Cueto's decision puts Giants in sticky situation with luxury tax


Cueto's decision puts Giants in sticky situation with luxury tax

SAN FRANCISCO — Johnny Cueto’s camp waited until the final moments Saturday to announce that Cueto would not be opting out of the remaining four years on his six-year contract. Cueto had hoped the Giants would tweak his deal, perhaps guaranteeing his 2022 option or adding a no-trade clause, but general manager Bobby Evans said this week that there were no negotiations. 

The contract stayed the same, and Cueto chose to honor his original pact, surely knowing that he couldn't hope to get $84 million guaranteed after a down year that included elbow discomfort and lingering blisters. For the Giants, Cueto’s decision locked a potential ace back into their rotation -- and they're happy about that -- but it also set off another round of meetings. 

Brian Sabean, Bobby Evans, Bruce Bochy and the rest of the brain trust planned to spend the early part of this week waiting to find out just how much leeway they have to add to the roster. It’s a call made at the ownership level, and after three straight years of paying the Competitive Balance Tax, there are many in the organization who feel free agency is not the best way forward. 

“Obviously it’s a big piece of the puzzle,” Sabean said of the payroll number. “(Cueto’s opt-out) wasn’t a coin-flip in our minds but you have to be prepared for the worst. Now that he’s folded in, it’s a big number to fold in. (This week is) critical to map out what our threshold is. We don’t know the answer to that. We do have some preliminary thoughts and ownership has passed on some of their guidelines, but it’s going to take a session with Larry (Baer) and Bobby and myself.”

The front office had a strong sense of the math coming into free agency, but the numbers weren’t finalized until the last week, when Cueto made his decision and the team officially picked up 2018 options on Madison Bumgarner ($12 million), Matt Moore ($9 million) and Pablo Sandoval ($500,000). 

The Cueto, Bumgarner and Moore deals mean the Giants now have 10 players scheduled to make at least $9 million. The tax numbers are a bit different because it counts an average annual value of your entire deal, but that total isn’t any prettier. 

According to numbers compiled by Cot’s Contracts, the Giants already have a tax number of about $187 million when you account for arbitration-eligible players, the remainder of the 40-man roster and benefits that are included in the final tax number. That leaves them only about $10 million of wiggle room until they hit the tax for a fourth straight year, which would continue to penalize them in multiple facets of team-building. They also would again be taxed a 50 percent penalty on any dollar over the $197 million limit. 

You can see why it’s such a sticky situation. Bringing Nick Hundley back as the backup catcher would wipe out a chunk of that remaining room. The Giants want to add a veteran lefty reliever, and that player would also just about put them at the tax. This is why Sabean again hinted Monday that the best route might be a trade, where the Giants could potentially pick up a pre-arb or early-arbitration center fielder who won’t cost more than a couple million. 

As for third base, the need for power, the bullpen, the bench … well, it’s a tough puzzle unless the Giants are willing to blow past the tax number, and over the last year team officials have indicated multiple times that they’re hoping to dip under at some point soon and reset their penalties. 

“It’s complicated because we admit after a 98-loss season that we do have some glaring weaknesses,” Sabean said. “More and more you play the shell game. There are certain things that are musts (to acquire). We’ve met over and over again and tried to shrink what we can control.”

Report: Tim Lincecum throws 90-93 MPH at showcase


Report: Tim Lincecum throws 90-93 MPH at showcase

Tim Lincecum was back on a mound Thursday, trying to prove to teams once again that he still has a little bit of magic left in his right arm. 

The former Giants star held a bullpen session for scouts Thursday in Seattle. The event was closed to the media, but Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that between 25 and 30 scouts were in attendance. 

And Lincecum may have some of his velocity back. According to Heyman, Lincecum was sitting between 90 and 93 miles per hour. 

Lincecum last pitched in 2016 with the Angels. In that season, his fastball averaged just 88.4 miles per hour. In nine starts with the Angels, Lincecum was nowhere near what he once was and went 2-6 with a 9.16 ERA. 

The Giants planned to be at Lincecum's showcase, according to Insider Alex Pavlovic. 

Over nine seasons with the Giants, Lincecum posted a 108-83 record and a 3.61 ERA. He won back-to-back National Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009, was a four-time All-Star and led the league in strikeouts three times. 

Slater fighting for outfield job after Giants' offseason overhaul


Slater fighting for outfield job after Giants' offseason overhaul

SCOTTSDALE — Catchers are usually the only position players to hit on the main field during the first few days of spring training, but Austin Slater snuck into a group Thursday to take a few cuts. With manager Bruce Bochy leaning against the back of the cage, perhaps Slater’s session will serve as a reminder: I’m still here, don’t forget about me.

The 25-year-old broke through last summer before injuries halted his progress. As Slater focused on getting healthy this offseason, Bobby Evans focused on overhauling the outfield. That has left several familiar faces in precarious spots, and Slater finds himself fighting for a fifth outfielder job a year after batting .282 in his first 117 big league at-bats. 

At the same time, he’s trying to balance competition with health. He wants to push for an Opening Day job, but also is very aware that he needs to back it down at times as he recovers from sports hernia surgery.

“You want to prove that you can play here and win a job, but (the staff) stressed health over everything,” he said. “It does no good to push and then start the season on the DL. For me, health is the most important thing. I feel like if I’m healthy I can prove myself. There’s nothing I can prove on the DL.”

Slater originally tore his groin on July 8 and the Giants thought it would prove to be a season-ending injury. He worked his way back ahead of schedule, though, seeing limited action before sports hernia surgery the last week of September. “They went in there and cleaned up the groin,” he said, smiling where others might grimace. The procedure kept Slater from playing in the Dominican Republic as planned, although that might have been a blessing in disguise. 

The Giants were aggressive with their winter ball plans because so many young players got hurt during the season. But Jarrett Parker lasted just 24 hours before being sent home with a health issue. Christian Arroyo’s hand swelled up soon after he arrived, and he headed home. Ryder Jones immediately got food poisoning and lost 12 pounds in just over three weeks before player and team decided a mutual parting would be beneficial. 

Slater stayed home throughout, living in the Bay Area and rehabbing. The Giants told him to focus on his rehab instead of lost at-bats and then come out and try to win a job in Scottsdale. By mid-November, he was hitting again. By Thanksgiving, he was on a regular lifting and running schedule. In late January, he felt like his old self again. 

For the Giants, that means a versatile option in a new-look outfield. Slater had a .290/.343/.430 slash line going before his first injury and he’s working to tap into more power. As Bruce Bochy pointed out Thursday, Slater has a long history of putting up numbers at every level. 

“He really did a nice job of figuring out what it takes to play in the major leagues, and he has a tendency throughout his career to just get better,” Bochy said. “You have to love his right-handed bat. He’s got some pop. I think he can play all three outfield positions, so he’s in the mix.”

The Giants have Andrew McCutchen in right and Hunter Pence in left and Austin Jackson as the third guy, and Bochy’s preference is to have a true center fielder as his fourth outfielder. That leaves Slater fighting for the fifth job, alongside many others. No matter what he did last year or does this spring, Slater has options remaining, and that will come into play. A year after using 13 different players in left field, the staff is intent on having greater depth at the Triple-A level. 

Slater is a Stanford product who spent the offseason surrounded by Giants fans. He knows the math after the offseason moves.

“It doesn’t change anything,” he said. “It just adds some great guys to learn from, and there are still outfield spots to be won, so it’s not discouraging, it’s encouraging. I didn’t expect them to keep an open roster spot for a guy with 120 at-bats. We’re trying to win a championship here.”