DENVER -- The best pitcher developed by the Reds in a generation, ace Johnny Cueto was traded to the Royals on Sunday for three left-handed pitching prospects.
Cincinnati will receive Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb and Cody Reed. Finnegan, a first-round Draft pick of Kansas City in 2014 and a postseason bullpen star last season, will be made into a starter by the Reds. He will report to Triple-A Louisville along with Lamb, while Reed was sent to Double-A Pensacola.
"I know it's a good trade, but I'm very sad," Cueto said with Reds catcher Brayan Pena translating. "I'm very thankful to my teammates, my fans and my coaching staff. It's a very emotional time for me. But I understand it's part of the game. I'm just excited about my next step."
Thank you to the @Reds and their fans. You gave me a chance to become a professional. I will miss this team and city https://t.co/7wdulyeNlL
With the Reds entering the day with a 43-52 record and way back in the National League Central and Wild Card races, the team has been looking to move pricey veteran players. Cueto, who will be a free agent after the season, is the first to go as the rebuilding process officially is underway.
"Obviously, this is a tough trade," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. "Johnny has been part of the organization for a long time. We have great affection for him as pitcher and person. So it was difficult.
"We're in a situation where this is the best thing for our franchise now. We got three left-handed pitchers -- three quality left-handed pitchers -- who we think very highly of. It was tough for Kansas City to give up all three."
Cueto, 29, is 7-6 with a 2.62 ERA in 19 starts this season and ended his tenure with the Reds on a great note with eight scoreless innings in a 5-2 win over the Rockies on Saturday. He pitched with a lot on his mind during the game as a report surfaced the deal with Kansas City was done until a medical issue with a Royals player. Sunday starter Michael Lorenzen was playing catch next to Cueto, who said he was told by the rookie he had been traded. Reds manager Bryan Price denied on Sunday morning that Lorenzen was told to prepare.
Jocketty would not say if the deal was held up by medical issues.
"I'm not going to comment on that," Jocketty said. "It didn't get finished until today, but we had been talking for a while. I don't know how the information came out last night."
The Reds are also looking for young hitters, but were not able to get any from the Royals in the deal.
"The priority is to try to get the best players we can," Jocketty said. "Offense is important. But right now, there's not a lot of offense there."
Other players like Jay Bruce, Mike Leake and Aroldis Chapman are also factoring in trade rumors. According to Jocketty, the Reds are not close to any other deals at the moment.
"We're constantly in negotiation with clubs," Jocketty said. "This didn't escalate until late [Saturday] night."
Finnegan, 22, has split this season between the Minors and big leagues, and was the Royals' No. 4 prospect according to MLB.com in the spring. With the Royals, he was 3-0 with a 2.96 ERA in 14 appearances. Reds scouts watched him work two innings in relief on Saturday for Triple-A Omaha, and he made seven postseason relief appearances last year for Kansas City.
"Finnegan was the key guy for us," Jocketty said. "He's a guy who has proven he can pitch in the big leagues as a reliever, but we see him as a starter."
Thanks to the Royals for all the opportunities they've given me and all the amazing fans. I will miss you all. Time for a new chapter
Lamb, 25, was once the Royals' top prospect until he needed Tommy John surgery on his elbow. He seems to be back on track and is 9-1 with a 2.67 ERA in 17 starts at Omaha. Over 94 1/3 innings, he has allowed 80 hits and 29 walks and 96 strikeouts. Reed, 22, was a second-round pick in the 2013 Draft. He was 2-2 with a 3.45 ERA at Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
The Reds signed Cueto as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in 2004 and he made his Major League debut in 2008. In his eight big league seasons, he is 92-63 with a 3.21 ERA. But he became a premier pitcher in the past four years and went 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA last season -- the Reds' first homegrown 20-game winner since Tom Browning in 1985. Cueto finished second to Clayton Kershaw for the 2014 NL Cy Young Award.
Over the last six seasons, Cueto is second in the Majors only to Kershaw with a 2.72 ERA (minimum 130 starts). What's the hardest part for him about being moved?
"I think without a doubt, it's just saying goodbye to my teammates because I've been with this team for so long - ever since I was a little boy," Cueto said. "And for me to go out there and say goodbye to them, it's the toughest part. That's the one."
Since he will be a free agent, the Royals will not be able to extend Cueto a qualifying offer. That means more upheaval in the offseason, but after being the subject of trade rumors that especially intensified in recent days, Cueto was relieved to have the deal done.
"Oh yeah, I feel much better," Cueto said. "It's easier for me now to go out there and focus on what I do best. That's going out there and pitching. It was a little crazy for me because I didn't know where I was going to end up and all the rumors and stuff like that. Finally, it's over and I can focus on what I do."