MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

5 logical landing spots for Cueto

5 logical landing spots for Cueto

CHICAGO - When Joe Maddon got to Wrigley Field on Thursday, he checked the Reds' lineup. Then he looked down the card to find their bench.

That's where he saw the names of Billy Hamilton and Brandon Phillips. If players on the disabled list had been included, the Cubs' manager would have also seen Devin Mesoraco, Marlon Byrd and Zack Cozart.

With Hamilton and Phillips holding the dreaded "day-to-day'' status and the three others sidelined for the foreseeable future, the Reds are without five regulars as they watch the Cardinals disappear in the distance. Not the ideal scenario to turn around a season that was viewed as critical given the impending free agency of ace Johnny Cueto, who is about to become the biggest name on the trade market, if he's not already there.

Even though the Reds came to Chicago having won four in a row, losing Cozart for the season when he tore up his knee on Wednesday may be the development that forces GM Walt Jocketty to seek maximum value for Cueto, who appears beyond the Reds' budget.

"Everybody is important, but [Cosart] has a significant role not just as great defensive player -- and off to a great start offensively -- but he's just one of those fabric-type players,'' manager Bryan Price said at Wrigley Field. "He's a guy that's blue collar, can go unnoticed at times unless you're around him every day like we are, because he's just such a solid guy. … We'll miss him for his performance but for what he provides for us from a character standpoint as well.''

Naturally, given how this season has gone for Cueto, there are questions about his health, too. He skipped a start with inflammation in his elbow in late May, shortly after a crowd of 20 scouts turned out to watch him beat the Giants. He'll be making his third June start against the Cubs on Friday, and the crowd is once again sure to include lots of scouts.

Cueto is a one-of-a-kind commodity as a pitcher, on the one hand a classic fastball-changeup power guy but sprinkled in with equal parts Orlando Hernandez and Catfish Hunter. He led the National League in innings pitched and strikeouts last season and is 4-4 with a 2.64 ERA in his 11 starts this year, which has a chance to be his fifth straight with a sub-3 ERA.

"He's a real pitcher,'' Maddon said. "He's creative. He does the little things with his turns, a little Luis Tiant-ish. But he just knows what he's doing. It's not about pure velocity. He's got a great feel for what he's doing. He's got great command. … Whenever it appears he loses command, I believe it's because, 'I don't want to throw the ball over the plate.' That's what I believe. He's that good.''

Some believe the Reds will hold onto Cueto until after the All-Star Game, as it will be in Cincinnati for the first time since 1988. But with the Mariners grabbing Mark Trumbo last week, we've hit the time of season when an ultra-aggressive team might be able to swing a deal.

Here are the five most likely destinations for Cueto:

1. Blue Jays -- No team has spent more time scouting Cueto this season, and no team has more to gain from adding him. So when Jocketty is ready to move him, the Jays have to be at the top of his list.

With Josh Donaldson emerging as an MVP candidate, the Blue Jays have fully recovered from a 19-26 start to look like a serious threat in the wide-open AL East. They have a deep rotation but lack the true No. 1 they would need in October.

The Jays have young pitching to trade, with a deal possibly built around Aaron Sanchez or Daniel Norris, as they try to end a 22-season drought without a trip to the postseason, the longest in the Major Leagues.

2. Red Sox -- They're better situated to land Cueto than the Jays but GM Ben Cherington has thus far thrown up a "keep off the grass'' sign in regards to his high-end prospects. That could change quickly if the Sox start scoring more runs and demonstrate that they're really an ace away from being a playoff team.

Boston has the prospect inventory to give Cincinnati the best possible return for Cueto -- a multi-player deal including arms and bats. Eduardo Rodriguez and Blake Swihart aren't going anywhere but the Red Sox's intriguing stable of arms includes Henry Owens, Brian Johnson and Matt Barnes.

3. Dodgers -- While Don Mattingly's team ranks third in the NL in starter's ERA, the starters beyond Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke have been average (12-10 with a 4.35 ERA), which has put a constant strain on the bullpen.

You've got to think the Dodgers wound up regretting missing on David Price last July. They're under different management this time around and nobody knows what to expect from Andrew Friedman as a buyer, not a seller. But they have premium prospects who the Reds covet (most notably Julio Urias and Corey Seager) and lots of movable parts, including Cuban slugger Alex Guerrero.

4. Rangers -- They looked like sellers when they went 15-22 out of the gate but that's no longer the case. They are closing fast on the Astros in the winnable AL West, thanks to a lineup that went back to the future in a recent 11-game stretch in which they averaged 8.4 runs.

Having added Yovani Gallardo in an offseason trade and signing Wandy Rodriguez after the Padres released him, along with the emergence of Nick Martinez and Chi Chi Gonzalez, Texas has pitching depth. It doesn't have an ace, however, and can't count on the rehabbing Matt Harrison and Derek Holland to fill that void. The Rangers might have to give up Martinez or Gonzalez to get Cueto, whose salary would be partly paid by insurance that the team took out on Yu Darvish's contract.

5. Padres -- Let's just say A.J. Preller's due.

Despite the big-ticket moves that the Padres made last winter, they've had a losing record since starting 10-5. The lineup isn't producing like it should but it's easier to upgrade the rotation than add multiple parts there. It sounds radical but Preller might bite on Cueto for Andrew Cashner, who is under control through 2016, and a couple lower-level prospects that would be be a better return than a compensation draft pick.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.