San Francisco Giants: A Contingency Plan For A Cueto Opt-Out

Johnny Cueto gave up just one run in his complete game against San Diego Wednesday night. Not that it makes him special—Madison Bumgarner did the same thing the night before.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Johnny Cueto gave up just one run in his complete game against San Diego Wednesday night. Not that it makes him special—Madison Bumgarner did the same thing the night before. Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

San Francisco Giants fans probably don’t want to even think about this. I’ll be honest, I don’t want to write about this. But that’s what happens when you give a player the power to opt-out, in a market that seemingly would offer more money than what is in his current contract.

The San Francisco Giants put themselves in this position, so blame them, not me. It’s just my job to discuss it. Johnny Cueto‘s contract was made with a player option after this season. That decision will likely come just days after the season ends for them in 2017, regardless of whether or not they win the World Series, that decision will come quickly.

They likely have a contingency plan in place. They aren’t that stupid. And even if they don’t have one at this very second, they’ll have one ready to go as the season moves a long. Like I said, they aren’t that stupid.

The Giants’ salary situation, and their reluctance to enter the luxury tax if necessary, will play a factor in this. This is definitely something we’ll revisit, especially around the trade deadline. Let’s be honest, filling the hole of the second starter is much more important to the Giants’ success than getting a power hitting left fielder.

Going away from that mindset would signal the Giants moving away from the formula that brought them three world series in five seasons. That wouldn’t be smart. And normally, the Giants front office has been smart over the last decade or so. So here it is, your Johnny Cueto Opt-Out “defense plan.”

First, let’s take a look at the overall 2017 free agent market, especially in the starting pitching realm.

Here are the top five starter free agents for 2017, sorted by their xFIP. For a mini-explanation, FIP is a statistic, on an ERA scale, that measures how well pitchers do with the things they can control. For xFIP, the “X” stands for the constant put into it, which normalizes ballpark affects as well. So it penalizes players for pitching at AT&T, and gives a little bump to pitchers in somewhere like Coors Field, or Great American Ballpark. (all xFIP stats via Fangraphs)

  1. Jake Arrieta
  2. John Lackey
  3. Jeremy Hellickson
  4. CC Sabathia
  5. Tyler Chatwood

In looking at that crop, only one could potentially meet Cueto levels of ability and production, and that’s Arrietta. Two of them are above 35, and all of them finished lower in the league rankings of xFIP for qualified starters than the incumbent, Mr. Cueto. There is two ways to look at that.

Johnny Cueto would have every reason to want to opt-out. With a good season he puts himself alongside Arrieta as 1a and 1b in starting pitcher free agent rankings. The other way to look at it is the Giants ABSOLUTELY have to get Arrieta or Cueto if they want to see similar output from their number two spot.

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The third kink thrown in, is that they absolutely need to re-sign Madison Bumgarner, and do their best to keep it as cost-effective as possible. That includes backloading a deal to increase as the luxury tax threshold increases over the life of the current CBA. Who cares if they re-sign Cueto, and fail to hold on to potentially the greatest pitcher in franchise history. That would be a really dumb move.

Another factor into this is the development of top pitching prospects. That includes how “Major League Ready” Tyler Beede is by the end of the year. If Beede has integrated into the rotation, and looks really good, they might feel a tiny bit better about Cueto walking.

The success of Matt Moore next year could potentially have an effect on that as well. If Moore becomes freaky good, and Beede looks ready to break into the top three, the Giants might be more comfortable in rolling with a: Bumgarner, Moore, Beede, Jeff Samardzija, (FITB) rotation.

The issue with this all? There are too many moving parts to feel comfortable with Cueto walking. Either that or he has a career killing nose-dive of a season and there is no way he gets on the open market what the rest of his contract is for. One former Giant did that. His name was Tim Lincecum. That’s also a pretty un-likely thing to happen. So what’s the contingency plan at the moment?

In this plan, the next option is if the options above fail:

  1. Re-Sign Cueto at all costs
  2. Attempt to get Arrieta
  3. Hope Matt Moore is good/healthy enough to fill in for a number two level of production
  4. Get a lesser name on the market via trade, or free agency and accept having to look for another elite pitcher.
  5. Hope the farm produces something bigger than what they’re being graded as to having

Frankly, after the “get Arrieta” option, the Giants would be looking at a dip from the “annual contender” status. On and off the field, that would hurt them. So really? The only option is to re-negotiate, and land Cueto at all costs if he opts out. What makes this super easy? If Johnny doesn’t opt out. (PLEASE DON’T DO IT JOHNNY)

Next: The Giants Last Encounter with Venture

This conversation is worth revisiting through various points of the season. An early starter on the conversation is necessary though. What are your thoughts on it? Let us know in the comments!