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.

How Giants outfield suddenly became team strength after dismal 2018

How Giants outfield suddenly became team strength after dismal 2018

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants have lost 13 of their last 16 games at Wrigley Field, averaging exactly three runs per game. So in many ways, Tuesday's 5-3 loss fit right in with what you've watched in recent years. 

But there was something about the performance that was still relatively new and encouraging. 

The first two runs came on an opposite-field homer from Austin Slater. The third came when Kevin Pillar yanked a Cole Hamels pitch deep into the bleachers in left, giving him 18 for the season. 

Pillar's homer was the 60th of the season by a Giants outfielder, which already far exceeds last year's total of 44. Giants outfielders, led by Pillar and Mike Yastrzemski, have 23 homers in the second half alone. They have come a long, long way from 2018, and even from the first half of this season. 

"We weren't getting a lot of production from the outfield in the early going, and you look at what we're doing now. Whoever I put out in the outfield, they're doing a great job, they're defending and doing damage with the bat," manager Bruce Bochy said over the weekend. "All that production that you need from the outfield, we're getting it now."

Bochy is getting so much from his current quartet that the Giants don't currently have room for Jaylin Davis, who has nine homers in 16 games since joining Triple-A Sacramento. For now the staff is leaning heavily on Pillar, who plays just about every inning, Yastrzemski and Slater. Alex Dickerson helped turn the season around in June, and while he has struggled since returning from an oblique injury, Dickerson's OPS as a Giant remains above 1.100. 

Ask Bochy about his outfielders, though, and it's not just the offense that stands out. After years of subpar defense in center and infielders getting time in left, the Giants have solidified their outfield defense. 

They're second in the NL with 27 outfield assists and second with 22 Defensive Runs Saved. That's 26 DRS better than last year's outfield. The defensive component gets folded into Wins Above Replacement, and that's the clearest way to show the differences year over year. 

[RELATED: Cueto lasts 60 pitches in rehab start, close to Giants return]

Last year's outfield combined for 0.1 WAR. This year's is already at 4.0 WAR, even with a number of DFA'd players dragging down the overall numbers. In the second half, Giants outfielders have accounted for 3.8 WAR, ranking third in the Majors behind just the Yankees and Dodgers. 

"They're solid all-around players who can play the whole game," Bochy said of his current outfielders. "They're guys who have a lot of range out there and get good reads. They know how to play the game."

Johnny Cueto throws 60 pitches in rehab start, close to Giants return

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USATSI

Johnny Cueto throws 60 pitches in rehab start, close to Giants return

Almost nothing can be learned from a rehabbing veteran's box score in the minor leagues. That was reinforced a couple of years ago when a Dodgers A-ball team crushed Giants ace Madison Bumgarner as he tried to get a feel for his signature cutter.

So throw out the five runs that Johnny Cueto was charged with Tuesday night in Modesto. Look only at the number "60," which is how many pitches Cueto threw in his second appearance for the San Jose Giants.

The big-league training staff had hoped to see Cueto get above 55, and he appeared to have another solid night of work as he inched closer to the majors. Cueto gave up four hits, walked one and struck out three.

His next stop will be Triple-A Sacramento for two more starts.

Cueto is lined up to pitch Monday in Sacramento, and Giants manager Bruce Bochy told reporters in Chicago that he should be back in the big leagues around Sept. 8. For over a year, Cueto has targeted the first week of September. 

The right-hander is now nearly 13 months removed from Tommy John surgery and has had no setbacks. He was coming along so smoothly that the Giants discussed taking away one of the rehab starts and getting him back early, although plenty in the organization preferred caution.

[RELATED: Yaz starring for Giants after big-league chance]

The original path was two starts for San Jose and two for Sacramento, and Cueto is halfway through the schedule that'll soon get him back with the Giants.