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Giants decline Johnny Cueto’s option

The right-handed pitcher is now a free agent.

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Francisco Giants Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The San Francisco Giants declined the team option for Johnny Cueto on Friday, officially making the veteran right-handed pitcher a free agent.

Cueto’s option was for a seventh season with the Giants at $22 million. By declining the option, the Giants are also buying out Cueto for $5 million.

Cueto’s 2021 season got off to a brilliant start — in his first three games he pitched 20 innings and allowed just 13 hits, 4 walks, and 4 earned runs, while striking out 18. But he was pulled from his third start and placed on the Injured List, and never quite bounced back. For the rest of the season he had a 4.56 ERA and 4.49 FIP, with 80 strikeouts to 26 walks in 94.2 innings.

While the Giants could still re-sign Cueto, it seems unlikely, so this is presumably the end of his journey with the organization, which should be remembered fondly. Cueto signed before the 2016 season and was a veritable ace for the Giants in his first year, sporting a 2.79 ERA and 2.95 FIP, with 198 strikeouts to 45 walks in 217.2 innings. He made the All-Star Game, finished sixth in Cy Young voting, and even earned some down-ballot MVP votes.

But he struggled after that dynamic year, both with injuries and performance. In the final five years of his Giants tenure Cueto had a 4.38 ERA and 4.47 FIP, with 341 strikeouts to 131 walks in 394.1 innings. After putting up 5.5 rWAR in his initial Giants campaign, he put up just 4.2 over the next five years.

Still, he was always an enjoyable Giant. He brought great energy to the field and the clubhouse, both during the season and during Spring Training. His social media posts were legendary, his smile was constant, and his pitching style — full of shimmies, smirks, and quick pitches — never ceased to be entertaining, even as the results fell off a bit. Teammates and fans alike adored him.

He’s a good Giant, and now that he’s a free agent, he’ll surely receive some MLB offers, even if they don’t come from San Francisco.