If Giants were hoping to trade Cueto, first half made life much more difficult

If Giants were hoping to trade Cueto, first half made life much more difficult

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants would not admit it, but there was an important reason to get Johnny Cueto back on the mound Sunday, three days after he was scratched with an ear infection. If Bobby Evans is to include Cueto’s name in trade talks over the next three weeks, the right-hander needs to prove he’s healthy and on his game. 

In that respect, the final game of the first half was a disaster.

Cueto walked six and left with the bases loaded in the seventh inning. He was charged with six runs in a 10-8 extra-innings loss to the Marlins. 

Cueto finished the first half with a 4.51 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. A year ago those numbers were 2.47 and 0.99, earning him an All-Star start. His home run rate is more than double what it was a year ago and his walk rate is up by a point. His velocity is down on all of his pitches. What’s the difference from 2016?

“I really don’t know,” Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. “I guess the difference is I lost spring training. It was very difficult for me to have done that but at the same time I’m glad I was able to miss spring training because my father is alive.”

Cueto spent much of February and March tending to his father, who fell ill in the Dominican Republic. But he said he doesn’t want to use the late start as an excuse, and really, in July, it can’t be one. Cueto’s start Sunday was one of his worst of the year and he’s far removed from his spring delay. 

He is no longer far from the deadline, though. Cueto’s future has been a subject of speculation all season, but he said that’s not weighing on him. 

“I’m not thinking about that,” he said. “What I think is that I want to stay here, but if they decide (something else) that’s their decision.”

The questions have flipped after a poor first half. It is no longer, “Would the Giants trade Cueto?” and “Will he opt out?” Now, team officials are wondering, “Can we even trade him?” and “Would he even want to opt out after the way this season has gone?”

Scouts have descended on AT&T Park in recent weeks. Many have come away with the impression that Cueto is not throwing well enough to make him tradable given the complications of his contract. He can walk away from any new team at the end of the season, but if he gets hurt that team would be on the hook for the remaining $84 million on his deal. It’s a risk, and it’s hard to find the team that would take it on before the July 31 deadline. 

You can pretty safely assume that the Giants will not trade such a popular player within the division, which doesn’t leave many options in the National League. The Nationals? Loaded with starting pitching and in need of relievers. The Brewers? It seems impossible that they could take the risk of getting stuck with Cueto’s money, but the NL Central might be the best bet. The Cubs desperately need starting pitching and can swallow any sort of contract, but they can probably do better given their stock of top prospects. 

Down the line, Cueto would like to pitch in the American League again. While there are plenty of teams in contention there, it’s hard to find many that could risk getting stuck with the $84 million. The Red Sox, Yankees and Astros certainly could, but there aren’t many others looking for top-of-the-rotation types, so those teams will have the luxury of sitting back and waiting to see how many aces are dangled. Even then, the Red Sox have spent a ton on pitching as is and the Yankees hope to one day soon get back under the tax.

Team president and CEO Larry Baer was in Bruce Bochy’s office after the sweep by the Marlins and others in the front office have been in meetings for weeks. Perhaps the Giants, kings of marketing their players and ballpark, have found a creative way to sell Cueto’s first half. Perhaps they have already decided to hold onto him and try to convince him to stay long-term. 

No matter what happens, Cueto is assured of starting Friday in San Diego. He’ll try to wash off a first half that matched the team’s. 

“He hasn’t quite been himself for the most part,” Bochy said.

That goes for all of them. 

Bumgarner injury just the latest in recent run of misfortune for Giants

Bumgarner injury just the latest in recent run of misfortune for Giants

Eight years ago in this very space, I postulated that Brian Sabean had done a lucrative deal with Satan.Co to win the Giants’ first World Series in 56 years. He never denied it, so I took that as silent affirmation.

Now, it seems Beelzebub has brought the bill, to be paid in full on receipt of same.

The San Francisco Giants, who needed as few things as possible to go wrong to start this season, just got two full-on groin shots in the space of less than a week, the second of which was delivered when Madison Bumgfarner fractured his hand trying to repel a line drive from Kansas City second baseman Whit Merrifield during Friday’s Cactus League game.

The injury did not look serious at first because, well, because Bumgarner pretends to be made of adamantium, but an X-ray revealed the fracture and though no time for recovery was listed, Bumgarner may return to health before the Giants do.

And yes, I know spring training is no time for fans to lose hope for a cheery season, but you take the fact as they present themselves, and the Giants are already 40 percent down from their projected starting rotation. Jeff Samardzija is already on the disabled list with a hinky pectoral muscle, and as the Giants know all too well, things like this tend to come in sixes, if not eights.

The 2010 Giants hit on every midseason trade and parlayed that good fortune and the assets already on board to a storied October run. A year later, Buster Posey got Scott Cousin-ed, and his broken ankle snapped the team’s hope of repeating.

The Giants then won in 2012 and ’14 without too much incident, but starting midway through 2016, continuing into last year when Bumgarner flipped his dirt bike, and now down to today, it’s been nothing but seeds and stems for Giantvania.

The rumor mill has been quick to offer up possible replacements for the Bumgarner vacancy (though not for his expected results), but at a time in the game’s development when the best and most progressive-thinking teams are talking about four-man rotations and Staff on every fifth day, a strategic development that requires strength in numbers, the Giants have neither that strength nor those numbers.

Their best internal choices are veteran Derek Holland, who might already have been penciled in as Samardzija’s replacement, and phenom-in-training Tyler Beede. But that essentially uses up the in-house bank of usable goods, so Sabean can either buy something very off-the-rack or hope he and Bruce Bochy can fake it long enough for Samardzija (three to four weeks) and then Bumgarner (six to eight, according to ESPN's Buster Olney).

This seems awfully daunting, especially for a team that has buzzard’s luck and a rotting bat rack for a season and a half. But with six days before the regular season starts in Los Angeles against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers...oh, the hell with it. If you’re a Giant fan, start drinking, and continue until further notice. The evil lord of the netherworld will tell you when it’s time to stop.

Bumgarner fractures bone in pitching hand in final tune-up before season

Bumgarner fractures bone in pitching hand in final tune-up before season

SAN FRANCISCO -- A day after the Giants lost one of the game's most durable pitchers, they took a much bigger blow. 

Madison Bumgarner fractured the fifth metacarpal in his pitching hand when he was hit by a line drive Friday in what was to be his final appearance before facing Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers on Opening Day. The Giants did not have an immediate timetable for how long their ace will be out, but he is expected to miss a significant portion of the season for a second straight year. The rotation is already without Jeff Samardzija for the first month of the season because of a strained pectoral.

Bumgarner told reporters he will have surgery on Saturday to insert pins into his hand. He expects the pins to be removed in four-to-six weeks, and that he'll be able to pitch before the All-Star break. ESPN's Buster Olney reported that, in all, Bumgarner will be out for six-to-eight weeks.

Bumgarner looked poised for a huge season, and he threw well all camp. He was injured when hit by a liner off the bat of Kansas City's Whit Merrifield. Ironically, Bumgarner and Merrifield grew up close to each other in North Carolina, and Merrifield has told a story about getting beamed by an intimidating 11-year-old Bumgarner in little league.

The Giants had little rotation depth coming into the season, and the group is now in shambles. Derek Holland, a non-roster invitee, may be the No. 2 starter. The Giants will also have to lean heavily on young pitchers Chris Stratton and Ty Blach. Johnny Cueto is the de facto ace, but he's coming off a down year and at times has struggled this spring. 

There are not many appealing options left in free agency and the Giants likely would have to go into the tax to sign one. Tyler Beede and Andrew Suarez are the top in-house options.