Baseball, as you well know, is not basketball or football. Yes, that is, indeed, how words work. Baseball is baseball, and not things-that-are-not-baseball.
But baseball is different than basketball or football for a clear reason: One player cannot carry a team. They can for a game, and occasionally even for a series. But not for a season.
You already know this, because it’s obvious, but let’s turn to an example anyway. Mike Trout, quite arguably the greatest player in MLB history, has played nine seasons. During that time his team has made the playoffs once, and won zero postseason games.
After LeBron James - arguably the greatest player in NBA history - had played nine seasons, his teams had made the playoffs seven times, and won 72 postseason games and a championship.
I’d insert a football analogy here, but I’d probably bungle it and, come on, let’s move on, we get the point. We don’t need multiple examples for an already known idea. One player ain’t getting it done.
So when I say that Johnny Cueto is an extremely important player for the 2020 San Francisco Giants, it’s not because the success of the season rests on his shoulders. Cueto being bad vs. Cueto winning Cy Young is, in all likelihood, the difference between the Giants being out of the playoff race in April and the Giants being out of the playoff race a week or two later in April.
No player on the Giants is particularly important, in the short term, because the Giants are not-so-Giant in the short term.
But Cueto is important. As important as a player can be while not being part of the team’s plans for when they’re actually good.
Why? Because he’s fun. He’s always a little fun, but when he’s playing well? My goodness, he’s the equivalent of a fistful of Sour Patch kids and a never-ending Slip ‘N Slide to a ten-year old.
I mean, c’mon, y’all.
Look, I know the Giants are bad, and I know they have a manager that everyone is skeptical about and most people dislike, and I know that Rob Manfred is attempting to ruin the game in many different fashions, but if watching Cueto shimmy and shake like someone in their own personal funky nightclub doesn’t get you a little excited for baseball season, then you have no soul.
This is why Cueto is, in my eyes, the most important Giant this year. We’ve got 162 games of this, for better or for worse. And you’re going to watch some of them, even if it’s against your better judgement. Probably a lot of them.
Most projections say that Kevin Gausman will be the Giants best pitcher, and Buster Posey - primarily riding the value of his pitch framing - will be the team’s best position player.
Now I know Posey is a franchise icon, and I know that Gausman is a professional baseball player under contract with the Giants, but that doesn’t exactly inspire hope for a season that you can’t take your eyes off of.
Cueto is one of the few Giants who, when playing well, you can’t take your eyes off of.
If he’s great, the Giants are must-watch TV, at least once a week. Until July when they would likely be able to shed his contract for something interesting and valuable that makes you excited for 2021.
His success isn’t as important as the development of the young players, if we’re strictly talking about the quality of the team. But watchability still matters. And if prime Johnny Cueto is still in there, underneath the loosely-buttoned Giants jersey, then please, please come out.