MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Cueto gives KC ace to match roster full of talent

One win from title in '14, GM Moore reinforces rotation in hopes of securing ring

Cueto gives KC ace to match roster full of talent

This was a long time coming for the Kansas City Royals. General manager Dayton Moore built his organization meticulously, at times cautiously. He took some heat for it because not everyone bought into his big-picture approach.

His core belief was that once he got the franchise back to a certain point, he would have it positioned to sustain winning. But when a window of opportunity presented itself, he would act aggressively.

And that's why he acquired Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto on Sunday for left-handers Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb and Cody Reed. Cueto gives the Royals a better chance to win the World Series in 2015, and their chances were already good. At 58-38, Kansas City began the day with the best record in the American League and a 6 1/2-game lead in the American League Central.

Yes, Cueto is expected to be a free agent after the season. No sweat there. If he gets the Royals to where they want to go, it won't matter whether he stays or leaves, even if Moore did weaken his farm system by giving up prospects to close the deal with the Reds.

Cueto is a 29-year-old ace. He's fourth in the Majors in WHIP at a dazzling 0.93. His ERA (2.62) and innings (130 2/3) are what a team is supposed to get from a top-of-the-rotation guy. He's coming off a season in which he led the NL in strikeouts (242) and innings (243 2/3).

He should also benefit from a different environment. He'll love being back in the heat of a pennant race, and he'll especially love a return to October baseball. His arrival will also energize a Kansas City franchise riding a crest of success. Manager Ned Yost, first baseman Eric Hosmer, catcher Sal Perez, etc., have created one of the best environments on the planet.

In making this deal, Moore is telling his guys how much he appreciates what they've done and how he intends to do everything in his power to give them the best chance to win.

No general manager has had a better few months than Moore. His offseason acquisitions of starter Edinson Volquez and DH Kendrys Morales nicely filled holes created by the free-agent departures of James Shields and Billy Butler. His signing of reliever Ryan Madson has upgraded baseball's best bullpen.

Only the rotation has been an issue. Danny Duffy has been tremendous since coming off the disabled list, and Chris Young has been a nice pickup for the rotation. Kris Medlen is back from Tommy John surgery and could contribute at some point.

But in making this deal, Moore did more than strengthen the Royals to win their division. Yordano Ventura has been unable to emerge as the ace the Royals projected him to be, so there was uncertainty about how good Kansas City would be in October.

Now in Cueto and Duffy, the Royals potentially have two guys they can ride deep into the postseason. In losing to the Giants in the 2014 World Series, the Royals saw what one dominant starter can do for a club in a short series.

Cueto is capable of doing for the Royals what Madison Bumgarner did for the Giants last fall. With a deceptive whip-like motion, a 93-mph fastball and a nice assortment of secondary pitches, Cueto has the durability to pitch two or three times in a seven-game series and consistently work deep into games.

Just as important as the pure stuff is that Cueto understands the art of pitching, that is changing speeds, giving hitters different looks and seldom throwing back-to-back pitches to the same spot or with the same velocity.

Because he's approaching free agency before his 30th birthday, Cueto also understands that every start is an audition for 29 other clubs. He will be one of the most sought-after free agents this offseason.

First, though, there'll be this new adventure. The Royals were an inspiring story last season when a core group of guys broke through to the Fall Classic after rising through the Minor Leagues together and enduring some tough seasons.

There's still some of that attitude. Guys who were once top prospects -- Hosmer, Perez, Mike Moustakas -- are now stars. Lorenzo Cain, acquired from the Brewers for Zack Greinke six years ago, has emerged as a big-time player in his sixth season.

It's all clicking for the Royals. Twenty games over .500. Big division lead. Confidence growing. And on Sunday, they got better.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.