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Giants' Cueto heating up with trade deadline approaching

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Giants' Johnny Cueto
Giants' Johnny Cueto
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In a year unlike any other, the Giants and 29 other teams will wake up Thursday morning with just 11 days until Major League Baseball's trade deadline. It has snuck up on everyone, but behind the scenes, you can bet the groundwork is being laid. 

The Giants, at the moment, find themselves in a funny spot. At 10-16, they're 3 1/2 games out of fourth in the NL West. But, they're also just four games out of second, which is an automatic berth this year. The West looks like the strongest division in the National League, but any winning streak this year -- the Giants have gone back-to-back after an easy 7-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday -- is enough to have teams thinking about sneaking in.

On the other hand, the Giants could find themselves as one of the few true sellers because of that situation, and it appears they might have another piece to offer.

Johnny Cueto cruised through the first five innings Wednesday and ended up allowing two earned in 5 2/3. He struck out eight, mixing diving sliders and changeups with a firm four-seamer that's back up to 94 mph when he wants to let it go.

He is looking more and more like the Cueto of old, which in theory would be valuable at the deadline if the Giants were selling. Earlier Wednesday, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said it's too soon to definitively set a path. 

 

"There's going to be a lot of conversations between now and [Aug. 31], but I think there's no need to set an irreversible course of we're going to try and accomplish these five or six things," Zaidi told NBC Sports Bay Area on "Giants Pregame Live." "We're trying to evaluate our team, and there are maybe areas where as an organization we have some surpluses, where we have some needs. Not every trade is going to necessarily be a trade of a 'rental' or some of the typical types of trade scenarios that you get. 

"Some might be kind of just need-for-need baseball trades. With the uncertainty of the situation we're in, teams don't really know how to value 2020 versus future years."

The future, 2021 specifically, is where this might get complicated. Cueto is owed $26 million after this season when you include a buyout of the 2022 season. While Zaidi is the same executive who found a team to take on Mark Melancon's contract, that wasn't in a year where budgets have been greatly slashed because of a pandemic. 

At the very least, Cueto is making this a discussion once again with the way he's pitching. He followed a strong start against the A's by stymying the Angels, an outing that ended with an impressive stretch. 

RELATED: Zaidi keeping Giants' bullpen struggles in perspective now

Cueto threw 112 pitches on Wednesday, his most since Tommy John surgery, and he was at 100 when Mike Trout came up with a runner on second and one out in the sixth. 

That's when Kapler came out for a mound visit. The manager had seemed to annoy Cueto when he had a quick hook on opening day, but he let him go after Trout on Wednesday, and Cueto froze the game's best player with a 3-2 fastball at the letters. He was chased by Anthony Rendon's double inside the line. 

"He wants me to ask him if he's got more in the tank and he wants me to trust him," Kapler said. "I respect that. He's asked for that, and he's earned it. When I go out there, I'm like, 'I'd love for you to get through Trout and Rendon here. Do you have enough to get these guys?' He said, 'Absolutely.' I think we have a mutual respect in that regard."

That'll be important over the next 12 days, and it'll be even more important if Cueto is still here on Sept. 1 and into 2021.