San Francisco Giants Add To Rotation, Sign Johnny Cueto To Six-Year Deal

by Marc Keller | Posted on Wednesday, December 16th, 2015
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The San Francisco Giants were not going to let their starting rotation be the cause of them missing out on another postseason, especially coming up on an even year when they generally win World Series titles. After signing former Chicago White Sox starter Jeff Samardzija to a five-year, $90 million contract right before the baseball Winter Meetings, the Giants have inked former Cincinnati Reds and Kansas City Royals starter Johnny Cueto to a six-year, $130 million deal on Monday.

The deal includes a player opt-out after year two, allowing Cueto to become a free agent again after the 2017 season, and a club option for a seven-year. If Cueto does decide to opt-out after two-years, the deal will essentially be worth two-year, $46 million – right at about market value for a starting pitcher of his caliber – and then he can seek that final payday contract. If Cueto doesn’t opt-out, then the Giants are on the hook for the remaining value of the deal.

Last season pitching for both the Reds and Royals (traded at the trading deadline for prospects), the 29-year old Cueto was 11-13 W-L with a 3.44 ERA, 194 H’s, 87 R’s/81 ER’s, 21 HR’s, 46 BB’s, 176 SO’s, and a 1.132 WHIP in 212.o IP’s/32 games started.

The deal is still pending a physical, as Cueto has a lingering elbow injury that has shied teams away from signing him to a big-time contract. The Giants, however, are confident that everything will check out with Cueto’s elbow and he will pass his physical. That physical is schedule to be taken sometime this week. The elbow injury is a bit of a worrisome, as many baseball evaluators feel it was the root cause of Cueto having a subpar five-game stretch late in the season were he went 0-5 W-L and allowed four or more runs in each of those games, However, he was able to rebound and have a stellar postseason, pitching outstanding in two deciding games for the eventually champion Royals. Cueto put the Royals on his back in a deciding Game 5 of the ALDS against the Houston Astros, pitching a strong eight-innings, allowing two-runs and striking out eight, and pitched a complete game two-hitter against the New York Mets in the World Series.

This signing is a worth-wild signing for the Giants. When Cueto is on his game, he is capable of being an ace of a starting rotation. The hope for the Giants is that happens to be the case with Cueto and then you get a 1-2 punch headlined by staff ace Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner and Cueto make up a very potent 1-2 combo, back-loaded with Samardzija, Matt Cain, and Jake Peavy, with last season’s rookie sensation Chris Heston as a swingman/long-reliever, the Giants now have the depth in their starting rotation they were seeking at the onset of this offseason.

The one outlier with this signing – besides the injured elbow – will be the Giants ability to sign a quality left fielder. Committed $220 million on two starting pitchers is great and all, but the Giants still have a gaping hole in left field that still needs to be addressed this offseason. Before the Cueto signing and throughout the Winter Meetings, the Giants were linked to free agent outfielders Alex Gordon, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, Dexter Fowler, and recently signed Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward (both by the Chicago Cubs). While Heyward would have been a long-shot, the rest were viable options and still remain unsigned. Any one of these unsigned options would greatly upgrade the Giants current left field options, which as it stands now is either Gregor Blanco, or a minor league option like Mac Williamson or Jarrett Parker. So now the debate begins, does Cueto and say Blanco/Williamson/Parker or a lesser quality free agent left fielder in Denard Span or Gerardo Parra is greater than resigning starter Mike Leake and signing Gordon/Upton/Cespedes? I’m not sure which side is more appealing. The obvious dream scenario would be to sign Cueto and Gordon/Upton/Cespedes, but we’ll have to wait and see how this all plays out.

Cueto does provide an immediate upgrade to the Giants starting rotation, and if he is the same old consistent Cueto, pitching like he did for the Reds were he was CY Young Award caliber, then the Giants may have one of the best starting rotations in all of MLB, a formula they have subscribed to which led them to winning three World Series titles. But he is flames out and doesn’t exercise his player option after year two, then it’s another bad, Barry Zito-like pitching contract the Giants will have hanging over their heads. Hopefully for the Giants, the latter  does not happen.

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Marc Keller
About the Author

Marc Keller is a Senior Writer for Baseball Hot Corner. His three greatest loves in life are his wife, son, and the San Francisco Giants. You can follow and banter with him on Twitter @mrarmchair.

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