Johnny Cueto will return to the Giants, as he opted into the remaining four years and $84 million on his contract. This is either great news, horrible news, or something in between. Let’s figure this out.
If you were around for 2016, this is great news. Cueto pitched so well that season that he started the All-Star Game, and it looked like there was no way he would opt back into his contract after two great seasons. Do you remember how everyone associated with the Cubs was absolutely terrified at the prospect of facing Cueto in an elimination game?
If you skipped 2016 and went straight to this year, well, I’m sorry. On multiple levels. But if that’s the case, you might be of the opinion that this is an unfortunate drag on the Giants’ budget for the next four years.
Who’s right? One of us! Maybe we’re all right in our own weird little ways.
Scenario #1: 2017 is the new normal for Johnny Cueto
This is known as “The Zito.” The Giants spent $126 million on Barry Zito over seven years, and they got approximately three WAR. And two championships! But three WAR, which isn’t ideal. If last season was a chilling preamble of what’s to come, Cueto will become a pitcher who is just competent enough to keep in the rotation (especially with that salary), but not competent enough to get excited about.
There are other, worse scenarios, such as the one where Cueto gets hurt and can’t lift his arm for four years, or where he becomes much worse than Zito, but pitches anyway because of contract and familiarity. If you think that can’t happen, that’s okay, I forgot about the last three years of Tim Lincecum on purpose, too.
For now, I’m thinking of a worst-case scenario that involves some value. Just not a lot. And it will keep the Giants from signing your pet free agents for at least four offseasons. Sorry.
Scenario #2: Cueto doesn’t dominate again, but he’s pretty okay at least
This is known as “The Samardzija,” and it wouldn’t be a bad thing. Considering that Cueto will be 32 next year and this contract will take him through his age-35 season, getting some solid contributions would be most welcome, even if the Giants are paying market value for them. I’ve paid $50 for $25 worth of sushi to come to my door. It wasn’t worth it, except it was very much worth it. It tasted good and I wasn’t hungry anymore. Say, it’s just about lunch time right now. Man, I’m h
I would think this is the likeliest scenario. Cueto’s ERA+ in 2015 was 118. When you factor in 2016 and 2017 into his ERA+ over the last three years, it averages out to ... 118. Plan for some declines because of his age, and you’re looking at an above-average pitcher who isn’t going to start anymore All-Star Games, but you’re still happy to have around. John Lackey, except you actually enjoy being within 40 feet of him.
Scenario #3: Cueto returns to the pitcher he was from 2010 through 2016
Can you imagine? I can imagine. It’s beautiful.
There’s no way for Cueto to be a bargain again, really. If he pitches like an All-Star, well, he’s paid like an All-Star. But if he pitches like an All-Star, the Giants might actually be good again.
Remember before the season, when you had hope? Not about the world, which is doomed, but the 2017 Giants? That was because you could mutter “Bumgarner and Cueto” and feel instantly better about any problems on the roster. The Giants had one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball, and it’s why FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus had them making the postseason, too.
Those hopes actually had basis in reality! From 2010 through 2016, Cueto was one of the best pitchers in the game. You don’t need to qualify that statement with any sort of special context. He was 94-50, with a 2.89 ERA and a 139 ERA+. He was a delight to watch.
And then came 2017.
That’s a sentence that can stand in for just about anything in life. Things were going great! And then came 2017. This has been a goblin year on several levels.
But if he’s the same pitcher for at least a couple years (before starting the originally anticipated and slow decline), baseball will be fun again. At least, every fifth day, there will be a reason to watch Giants baseball other than “This is how my parents raised me and I hate them for it.” Cueto being back and healthy for a full season, plus the potential of Madison Bumgarner being back and healthy for a full season, why, I’m starting to miss baseball already*.
It’s not impossible, you know. It’s more likely than Ryan Vogelsong existing. It’s more likely than Lackey coming back after his hellacious problems early in his Red Sox career. It makes more sense than Ervin Santana this year. You don’t need to cobble together science fiction tales to get to the part where Cueto is great once again.
On the other hand, when a pitcher starts to struggle in his 30s, I’m comfortable assuming the worst more than hoping for the best, so I’ll predict a scenario #2 without getting too excited. Still, Cueto will be back, which means there’s at least a chance of that last scenario. That would be a beautiful dream, and as the fan of a team that has a 32 million-second postseason drought, I’m not going to lie: We deserve this.
Welcome back, Johnny. Do good things. And keep posting pictures of your horses and ball pits, thanks.
* this is a lie