The Scary Genius of the Giants and Cueto
So, the Giants weren’t interested in Johnny Cueto. And then they were. And they Arizona Diamondbacksed him away.
So why do I have a sense of dread?
The stats are impossible to avoid, so I won’t do too much rehashing. Generally, Cueto has been fantastic. He’s overpowering when he’s at his best. Over the last five years, he’s been one of the three best starters by ERA in baseball.
Here’s another fun fact: Of all the aces that started a playoff baseball game against the Giants, he was the only one the Giants didn’t beat.
Because he hurt himself in the first inning, after getting a strikeout against the only batter he faced.
And there is the twist.
It’s pretty ironic that one of the things that the Giants trumpeted about Jeff Samardzija was his durability, his lack of injury, his innings. Cueto is about as far away from that as you can say without him not being an ace anymore. He has that reputation.
Is it misplaced? After his injury-plagued 2013 that made him miss a few small spurts, and one big chunk of the second half, Cueto made 30+ starts in each of the next two…the last two…seasons. He hasn’t made the 30 start plateau only twice in eight seasons. He had some elbow pain early last year, but continued to be awesome with the Reds.
Then he was the big acquisition by the Kansas City Royals. The eventual World Series Champion Kansas City Royals.
And he sucked. Well, not really really sucked, but he had a 4.76 ERA in the regular season with the Royals. In the four postseason appearances, he was a very mixed bag, including a horrible ALCS outing, but a good World Series outing.
There’s not a lot about Cueto that makes sense, and that’s what makes him scary. He went from a homer-friendly park where he thrived, to a good pitchers park, and was pretty damned bad. From a loser to a winner. He was hurting when he was good, and supposedly healthy when he wasn’t.
If the Giants get a healthy Cueto (along with healthy others), they now have one of the top rotations in baseball. If they don’t…well, they have a lot of money in a pitcher who isn’t healthy.
The Giants don’t have a great track record with huge contracts for incoming free agents. There are the outliers, like Barry Bonds. Zito had his moments when they counted, but they took a long time to come around. Aaron Rowand didn’t get his moments. Edgardo Alfonso was an incredible mistake. And the Giants don’t give out these contracts often.
But the contract…that’s the biggest wild card in this discussion. Forget Cueto getting six years when Greinke didn’t. Sure, he’s two years younger by his birth certificate. Forget the seventh option year, which had to be added in on a lark by Bobby Evans.
There’s an opt-out after two years, and it’s a front-loaded contract.
Cueto will get to opt-out at 32, and go after an even bigger contract. With a front-loaded contract, he has millions less reasons to stay with the Giants into his mid and late thirties than a standard contract normally would.
It’s crazy. It’s ridiculous. It could be absolute genius that the Giants gave him it, unless he’s ridiculously injured in the next two years. But it minimizes so much risk, so much dead money.
It could be the new wave. Greinke really introduced it. The Giants could make it absolutely genius.
That’s one reason I’m not dreading this contract. Because that opt-out could be amazing. And if Cueto is healthy….oh, that could be really amazing.
I’m not going to say it’s an even year. But…
A few other random thoughts about this move:
- LOL Rockies and Padres hitters.
- Heston and Blackburn as insurance for Cain, or an unhealthy Cueto, is pretty palatable.
- Cueto’s opt-out would be on time for Tyler Beede to make the majors, and not long ahead of Phil Bickford.
- Sure, there’s outfielders available for trade, but I get the sense the Giants may go into the season as is. Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson, start your engines.
- Dodgers fans are about as much fun to watch after this signing as anything this offseason.
- I’ve seen a lot of MLB notifications this offseason, about signings as they happen. But the one for Cueto was the first one that specified “Pending Physical” I remember seeing. Hm.
I really, honestly am hoping for the best. But this free agent signing scares me more than any in a long time. But next season sure got interesting.