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.”

Dereck Rodriguez sets second-half tone, leads Giants to win vs A's

Dereck Rodriguez sets second-half tone, leads Giants to win vs A's


OAKLAND — To make a run at a division title, the Giants need Dereck Rodriguez to match his big first half. Perhaps the rookie has bigger plans. 

Rodriguez took the ball on the first night of the second half and allowed just one run on three hits against a tough A’s lineup. He departed with one out in the seventh and the bullpen took it home, clinching a 5-1 win that evened this Bay Bridge series at two games apiece. 

Here's what you need to know from the first game back... 

--- Rodriguez walked none and struck out five. He lowered his ERA to 2.72. 

--- With Brandon Belt on the paternity list, Ryder Jones was called up for a spot start. He certainly made the most of it. Jones jumped on a 2-0 slider from Edwin Jackson in the fifth, smacking a homer off the right field foul pole. The blast was the third of the 24-year-old’s career. He hit two last season as a rookie. 

--- Andrew McCutchen had a pair of sliding catches. The robbery of Jonathan Lucroy in the fifth inning had a catch probability of just 66 percent. 

--- Pablo Sandoval hit a no-doubter to right in the seventh inning. It was his 14th homer since returning to the Giants last summer, matching his total in Boston. 

--- The A’s announced a crowd of 45,606, a sellout. They’re expecting a few thousand more on Saturday.

Up for one night, Ryder Jones takes advantage of Giant opportunity

Up for one night, Ryder Jones takes advantage of Giant opportunity

OAKLAND -- In the seventh inning Friday night, 26-year-old starter Dereck Rodriguez gave way to 25-year-old Reyes Moronta. Rodriguez jogged to the dugout and sat next to Andrew Suarez, 25, and the two rookies watched Moronta strand a runner. A few minutes later, 24-year-old center fielder Steven Duggar strolled to the plate and roped a single into right. 

There's a youth movement in San Francisco, but you might have known that already. Rodriguez, Suarez and Moronta were a big part of the story of the first half and Duggar made waves over the final week. 

What you might not have realized is that another player in the middle of all the action Friday night is actually younger than all four of them. Ryder Jones got 150 big league at-bats last season and had not been seen since, and it's often easy to write a player off when he disappears for a stretch. But Jones, a former second-round pick, is still just 24. He was born seventh months after Duggar, who previously was the youngest player on the roster. 

There's still plenty of time for Jones to find his stride and live up to the promise he has shown at times. On Friday, there was another flash of that talent. Jones hit a long solo homer in the fifth, giving the Giants a lead they would never let go. With a 5-1 win over the A’s, the Giants got their second half off to a rocking start and tied this Bay Bridge Series at two games apiece. 

Jones is likely headed back to Sacramento. The plan was for him to come up for one day to fill in while Brandon Belt witnessed the birth of his second son, and he certainly took advantage of the opportunity.

“I thought the homer was huge for him,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “It was huge for us. He’s been doing a nice job there in Sacramento the last month. He’s doing what we were hoping this year, having another big year. That’s all he needs is at-bats and experience. He’s got the tools to be a nice big-league player.”

Jones struck out in his first at-bat, but got ahead in the count 2-0 the next time up. Edwin Jackson tried to sneak a slider across the inside of the plate and Jones crushed it. Both players leaned — in different directions — and watched as the ball clanked high off the pole. 

The Giants are leaning heavily on rookies this year, but Jones was part of a 2017 class that never found footing. Just about every player in that group got hurt, and most struggled in the majors. Jones batted .173 last year, striking out in a third of his at-bats. With Evan Longoria brought over and Pablo Sandoval locked in, Jones didn’t get much time this spring. He picked up outfield play in Scottsdale, hoping to increase his versatility, but he has primarily been the third baseman in Sacramento. At the time of this latest promotion, Jones was batting .299 in Triple-A, with nine homers, 15 doubles and 48 RBI. 

He’ll head back to a River Cats squad that has provided plenty of help. Rodriguez started the season there. On Friday, he allowed one run over 6 1/3 innings, lowering his ERA to 2.72.

“I trust my stuff. I trust my stuff,” Rodriguez said. “I was just going after them.”