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.

Giants lineup: Nunez scratched, Williamson in left field

Giants lineup: Nunez scratched, Williamson in left field

Bruce Bochy and Joe Maddon issued their lineups for today's series finale in Chicago:

Giants (20-28)
1. Denard Span (L) CF
2. Joe Panik (L) 2B
3. Brandon Belt (L) 1B
4. Buster Posey (R) C
5. Brandon Crawford (L) SS
6. Justin Ruggiano (R) RF
7. Mac Williamson (R) LF
8. Christian Arroyo (R) 3B
9. Jeff Samardzija (R) P (1-5, 4.57 ERA)

Cubs (24-21)
1. Ben Zobrist (S) 2B
2. Kyle Schwarber (L) LF
3. Kris Bryant (R) 3B
4. Anthony Rizzo (L) 1B
5. Ian Happ (S) CF
6. Jason Heyward (L) RF
7. Miguel Montero (L) C
8. Javier Baez (R) SS
9. Eddie Butler (R) P (1-0, 2.00 ERA)

Giants notes: Growing group of infielders trying to transition to outfield

Giants notes: Growing group of infielders trying to transition to outfield

CHICAGO — It was easy for Giants fans to dream on Wednesday morning when power-hitting prospect Chris Shaw was bumped up to Triple-A. General manager Bobby Evans pumped the brakes a bit in the afternoon. The Giants do not expect Shaw to come up this year, even as a September call-up.

Shaw does, however, join a growing group of infielders trying to transition in Richmond. The closest to the big leagues right now is occasional big leaguer Kelby Tomlinson, who started in center field for the fourth time in five games. Could Tomlinson soon be back as a super-utility player, maybe giving the Giants some coverage in case they part ways with Gorkys Hernandez?

“Not ideally yet,” Evans said. “You’d like for him to get more time out there.”

[PAVLOVIC: Giants promote power-hitting outfield prospect to Triple-A]

Evans said the reports on Tomlinson are that he’s athletic in center and gets good reads. He’s not quite considered a big league option yet, but that’ll be a big part of his future. Tomlinson was joined in the outfield Wednesday by Austin Slater, who will start adding some reps at first with Chris Marrero now in Japan. Slater sounds like he's the next man up at some point. 

Ryder Jones and Jae-Gyun Hwang will also play more first. Jones has played quite a bit of left this season and Evans said the reports on him out there have been good. Hwang will be back in the headlines one way or the other at some point soon. He’s batting .280 with a .298 on-base percentage and three homers, which doesn’t scream promotion. But Hwang does have an opt-out on July 1, so something might have to be done. 

--- Matt Moore gave up two homers to Anthony Rizzo in a 5-4 loss to the Cubs, but this still continued his push in the right direction. In six innings, he gave up four runs, three earned. Not great, but better than it was in April. Moore has three straight quality starts. 

“Earlier in the year there were a couple of gaps in games where I wasn’t competitive,” he said. “I do think the last two or three weeks, I’ve gotten comfortable with the way the ball is coming out.”

--- Eduardo Nuñez extended his hitting streak to a career-high 11 games, but he came up lame on the play. Nuñez felt tightness near his left knee, right at the bottom of his hamstring. He played the rest of the game, but couldn’t go full speed. He’s confident he’ll be fine. 

--- Denard Span’s thumb is apparently 100 percent, or pretty close. He smacked a long homer, his third in his last 10 games. 

--- Conor Gillaspie (back) and Aaron Hill (forearm) will return on the homestand, possibly as soon as Friday against the Braves. Hunter Pence is further away. Bochy said he’ll need a quick rehab assignment, so it’s probably more likely he’s back the next Friday in Philadelphia. 

--- Bochy said Johnny Cueto was checked a couple of days before his Tuesday start and the trainers will do the same thing before his next start. Cueto is dealing with two blisters, but the Giants are not considering shutting him down. 

“He finds a way to get out there and pitch,” Bochy said. “It’s not a case where we’re pushing it. He wants to pitch.”

Under different circumstances, maybe the Giants would shut Cueto down for a couple of weeks to let these blisters pass. But they can’t afford to lose a second ace, and Cueto doesn’t want to miss any time. Bochy said he hasn’t been told this is something that will bother Cueto all year.