When the San Francisco Giants signed Johnny Cueto last offseason, his big deal included an opt-out after the second year. We just passed year one--and what a year it was for Cueto. He was the co-ace of the staff along with Madison Bumgarner, tossing 219 2/3 innings while holding a 2.79 ERA. His season was good enough for an all-star nod and for a sixth place finish in the Cy Young voting.
So why on earth would Cueto being able to opt out after next season be a good thing for the Giants?
Well, the likely scenario is that he is going to test the free agent waters once again, especially if he comes close to duplicating his 2016 campaign. There is more money on the market these days, and while there are some interesting names set to hit free agency next winter like Clay Buchholtz and Marco Estrada, Cueto is the only bonafide ace. He can get more money by opting out, and who could blame him?
Of course, if he doesn't opt out, the Giants would have his services for at least another four seasons, with a fifth year being a team option at $22M that includes a $5M buyout. Not including that final year, that's another $87.33M that Cueto would be owed from 2018 through 2021 as he gets deeper and deeper into his 30's.
Without Cueto, the Giants would have a rotation of MadBum (team options through 2019), Matt Moore (team options through 2019) and Jeff Samardzija (signed through 2020) as the top three in the rotation, and then Ty Blach likely getting a chance to cement himself in there for years to come as well. Matt Cain is set to hit free agency after 2017, assuming the club doesn't pick up his $21M option for 2018, so there would be another spot open in the 2018 rotation, which Tyler Beede would more than likely get the first crack at.
Beede is the team's #2 overall prospect behind Christian Arroyo, and the Giants top pitching prospect. As we've heard before from a number of pitching prospects, control is an issue with Beede, but he held a respectable 3.41 BB/9 rate in Richmond last season to go along with a 2.81 ERA. He should be set to start 2017 in Sacramento and could be at the top of the list to make a spot start if the need should arise. Also on that list will be Chris Stratton, who has had his cup of coffee in the big leagues and will be trying to make his case to join the rotation out of spring training.
The Giants have options outside of Cueto to fill in in the rotation. Obviously the contributions that he provided last season won't be matched immediately by any of these internal options, but a potential departure could help the team in their fight with the luxury tax, which they are going to exceed. With the new CBA, teams will be taxed heavily for every dollar they go over the luxury tax, and could potentially lose more draft picks if they attempt to sign a free agent with a qualifying offer attached. While it's not ideal, letting Cueto walk would give the team some breathing room financially.
Don't get me wrong, Johnny Cueto was one of my favorite Giants from last year, but for the team to continuously churn out winning clubs, they're going to have to start relying on their farm system more and more as they have in the past. Spending money to make problems go away is something the Dodgers do, and they've been busy building up their farm system to become less reliant on big name free agents. The Giants are going to start losing ground to their rivals as our favorite players begin to age and become less productive. Again, this isn't a "slam" of anyone, just a statement that as players age, their production throughout the course of history, begins to decline. 30 has long been thought to be that magic number where we can expect a player to no longer be at their physical peak, and many of the core players on the Giants are either approaching, or past that figure.
An infusion of youth may be a good thing for the team, even if it means losing Johnny Cueto in the process.
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