In one of the least surprising moves of the offseason so far, the SF Giants officially declined Johnny Cueto's $22 million option for 2022, thereby making him a free agent. The veteran hurler will receive a $5 million buyout.
SF Giants decline $22 million option on Johnny Cueto
When the 2021 season came to a close, Giants team president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi recognized that starting pitching would be the top priority as they headed into the offseason. Zaidi was never asked specifically about Cueto's option but you did not have to read between the lines to know that the decision to decline the option was a foregone conclusion.
Cueto originally signed a six-year, $130 million contract before the 2016 season and the early returns were promising. The right-handed hurler registered a 2.79 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 1.09 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, and a 4.40 SO/W ratio across 219.2 innings in 2016. He earned a NL All-Star nod and finished sixth in the NL Cy Young voting while helping the Giants reach the playoffs.
Cueto started the first game of the NLDS against the Chicago Cubs where he allowed just one earned run in eight innings. However, that one run would prove to be the difference as the Giants offense was held scoreless. The Giants would lose that series in four games.
The 35-year-old battled injuries and ineffectiveness in the ensuing five seasons. Outside of his first year with the Giants, Cueto posted a 4.38 ERA acorss 394.1 innings. He missed substantial time in 2018 and 2019 as he underwent Tommy John surgery.
Cueto struggled badly in 2020 but he rebounded nicely to post a 4.08 ERA in 114.2 innings this past season. The righty sustained an elbow injury late in the season and he made one relief appearance in the final week of the year before being excluded from the postseason roster.
The free-agent market is not typically kind to 35-year-old pitchers with a lot of mileage on their arm. That said, Cueto proved that he can still offer some quality innings. The Giants will be in the market for starting pitching and could check in on him. However, reunions are not common when the team declines an option. If Cueto wants to continue his career next season, it will likely be in a different uniform.