The gift awaited Johnny Cueto when he arrived in the lobby of a downtown hotel. A fan left him a crown, along with a bevy of well-wishing photographs and signage, all to commemorate his first day as a Royal. Cueto donned the crown, someone snapped a photograph and Cueto sent the image to his thousands of followers on Twitter.
“He was really happy with the way this club had that all set up for him,” said catching coach Pedro Grifol, who translated for Cueto.
Cueto drove from his home in Cincinnati to join his new team on Tuesday afternoon. Two days earlier, the Royals acquired Cueto in exchange for left-handed pitching prospects Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb and Cody Reed. Cueto serves as the freshly arrived staff ace, a genuine No. 1 starter on a club lacking that weapon.
Cueto will debut for the Royals on Friday in Toronto. To make room on the roster, the team designated veteran Joe Blanton for assignment. He returned from retirement for 2015, spent more than a month in Class AAA Omaha and worked his way onto the big-league club. Blanton, 2-2 with a 3.89 ERA, aided the Royals as both a starter and a reliever, earning two saves, including one on Monday night.
“It was just a numbers crunch,” manager Ned Yost said. “I hated that we had to lose Joe. But I think Joe’s going to land on his feet somewhere.”
Cueto indicated he already felt comfortable in his new environment. He is close friends with fellow starter Edinson Volquez, who was his teammate in Cincinnati. After completing his regular workout in the afternoon, running the stadium steps, Cueto settled into a game of cards with Volquez, shortstop Alcides Escobar and designated hitter Kendrys Morales.
The trade to Kansas City ended a lengthy process of waiting for Cueto. He had known he would be traded this summer. But he did not know where. The eventual destination pleased him.
“He’s obviously happy that it’s all over,” Grifol said. “There were times where he was just continuing to wonder where he’s going to end up. But now that he’s with this club, he’s happy. He can get back to work.”