Monday, December 14, 2015

Hot Stove Update: Johnny Cueto Agrees to Contract With the Giant

Bobby Evans threw down a challenge for himself at the postseason press conference this year when he responded to a question about the Giants keeping up with the Dodgers, particularly their pitching rotation.  He responded by saying the Giants goal was to have a better rotation than the Dodgers!  Well, Bobby Evans may have just made good on that promise today with the signing of Johnny Cueto to a 6 year/$130 M contract.  BTW, the deal is slightly front loaded and has an opt out clause after 2 years.  More on that later.

Up until a midseason trade to the KC Royals, Johnny Cueto was every bit the ace that David Price and Zack Greinke were, maybe more so.  If I am not mistaken, his ERA+ for the preceding 4 seasons was better than Greinke's.  He was the runner up for the Cy Young award in 2014.  Then, Cueto missed a couple of games with a hiccup in his arm and he struggled after his trade to KC.  Thing is, he was throwing just as hard as he always has with a FB that has averaged right around 92 MPH for the past 5 seasons.  I've forgotten where I read it, but there is an account of a meeting that took place in the KC clubhouse between Cueto, Ned Yost, the KC Pitching Coach and GM Dayton Moore.  Management wanted to know what was wrong.  What happened to the ace pitcher they thought they traded for?  Was he hurt and not reporting it?  Was there a personal issue?  Cueto is apparently a shy guy despite his apparent bravado on the mound.  At first he was not forthcoming about what was bugging him, but as the meeting went on, it came out that he was not digging the way catcher Salvador Perez was holding his glove.  Once they figured that out, they set about fixing that for him and his pitching improved.  Not sure I'm completely buying that story since Cueto struggle in a couple of postseason games, but whatever the problem, fears were quieted in a big way with his CG 2-hit job in Game 2 of the World Series.

Cueto has had several oblique strains along the way including the first inning of a playoff game between his Reds and the Giants in 2012.  Another note I read today said his injury in 2015 was a lat strain rather than a joint issue in either his elbow or shoulder.  In a way, that is encouraging, but lat and oblique strains have a tendency to recur and can be excruciatingly slow to heal.  So, there is risk in this contract too, which is probably why Cueto did not command anything close to the gigantic deals signed by Price and Greinke.

With this deal, you have to think the Giants rotation is set for 2016.  They have a nice 1,2,3,4,5 in Bumgarner, Cueto, Samardzija, Peavy and Matt Cain.  They have Chris Heston penciled into the long relief/swingman/6'th starter role.  They have Clayton Blackburn appearing to be ready in AAA.  You have to think this closes to door for Mike Leake to come back and probably closes the door on the pitching portion of the Hot Stove League for the Giants.  They had to add two reliable starters, and while no pitcher is 100% reliable, these two guys are as close as they come.

This signing probably also closes the door on a major OF deal involving Cespedes, Upton or Gordon,  which is fine with me. I have always believed the Giants most urgent need was to stabilize and upgrade the starting rotation.  They may add a minor piece in the OF or they may try to swing a trade of minor league arms for an OF, but they also may just figure the pitching is now good enough that they can roll with what they have in the OF and take a chance on Kyle Blanks, or Jarrett Parker and/or Mac Williamson to stand in the gap if someone gets hurt again.

Back to the opt out clause.  At first glance, the Giants take on the full risk of the opt out.  If Cueto pitches well, he opts out and either costs a whole lot more, or he leaves.  If he pitches poorly, the Giants are stuck for 4 additional years.  There is another way to look at it, though.  If Cueto pitches up to his 4 year average, he will earn surplus return on the contract over the next two years, opt out and someone else will be on the hook for the back end of the contract.  On the other hand, ask the Dodgers how they are feeling about that way of looking at it right now!

Speaking of the Dodgers, where does this leave them?  Is is just me or do they seem shellshocked after losing Greinke then having the Chapman trade blow up in their faces?  Maybe they are just playing possum and have a ace in the hole up their sleeve?  Maybe they are working on trading their farm system for Chris Sale or Jose Fernandez?  Doesn't seem all that likely.  Even if they do, does it leave them any better off than they were last year? And even if they did, it would be at the cost of stripping their vaunted farm system.

In addition to making good on his promise at the postseason presser, Bobby Evans may have just driven a stake in the heart of the Dodgers.  For that, I'm calling him the Executive of Year in the 2015/2016 Hot Stove League! Of course, that could change by March, but it's looking mighty good right now!


  1. Don't know about 'shellshock,' but here's an item from Forbes magazine that feeds further speculation about Dodger money moves (or lack thereof).
    Haven't kept up with the TV contract but thought it was still in limbo.

    1. My understanding of the TV contract is that the Dodgers get their money. The entity that is losing money is Time-Warner cable. Now, it's possible that Time-Warner cable could go bankrupt on the deal, but it's unlikely as the $8 Billion over 20 years or whatever it is, while not exactly chump change, is also not enough to sink a giant like Time-Warner. What is in limbo is the sale of broadcast rights to other cable and satellite outlets by Time-Warner as those outlets continue to refuse to pay Time-Warner's asking price and Time-Warner continues to refuse to lower it.

  2. I agree about the OF (as well as the rest of the post), in that I doubt that the team can get a specialist CF without angering Pagan, and if they're not going to have a specialist they're not likely to do better than Blanco. The aim then would be to get a left fielder, simply, and there are several months of offseason and ST during which they can weigh whether they need to add to the Williamson/Parker/Blanks trio, and if they do, how. New opportunities to get someone, if they wish to do so, will arise between now and next April or May; and if their roster and funds are all accounted for, those opportunities will be lost. I'm hoping that with three pitchers who have historically been good for 200+ innings a season, and maybe with Cain back in some version of his old form, the pitching staff can ebb back to eleven in toto, which will allow for an extra bench player. This is another reason for opting for financial and roster flexibility.

    1. Six relievers would mean sending down either Strickland, Osich or Heston. I would rather keep them on the MLB roster.

  3. I am so pleased. Cueto is one of the premier pitchers in the game, as you've stated before Doc - and the Giants seemingly locked him up for a potential 2-year deal. If that's the case, the situation is just unbeatable. It won't by any stretch leave the Giants in a hole in 2 years, as their cash flow will be ripe, and their corps of pitching prospects will have completely sorted themselves out, with players such as J Johnson, Bickford and Beede (and maybe that other Coonrad fella) all potentially looking like #2/#3 ceilings.

    With this move, Evans and the gang have secured a tremendous start to a new GM's tenure. Whether Johnny Cueto lives up to his potential or not, Evans was able to get - by my opinionated account - the FO's likely 2 and 3 options from the pitching market, and they did it on contracts that amount to Highway Robbery on this inflated market. I think Cueto was not happy at all with the industry's consensus insinuation that he was injury prone, and not worth top-tier money (Price/Grienke); And, with that, the Giants were able to pull him into the fold by giving him the keys to the car: a 2nd-year opt out clause. VERY nice negotiating, Mr. Evans!

    To strike the point home, let's compare average ERA, WAR, and ERA+ for the four top guys on the market, over the last 4 years:
    Price 2.90/5.5/135
    Grienke 2.63/4.7/149
    Cueto 2.82/3.6/140 (Cueto hurt in WAR by his injury season in 2013)
    Zimmerman 3.13/3.82/126

    There's an article up on fangraphs indicating that over that 3 weeks period where Johnny Cueto really had his greatest struggles in 2015, his pitches lost no movement nor velocity, but two less-sinuous causes were cyphered out, being 1) hitters had a .425 batting average against pitches outside the strike zone (versus his typical ~.125) - i.e. a rather fluky trend that quickly reversed itself, and 2) he faced 3 very good teams in those 3 games, and they had good games against him. Giving Johnny the benefit of the doubt over that very short stretch, the Giants saved themselves upwards of $12million per year over the next 2-6 years, versus the other two top-tier above, for a very similar profile.

    What an awesome offseason so far.


    1. Because WAR is a cumulative stat and Cueto missed most of year with an injury, it skews his WAR. Take out that 0.8 WAR year and his last three full years average 4.46.

      Also, Greinke's ERA+, along with many of other numbers, are so massively distorted by 2015 that it doesn't make sense, at least to me, to project out over that. For example, Greinke's ERA+ was 225 last year. The prior 5 years his ERA+ averaged 115. Cutting it down to the prior three, his best stretch as a starter until this freak year, he averaged 126.3 ERA+. Not bad, but not 'highest paid pitcher in MLB' good either.

      To me it's like when you have athlete who has been a 'perfectly ok' suddenly puts in a great year. Because I lived in Nashville for 20 years, Steve McNair comes to mind. (THough I DeBerg also one of those years.) He was an okay QB, definately a second-tier guy with a career QB rating around 83. Never made a pro-bowl. Was never special. Except one year where he lead the NFL in passing with a 100+ QB rating.

      Greinke has a strong wiff of that. He pitched well for the Dodgers. But there is no way I would ever believe, based on his recent history, that last year was the kind of year he really is as a pitcher. Just like I didn't believe McNair's great year was indicative of his QBing ability. And like McNair did with the Titans, I expect the chances are pretty good for a massive regression.

      I can't say it for certain. But experience has taught me that these kinds of years tend to be one-off's and the player ends up falling back to his norm sooner rather than later.

  4. Lets just sign Austin Jackson and go to spring training.

  5. The floor on these guys is very solid, but I think the ceiling could be fantastic. From twitter last night: In past 3 yrs 9 pitchers have 75+ GS with at least 55% going 7+ IP. @SFGiants now have 3 of them. While the rest of baseball is looking at relievers and finally paying more for them, the Gints are snagging up the best arms to be on the market in years and for years to come (until 2018). Giants just got 2 horses.

    Cueto was in CY discussions in 12 and 14. He had the injury in 13 and the hickup in 15. He still was very excellent a lot of the season. He has had some excellent ERA, ERA+ scores in recent years, its going to be exciting to see him pitch in a pitchers park with a good defense behind him, obviously more so with Shark.

    Building depth without sacrificing quality is pretty amazing. Getting 2 arms for the price of DP/ZG is a big time win.

    I think the Dodgers are kind of stuck, and I bet they go lean on Scott Kazmir, Friedman seems to like the injury risk guys, he won one with Brett Anderson (at the expense of basically conceding a playoff game) and lost one with Brandon McCarthy. They are hugely lefty heavy though. Losing out on Greinke is a disaster for them.

    If you look at the Bums, all of their best players were put in place by the oft maligned Ned Coletti. On the pitching side their 3 best were Greinke, Kershaw then a huge drop down to JP Howell, Anderson and Jensen. On the hitting side it was consistent as ever Adrian Gonzo and Justin Turner (Cove Chatter and I wanted that dude signed that offseason!), then a drop down to Andre Ethier, Pederson and Seager. They can go play Ethier and Pederson all they want, I'll take that every day of the week. The point is: the new vaunted saber brain trust hasn't brought any impact, they've been shuffling things around frantically while spending enormous amounts for players not to play. Its a big old mess.

    What they should have done is trade Pederson and lesser prospects for Cole Hamels. Be thankful they did not. The Alex Woods of the world are easy to handle. When your #3 in a playoff series is Brett Anderson, you have not maximized your roster. Their only good hitters in the playoffs were... Turner and Gonzo. This isn't a coincidence.

    Giants have a big advantage in hitting, defense and now pitching. Its a great time to be a Giants fan, and its time to take back the NL West and take down another ring.

  6. I think the 2 year buyout really has the potential to be fantastic for us if Cueto performs. We still have Shark and Bumgarner and we'd have the killer Bs coming up. If not, we have a smoother transition (Peavy next year, Cain the following) and the opportunity to have a more seamless transition to the next waive. This is not just a bridge to becoming much more reliant on the Farm system, but one that keeps us competitive in the mean time.

    As for money, we still have $40mm coming off the books (largely RPs where we have tons of depth). Plenty of money to deal with Belt if he performs. I wonder if they'd put Arroyo at 1b instead of OF, given Mac's performance and what appears to be more depth in OF. I leave that to you guys to figure out where the bigger hole is. But I love this deal and am very excited about next year and beyond.

  7. Giants obviously have a defined strategy this offseason: great hair. Looks like Parker has the fast track to the LF job.

  8. 3 cheers for management: 1 for Shark, 1 for Cueto, and 1 for not doing anything stupid. Since they are pretty close to their $$ max, there probably won't be a big and potentially dumb contract coming.
    I'm going to try a little Pagan love: He's not the player he was (at his best) but when he's healthy, even now, he's still pretty good. He's lost a step in center and on the lines, but the Giants actually won at a slightly higher rate last year when he started (87 win rate) than when he didn't. It means nothing really, but a good D outfielder can come in with the relief corps when the Giants are ahead and add to the great D, and that won't cost much and will save wear, tear, and stress on Angel.
    Austen Jackson? I read he's not quite what he was -- but wasn't Darren Ford a pretty good outfielder? I saw a lot of games in Sacramento last year, and he was by far the best OFer there, better than Lil Juan and much better than Parker and Williamson, although he had less arm than any of them. He was in CF nearly every day, got on base a lot (didn't hit a lick), and even had a little pop.
    The 2nd best (regular) OFer in Acreamento was (IMO) Ryan Lollis who also played some first base. Lollis led in nearly all offensive stats except was 2nd to Parker in power. I hope he gets an invite to ST, but also wouldn't be surprised if he gets picked up by someone.

  9. Didn't the Giants sign Gorkys Hernandez to a minor league deal? He has always been a loud tools guy and can play CF. I think he would be a good bench option and maybe could make some noise as the 5th outfielder with a good spring.
    Clint in Anaheim Hills

  10. I don't necessarily think Austin Jackson is an upgrade to Blanco at this point in his career. He has a horrible K/BB ratio and his defense is in decline. I feel confident with Blanco unless there is a clear upgrade. Charlie Blackmon is the trade target I think is the best fit. He also play CF when Pagan leaves next year or gets hurt. Blackmon does lots of things right including getting on base and stealing bases. He consistently hits around 175 hits, 15 HR, 30-40 steals and his batting average hovers around .300. Rockies have made it known they are okay with trading in the division. Pagan will be decent this year. It is a contract year and he doesn't want to retire as far as I know. He will be the starting CF as confirmed by Bochy recently. So, lets stick with Blanco, Pagan and Pence unless there is a CLEAR upgrade. I am okay with Parker and Williamson in bench roles. Not much more they can do at AAA.

  11. I'm excited that the Giants now have 2 #1 starters in their rotation. It's no wonder that players like the opt out clause and clubs probably don't. I'm hopeful of a best case of Cueto pitching well and opts out after 2 years. Then we'll know how Bums fans feel after losing Grienke. It's time for Tidrow and Co to develop Starting pitchers from the farm again.