SF Giants: Johnny Cueto trade partner could be found in Astros

Johnny Cueto of the SF Giants. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Johnny Cueto of the SF Giants. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

The MLB trade deadline is only five weeks away, but the San Francisco Giants and the Houston Astros could match up in a trade involving Johnny Cueto.

The Giants’ right-hander could quickly become a hot commodity given that he is nearly two years removed from Tommy John Surgery.

Cueto is only under contract for one more season after this one, but the Giants do hold a team option for 2022 with a $5 million buyout. Given this, several contending teams may be interested in the two-time All-Star if he proves to be fully healthy.

Health is the key for Cueto. Before needing Tommy John surgery in August of 2018, the veteran hurler had been one of the best pitchers of the decade as he posted a 122-83 with a 3.33 ERA since he debuted way back in 2008.

Now, the 35-year-old may not be the workhorse he was in his younger days, but he still has a knack for getting outs.

Though the results have not been encouraging so far as Cueto has posted a 5.87 ERA across 7.2 frames, but with seven strikeouts in two starts. Since the baseball season is still very young, Cueto, and any player, is still swimming in small sample territory.

Despite the results, the right-hander has looked like his old self at the beginning of each start but loses his sharpness as the game progresses. This could be a stamina issue, especially since Cueto has only accumulated 23.2 major league innings over the last 24 months.

The consistency is not there yet, but he is still flashing solid stuff as well as his trademark shimmy routine:

Cueto has under five weeks before the trade deadline, and teams will want to see that stamina improve as regains arm strength.

Could the SF Giants find a Johnny Cueto trade partner in the Houston Astros?

One team in particular has some recent history in targeting great pitchers in the middle of their contracts: the Houston Astros.

Before we dive too much into this, the Astros have an obvious void in the rotation. After all, they let Gerrit Cole walk in free agency and just received some bad news on Justin Verlander:

Though Verlander himself claimed that he will not be missing the remainder of the season, so there seems to be some mixed reports in Astros land. That said, an elbow injury does not fix itself overnight.

Last season, the Astros acquired former Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the midst of a six-year, $206.5 million contract that he signed in December of 2015 in exchange for four prospects.

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In addition to this, Houston worked a last-minute deal in to bring in Verlander in 2017 in the middle of his seven-year, $180 million pact that he signed way back in March of 2013. The Tigers received three prospects to swing the deal.

Of course, the Astros also swindled Cole from the Pittsburgh Pirates while Cole was still on his rookie contract.

It should be noted that Cueto is not necessarily on the same level as a Greinke or a Verlander, but he has quietly been one of the better pitchers of this era.

Plus, the Astros have a knack for helping great pitchers like Verlander rediscover what it is that made them so effective earlier in their career.

Could that work for Cueto as well? I am not a pitching expert, but if you bang a trash can so many times, sometimes it pays off. That is all I am saying.

On a more serious note, there is a recent precedent of the Astros targeting a pitcher like Cueto in the middle of a contract. This strategy might have some teeth to it as the Astros are not bearing all of the performance risk that comes when a team locks up a player to a huge contract.

Rather, if the deal does not work out in their favor, then the pact is expunged from the books within a couple of years. The length of the contract carries risk as a player’s performance varies, so this is one way for the Astros to minimize risk.

Since Cueto only has one more full season after this one, his contract no longer carries the type of risk it had when it was first consummated.

On a totally different note, Astros manager Dusty Baker has extensive experience managing the 35-year-old as he was the Cincinnati Reds from 2008-2103. So, there would be some level of familiarity between player and manager.

That said, the Giants are in a rebuild, and it looks like they are waiting for the bloated contracts to fall off of the books before they dip back into free agency. Finding a way unload to Cueto’s contract helps them accelerate this process, and could give a team like the Astros an extra arm that they desperately need.

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This is a deal that could work out for both teams, especially if the Giants can kick some extra money into the deal.

As a personality fit, teams can never have enough Johnny Cueto.