SAN FRANCISCO — You can’t count on your team staying healthy, especially when you’ve put together a roster built nearly entirely on players in their thirties. But it’s fair to wonder what the 2018 Giants would have looked like with two very specific breaks. 

Madison Bumgarner was having his best spring before a line drive back to the mound wrecked his chances of contributing in the first half. Johnny Cueto was off to the best start of his career before an ailing elbow finally gave in

The Giants, even with all their other issues, might have contended had those two stayed healthy. Now they’re looking at a deeper hole than before, in part because of the way Cueto’s season ended. Here’s a look at the year that Cueto's elbow finally went under the knife … 

What Went Right: Coming off rough 2017 season, Cueto immediately showed that he was back to his old self. He allowed just one hit over seven innings at Dodger Stadium in his first start, and he might have been the best pitcher in baseball in April.

Through his first four starts, Cueto allowed just one run. After he again beat the Dodgers in his fifth start, he had a 0.84 ERA, with just 16 hits allowed in 32 innings. He went at least six innings in each of those five starts and the Giants won four of them. In the lone loss, Cueto struck out 11 in seven shutout innings. 


Even with his struggles after he returned from the DL, Cueto posted a 3.23 ERA in nine appearances in 2018. 

What Went Wrong: This one is simple. Cueto was pitching through elbow pain in April and he was shut down on May 1, meeting with Dr. James Andrew a week later. Cueto was told he could rest and rehab, but when he returned, he wasn’t right, posting four mediocre starts with diminished velocity.

After giving up eight hits in four innings on July 28, Cueto finally admitted that this couldn’t go on. He had Tommy John surgery on August 2. It was a disappointment, but not much of a surprise.

There were rumors about Cueto's health when he was with the Royals in 2015, and he came to the Giants having thrown a ton of innings. 

Contract Status: Cueto could have opted out of his deal at this time a year ago, but there was no chance of that given how his 2017 season went (and in retrospect, it seems extremely likely that he knew his elbow was about to give).

He is halfway through a six-year, $130 million deal. The Giants owe him $21 million next year, when he may not throw a single pitch, and $21 million each of the next two seasons. 

The Future: It’s all about rehab. Cueto will spend his offseason in Scottsdale working his way back from reconstructive surgery, and the Giants are treating this as if they won’t have him back until 2020.

But privately, Cueto has told people with the team that he intends to return next August or September and make a few starts. It’s way too early to know if his elbow will allow that, and the Giants will be cautious, but Cueto certainly is the type to beat the rehab estimate.

Regardless, 2019 will be a lost year, but there’s a silver lining. Cueto showed in 2018 that he is crafty enough to dominate even when his arm is screaming out for Tommy John, and it seems a pretty good bet that he’ll be back to top form for the final two years of his deal.