Johnny Cueto

In camp on time, Cueto says Giants have what it takes for title run

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In camp on time, Cueto says Giants have what it takes for title run

SCOTTSDALE — A steady stream of familiar faces, offseason acquisitions and prized prospects strolled into Scottsdale Stadium on Tuesday morning to take physicals. Few of the men in the room will have a bigger impact on the Giants’ playoff hopes than the man who spent five minutes telling reporters all about the 400 chickens he is raising at his farm. 

Johnny Cueto isn’t just in camp on time this year. He actually arrived early, eager to put a rough 2017 season in his past. A year after Cueto missed much of camp to tend to his ill father, he was one of the first players to actually take the field in Arizona, joining Nick Hundley for a light game of catch in the afternoon. 

Cueto went 8-8 with a 4.52 ERA last season while dealing with arm discomfort and persistent blisters. At the beginning of November, he decided not to opt out of a six-year, $130 million contract he signed in December of 2015. The Giants will have Cueto for at least four more years, and on the first day of his third season, with the help of interpreter Erwin Higueros, he spoke about a wide range of topics.

Were you playing catch up all of last year after missing the spring?
JC: It was a difficult year. I tried to find myself but unfortunately I wasn’t able to do it, but that was last year and this is a new year.

On the decision to not opt out:
JC: I never thought about opting out. My intention was to stay with the Giants, but having a bad year made the decision easy. Even if I would have had a good year, I would have stayed. I like the team, I like my teammates and the training staff is great. That’s part of the reason I wanted to stay.

Did you tell the Giants during the season you were going to stay?
JC: No, I never told them. I guess they were thinking I was going to stay and I stayed because I liked the team.

Your first spring was coming off a World Series and last spring was spent with your dad. What will it be like having a normal spring?
JC: I think it should help. I’m here, I got here early. We’ll get to work and see what happens.

Do you have concerns about the blisters?
JC: No, as of right now I don’t feel anything.

Will you change anything so they don’t return?
JC: No, I’m doing the same right now. 

What was it like facing Andrew McCutchen all those years in the NL Central? (McCutchen is 19-for-66 off Cueto with four homers and 15 strikeouts.)
JC: You have to respect him, you have to be careful with him. He’s a very good hitter. He’s a criminal with the bat.

Do you feel pressure to be better than last year after the big moves the front office made?
JC: That was last year, we lost close to 100 games, but we need to forget about what happened. This year we have a good team and I honestly believe we have a team that can take us to the World Series. 

Did you do anything fun in the offseason?
JC: Just the same thing I do every year. I just ride my horses and feed my chickens.

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

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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.”

Source: Cueto decides not to test market, will stay with Giants

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Source: Cueto decides not to test market, will stay with Giants

SAN FRANCISCO -- Throughout the second half of a disappointing season, Johnny Cueto hinted that he would return to the Giants. On Saturday it became official. 

Cueto declined to opt out of a six-year contract that he signed in December of 2015, locking him into the final four years, per a source. According to the original terms of his deal, Cueto had three days after this year's World Series to opt out and become a free agent. The deadline passed at 9 p.m. Saturday. The Giants now owe him $21 million in each of the next four seasons, with a $22 million club option in 2022 that includes a $5 million buyout. 

A year ago at this time, it seemed a lock that Cueto would jump back into free agency and try to hit a bigger payday. A lot has changed since then, for Cueto and the Giants. 

Cueto, who turns 32 during spring training, signed with the Giants after the 2015 offseason and immediately lived up to expectations with an All-Star 2016 season. The Giants always expected Cueto to test free agency after two seasons, but he dealt with blisters and flexor tendon discomfort and spent 45 games on the disabled list. When he was on the field, Cueto had just as many issues. He posted a 4.52 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 25 starts and finished his season by giving up 12 hits over five innings in the final game of the season. 

When asked about his looming decision, Cueto consistently said he loves playing in San Francisco, but he never went as far as saying he would absolutely be back, noting that he needed to consult with his agent, Bryce Dixon, in October. The Giants were under the belief that Cueto wanted to tweak his contract in order to return, perhaps guaranteeing one final year, but they weren't inclined to make any changes after the season Cueto had. Ultimately, no changes were made to the original deal.