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San Francisco Giants: What Johnny Cueto’s return would mean for future

ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 22: Johnny Cueto #47 of the San Francisco Giants reacts as he returns to the dugout after forcing Luis Valbuena #18 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to hit into a double play to end a bases loaded threat in the sixth inning of the game at Angel Stadium on April 22, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 22: Johnny Cueto #47 of the San Francisco Giants reacts as he returns to the dugout after forcing Luis Valbuena #18 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to hit into a double play to end a bases loaded threat in the sixth inning of the game at Angel Stadium on April 22, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
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There is growing optimism that we will see Johnny Cueto take the mound for the San Francisco Giants before the 2019 season is over. What does that mean for the future?

When San Francisco Giants right-hander Johnny Cueto underwent Tommy John surgery last August, the assumption was that he would be sidelined for the entirety of the 2019 season.

However, his recovery is reportedly moving faster than expected, and a possible late-season return is now on the table.

While there is still nothing resembling a timetable for his return, he is far enough along in the recovery process that he threw a bullpen session from Chase Field on Saturday.

After that bullpen session, manager Bruce Bochy told reporters (via Andrew Baggarly of The Athletic): “He surprised a lot of us with how hard he was throwing and command. He’s in great shape —about the best shape I’ve seen him to be honest. What you saw today, you’ve got a believe he’ll be pitching before the season is over.”

So what would a return to the mound in 2019 mean for Cueto and the Giants?

For the Giants, it could be a welcome arm to eat some innings down the stretch, especially if Madison Bumgarner is traded. They might also consider limiting the workload of guys like Shaun Anderson and Tyler Beede if they surpass their previous career-high in innings.

Kerry Crowley of the Mercury News offered up the following two sides of the Cueto coin:

"“If the Giants continue to struggle, it’s possible the organization will seek to protect Cueto’s arm, slow down his rehab process and minimize possible risks for one of their core players by keeping him off the mound in 2019. However, the Giants may also want Cueto to clear the mental hurdle of facing hitters in a live game before a long offseason, so there are benefits by having him pitch if he is healthy enough to do so.”"

The 33-year-old Cueto will earn $21 million annually in 2020 and 2021, while the Giants hold a $22 million club option on him for 2022 that comes with a $5 million buyout.

With so much money tied up in Cueto, doing whatever it takes to put him the best position to succeed in 2020 should be paramount.

Whether that is providing him with additional rest and being careful not to rush him back to the mound, or allowing him to shake off some rust and build confidence heading into the offseason with a few appearances down the stretch remains to be seen.

While he may never live up to his lofty salary, Cueto was pitching well last season before he landed on the disabled list, posting a 3.23 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 53 innings over nine starts.

He may not be a part of the next contending Giants team, but there’s value in having an experienced veteran who can eat innings atop the rotation while you’re ushering in a new era of young arms.

Sell-off Series: Building a trade with the Houston Astros. Next

One thing is clear. In order for the San Francisco Giants to make the most of their remaining commitment to Cueto, they’ll need to make the right decision on how to handle him here in 2019.

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