Free-agent prize, who's set to 'complement' rest of staff, joins Samardzija as newest SF righties
By Chris Haft
SAN FRANCISCO -- One year of barren starting pitching was one year too many for the Giants.
Accustomed to excellence from their starting rotation, the Giants rebuilt their rotation in a 10-day span. They welcomed Johnny Cueto with an introductory news conference Thursday, three days after announcing their six-year, $130 million deal with him. That followed the five-year, $90 million agreement with Jeff Samardzija, which initially went public on Dec. 5.
"We've added two significant workhorses," Giants general manager Bobby Evans said. "[It] addresses an area that we really struggled with last year. This gives us a lot of hope looking at 2016 and beyond."
The Giants graced their starting staff with considerable potential for durability -- a quality it has lacked in recent years. They accomplished this through free agency, which might strike some observers as less appealing than relying on homegrown pitchers drafted and developed within the organization such as Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. But Lincecum's a free agent striving to overcome hip surgery and the injury-plagued Cain is no longer a given to work 200 innings, leaving Bumgarner as San Francisco's lone starter who began and ended last year in the rotation without interruption due to injury.
Adding Cueto completed the rotation's makeover.
"I feel it's already a great rotation," he said through translator Erwin Higueros. "I just came over here to complement the rest of the guys."
Cueto's record suggests that he'll serve as more than just a complement. He's a proven winner, sporting a 96-70 record in eight seasons, including the first 7 1/2 of those years with the Cincinnati Reds. Cueto also has exceeded 200 innings in three of the past four seasons. Samardzija has topped that figure three years in a row.
Thus, in Bumgarner, Cueto and Samardzija, the Giants have three legitimate "innings eaters" in the rotation, which in turn will strengthen the bullpen. San Francisco's last trio of starters to amass at least 200 innings apiece did so in 2011. The group consisted of Cain (221 2/3), Lincecum (217) and Bumgarner (204 2/3).
And if either Cain or fellow starter Jake Peavy regains enough effectiveness to approach or reach 200 innings this year, so much the better. No Giants rotation has boasted four 200-inning starters since 1973, when Ron Bryant (270), Jim Barr (231 1/3), Tom Bradley (224) and Hall of Famer Juan Marichal (207 1/3) formed the quartet.
That happened to be Marichal's final Giants season. Cueto, who hails from the Dominican Republic, said that he has never met Marichal, who remains that country's patron saint of pitching. Based on the testimony of Jeff Brantley, the former Giants right-hander who scrutinized Cueto as a Reds broadcasting commentator, Cueto works ceaselessly to match the achievements of Marichal and other greats.
"He's a high-end competitor," Brantley said.
Don't be fooled by Cueto's thick frame, Brantley advised.
"If you take a look behind the scenes and watch his workout regimen, it's about as professsional as you can get," Brantley said. "There's not too many starting pitchers out there who run 'stadiums [up and down the aisles of an entire ballpark].' He runs them until he's blue in the face."
As for Cueto's pitching, Brantley predicted that Cueto will do a "spectacular" job for the Giants. He added, "The only way you're going to get to Cueto is to hit the ball out of the ballpark, because it's really difficult to string three hits together against him."
Moreover, the apparently fun-loving Cueto -- "I'm one of those guys who likes to fool around," he said -- should feel at home in the Giants' clubhouse. Brantley said that Mike Leake, the ex-Red and free-agent right-hander who joined the Giants last season at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, raved about the atmosphere surrounding the club.
"He said that everyone was not concerned about themselves, but about the team," Brantley said. "I think that's going to benefit Johnny. I think Johnny is going to help a lot of guys."
Cueto's contract calls for him to earn $15 million in 2016 and $21 million annually from 2017-21. He'll receive $1 million per year during that span to account for a $5 million bonus. The Giants hold a $22 million option on his services for 2022, with a $5 million buyout that he'll still receive if he exercises an opt-out clause after the 2017 season.