never know what can happen. I just don't think about that."
Cueto is headed into the $10 million option year of his current contract and in December, he set an Opening Day deadline to get an extension. Otherwise, he will become a free agent after the season and could be tough for the Reds to re-sign.
No matter when he signs, or the team he signs with, Cueto will be demanding top ace-level money. Scherzer got his $210 million over seven years and has a 3.52 ERA over his last five seasons. Cueto's 2.73 ERA in the same span is second-best in the Majors behind only Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers (2.25).
"At this point, I just have to keep working and continue to do my job," said Cueto, who is represented by agent Bryce Dixon. "They [the club] are the ones who know. I would love to stay here. I want to stay here. All I can say is I have to keep working and playing baseball and let them figure it out."
Cueto, who turned 29 on Sunday, finished second behind Kershaw for the National League Cy Young Award in 2014 after going 20-9 with 2.25 ERA. He led the NL in innings (243 2/3) and was tied for first in starts (34) and strikeouts (242). Also a first-time NL All-Star, he was tied for second in wins, second in ERA and WHIP (0.96) and tied for third with four complete games while listed as the Major League leader with a .194 opponents' batting average.
Naturally, there will be speculation about Cueto's status throughout camp. As of Thursday, there had been no significant movement in talks. Manager Bryan Price maintained hope Cueto could be retained, but was not concerned about the talks being a distraction.
"It's just the fact that we have different challenges than some of the teams that can pay $210 million for a starting pitcher," Price said. "I don't know if that's something we can do. But he's earned the right to be one of those top-tier, top-paid starting pitchers. Hopefully it isn't a distraction. It won't be a distraction for me, but I'm not a key player in this whole thing."
Cueto enjoyed his offseason time and spent much of it working with younger players at the Reds' Dominican complex in Boca Chica. He signed with the Reds in 2004 as an 18-year-old and spent his whole career with the organization. Would it take top dollar for him to stay, or would there be a discount given if the Reds' offer was competitive enough?
"I don't know. Let's go see what happens," Cueto said. "I can't tell you how much it costs, less or more. I don't know about those things. If I have to ask for something, I'm going to ask for $300 [million]. If it's for asking, I can put any number."
Cueto appeared to be kidding with the $300 million figure, but probably not by much. One way or the other, he will cost a club a whole lot of money.
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.