Giants

Giants agree to six-year deal with Johnny Cueto

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Giants agree to six-year deal with Johnny Cueto

SAN FRANCISCO — As they sorted through options at the Winter Meetings, Giants officials said they had a “slight lean” toward adding another starting pitcher instead of a left fielder. There was nothing slight about the move the organization made Monday.

The Giants agreed to a six-year, $130 million deal with right-hander Johnny Cueto, adding another frontline starter three days after introducing fellow right-hander Jeff Samardzija at AT&T Park. The Giants rotation, a major question mark in 2015, will now go: Madison Bumgarner, Cueto, Samardzija, Jake Peavy and Matt Cain, with Chris Heston serving as insurance.

Cueto’s deal, which is pending a physical, includes an opt-out after the second year, meaning he can go back into the market after the 2017 season if he chooses. The Giants hold a club option for a seventh year. 

The 29-year-old Cueto, a native of the Dominican Republic, went 11-13 with a 3.44 ERA last season, with his numbers taking a big dip after a July trade to the Kansas City Royals. Cueto had a 4.76 ERA in 13 starts for the Royals, and alternated brilliant starts with rough ones in the postseason. Cueto gave up two runs over eight innings in Game 5 of the ALDS and then allowed just one run in a complete-game victory over the Mets in Game 2 of the World Series. In between, he allowed eight earned runs in his lone start in the ALCS. 

Cueto’s overall big league resume is one of the best in this free agent class. He has a 3.30 career ERA and three 200-inning seasons in the last four, and he twice has finished in the top four in the Cy Young balloting. Clayton Kershaw is the only pitcher who has thrown 500 innings since 2011 and has a lower ERA than Cueto’s 2.71. 

So why was Cueto still looking for the right deal so late in the offseason? His performance in Kansas City — along with the fact that the Royals went out of their way to have him pitch at home and not in hostile road parks — scared off a few suitors. Then, there are the health issues. Cueto missed a start in May because of concern about his elbow, but an MRI revealed no tears or structural damage. He made just 11 starts in 2013 because of lat and shoulder problems, and most Giants fans likely know Cueto from the 2012 NLDS, when a strained oblique knocked him out of the series after just eight pitches. 

The Giants are betting that Cueto is the pitcher who dominated in Cincinnati for so many years. And they’re betting big, as they did with Samardzija. 

They now have guaranteed $220 million to two starters who had major issues in 2015 but were brilliant the year before. Samardzija posted a 2.99 ERA two seasons ago and Cueto went 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA and 242 strikeouts. He finished second in the Cy Young voting behind Kershaw, who also won the MVP. 

Including the Brandon Crawford extension, the Giants have now committed $295 million this offseason to three players. That should keep them in bargain-bin territory in the search for a new left fielder, but if Cueto and Samardzija pan out as hoped, the Giants won’t need much from the corner outfield spot.

Report: Two Giants hitters elect free agency

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USATSI

Report: Two Giants hitters elect free agency

With free agency set to begin five days after the World Series ends, two hitters that played for the Giants during the 2017 season have put their names on the open market.

Veteran third baseman Conor Gillaspie and longtime minor league outfielder Carlos Moncrief have both elected for free agency, according to Baseball America.

The 30-year-old Gillaspie appeared in 44 games for the Giants this past season. He hit just .168/.218/.288 with four doubles, two home runs and eight RBI. He was designated for assignment on August 3 and outrighted to Triple-A Sacramento on August 5. With the River Cats, Gillaspie hit .375 with four doubles in 15 games in August.

Prior to the 2017 season, Gillaspie signed a one-year, $1.4 million deal with the Giants.

As for Moncrief, the soon-to-be 29-year-old finally got his first call-up the majors this past season after eight and a half seasons in the minors. He debuted for the Giants on July 29. In 28 games, he hit .211/.256/.237 with one double and five RBI. While he didn't do much with the bat, Moncrief showed off a cannon for an arm when he patrolled right field.

Giants reassign pitching coach Dave Righetti, two other coaches

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USATSI

Giants reassign pitching coach Dave Righetti, two other coaches

SAN FRANCISCO — Late in a 98-loss season, general manager Bobby Evans met with members of the coaching staff to discuss new roles. The shakeup of the staff ended up being a stunning one. 

Pitching coach Dave Righetti was one of three coaches to be reassigned Saturday morning. After 18 seasons as pitching coach, Righetti will now serve as special assistant to the general manager. Bullpen coach Mark Gardner was given a “special assignment role to assist in pitching evaluations.” Assistant hitting coach Steve Decker will be a special assistant for baseball operations. 

The moves cap a 13-month run in which the coaching staff has taken much of the blame for a $200 million roster that was poorly constructed in places and played embarrassing baseball for long stretches of the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Third base coach Roberto Kelly was let go after the 2016 season and first base coach Billy Hayes was reassigned. More changes appear on the way. 

“It does raise the level of attention to change when you struggle as much as we have, but you’re always contemplating making changes to try to help keep pushing your guys and make sure you continue to have different perspectives and new voices and reflections on how to get the most out of them,” Evans said on a conference call. 

Throughout September, multiple coaches expressed concern about their future roles, but the Giants held off several weeks before announcing changes. At least two members of the staff were involved in managerial searches elsewhere, and third base coach Phil Nevin is reportedly still a candidate for the open job in Philadelphia. 

Evans confirmed that he has interviewed outside candidates for a hitting coach role, but he would not go so far as to say Hensley Meulens will be reassigned as well. He also would not speak to the future of Ron Wotus, although the longtime bench coach is expected to be mixed up in future changes as well. Evans indicated he would announce further moves after all the open managerial vacancies are filled.

For now, the Giants are in the process of trying to find a new pitching coach. They are focused on experienced outside candidates, and they have plenty of options, as several other teams have made changes this month. Evans hinted that he wants the next pitching coach to have a more analytical approach. 

Righetti's replacement will have massive shoes to fill. His run was the longest for a pitching coach in franchise history. The Giants, usually so reliant on pitching, finished 16th in the Majors with a 4.50 ERA, but it’s hard to see how Righetti takes the blame for that. Madison Bumgarner missed a chunk of the season after a dirt bike accident, Johnny Cueto had a brutal injury-plagued year, Matt Moore battled himself and had the worst ERA in the National League, and the bullpen struggled, with closer Mark Melancon pitching through an injury that required season-ending surgery. 

Righetti was credited with helping to develop a rotation and bullpen that won three titles, and the bond he shared with pitchers was on display during the final weekend of the year, when Matt Cain talked repeatedly about their close relationship and went straight for Righetti after he came off the field for the final time. While it’s often hard to figure out where to give credit, even in a down year for the staff, Righetti played a role in Sam Dyson’s resurgence, and he helped Ty Blach and Chris Stratton break in as big league regulars. 

“Ultimately a change for us in the clubhouse is really an opportunity just to put a new voice with our pitching staff and try to keep pushing to the heights that we aspire as an organization and a club,” Evans said. “Changes sometimes are needed as much for the sake of that new voice as anything, and I think that was really the priority here.”

Righetti will help Evans in a front office role. Evans admitted that Righetti’s “heartbeat is in uniform as a coach,” but said he was willing to take on a new role for an organization he loves. 

Gardner, a former Giants pitcher, had been on staff since 2003. He will now help to evaluate pitchers inside and outside the organization, and Evans said Gardner could serve an important role in evaluating trade options. Decker joined the big league staff in 2015 after a long run working in the minor leagues. The 2017 season was his 23rd with the organization. He will have a “blank canvas,” Evans said, working in different roles inside the organization. Decker will also help with draft preparation.