The San Francisco Giants have deepened their rotation considerably with the signing of Johnny Cueto (pending a physical). If healthy, he can be the co-ace that the team has been looking for.
The Giants had a choice to improve left field or add another starter to the rotation. And at AT&T Park, pitching will ultimately always trump a good position player. That isn’t to say that the team is finished shopping, but any dreams of Yoenis Cespedes are probably gone.
This team still feels that to compete in the new pitching-rich NL West, they must have a strong middle of their rotation. Which means that if Jeff Samardzija is your number 3 starter you have a good chance at playing meaningful games in September.
Cueto has an opt-out clause after the 2017 season, and it will be $130 million over six years, per Jon Morosi.
That comes to just over $21.5 million per year, and puts the team at $40 million in the two starters signed this winter. So the team replaces Mike Leake with Cueto, and Tim Hudson with Samardzija. Those are very strong upgrades.
And when you look at the Zack Greinke deal, which is essentially $34 million per year, the Giants were able to add two potential 15-game winners to the roster for only $6 million more than adding Greinke’s 20 wins.
Cueto, 29, was 19-9 in 2012 and 20-9 in 2014. Those two seasons were sandwiched around a 2013 season that was limited to 11 starts due to injuries. But the Giants have some depth with Chris Heston serving in the Yusmeiro Petit role.
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So don’t be surprised if Heston makes a few spot starts for Cueto next year, just to keep that arm fresh.
His mid season trade last year from the Cincinnati Reds to the eventual world champion Kansas City Royals was a mixed bag. His performance in the regular season consisted of 13 starts. He went 4-7 with an ERA of 4.76, and his strikeouts were way down (56 in 81.1 innings, a full strikeout per 9 innings lower than his career average).
Pitching at AT&T will allow him more mistakes than he got at Great American Ballpark, since the Reds play in a hitter’s park.
And then there is the defense.
Both pitchers will benefit from the consistent defense that plays behind them. And both will be encouraged to throw strikes, which benefits the fielders as they aren’t standing around waiting for action.
Cueto sports a career 3.30 ERA, and from 2011-2014 he was at a very strong 2.48 ERA. Those numbers translate very well to his new park. If he’s right, you could see an ERA title in the near future.
The fact that Cueto was even available was a mild surprise. This winter has brought several arms races, including Greinke, and the Giants have stayed patient and went after the guy they wanted. The old saying of you never can have enough pitching always holds true especially when your division rivals are getting better in their rotation.
Reports are that Samardzija’s deal is only for $9 million for the upcoming season. It then jumps to $18 million per season the rest of the way. So a free agent outfielder looking for a shorter term deal may still be in play. Justin Upton is still rumored to be a target for the team, even after signing Cueto.
But they don’t expect to spend big on any more players in free agency per Alex Pavlovic:
As we make our way into the new year, the Giants have wrapped up one nice starting rotation that looks to stack up right there at the top of the division, and even the entire league.
One thing is for sure, the team is primed for sustained contention now that they have addressed the rotation for the foreseeable future. Aside form Jake Peavy, the staff should be intact through the 2017 season. And next year’s available free agent class of pitchers isn’t going to be nearly as talented as this year’s.
So here’s hoping that Johnny Cueto wins back-to-back World Series titles.
*On this day in 2001, the Giants signed righty Jason Schmidt to a 4-year deal worth $31 million. He had gone 7-1 with the team the previous season after being traded to from the Pittsburgh Pirates.