Why you shouldn't freak out in June about Cueto's opt-out

Why you shouldn't freak out in June about Cueto's opt-out

SAN FRANCISCO — There’s a very important fact you need to keep in mind when talk of Johnny Cueto’s opt-out comes up, as it so often will over the next six weeks: The Giants always expected him to opt-out after this season, from the moment the ink was dry on the six-year, $130-million contract. 

When you sign at the top of your game and have a chance to hit the market at 31 years old and cash out a second time, you take it. Those are just the rules of professional sports. On the day Cueto was introduced, his agent, Bryce Dixon, said the two-year opt-out was important because they felt Cueto didn’t get a totally fair shot at free agency. 

“Johnny, a little bit unfairly, had a lot of questions about his arm,” Dixon said in December of 2015. “I felt we could reestablish his actual value … He knows he’s as good as (David) Price and (Zack) Greinke, but his situation was a little different.”

The Giants were fine with this, too. The flip side of the opt-out is that if you have the chance to pay a dominant right-hander $46 million over two years, and then escape his mid- to late-thirties, you do it. Every time. You don’t even blink. 

So, here we are, in June of the second year of that deal, with reports that Cueto will opt out. You should take a deep breath because you should have already expected this. But if you didn’t, take comfort in this: By all indications, Cueto has not made a decision, even with the Giants having an unimaginably poor season. 

First of all, Cueto can't make a decision in June. What if the blisters return and he repeats his April ERA a couple more times? What if his elbow starts barking? There are no guarantees with pitchers, and until Cueto gets through the second season, there will be no finality with his decision. 

Aside from the fact that he really can’t make that decision, though, sources insist Cueto hasn’t made up his mind or even thought much about it. People familiar with his thinking continue to say the focus has been baseball all season long, from spring training through his last start. 

Cueto is said to be happy in San Francisco and he enjoys pitching in front of the crowd at AT&T Park. His biggest concern has been wins and losses, and in that respect, this has been a disappointing year for all involved. 

That record has brought the Giants to a crossroads, and this is where it gets interesting. The easy solution is to trade Cueto next month, avoid the opt-out situation entirely, and add prospects to a system lacking them. But, it’s complicated. The Giants do not intend a full teardown, and if they’re going for it again in 2018 — with their core of Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, Madison Bumgarner, etc. locked in, that’s the plan — they’ll want that second ace at the top of the rotation. And if Bumgarner doesn’t return to form after an injury, they’ll need Cueto’s presence. 

The Giants have until July 31 to decide what to do with Cueto. He has until three days after the World Series ends to decide what to do with his contract. Here in June, by all indications, those decisions haven’t been made. 

Royals rough up Cueto, Giants swept in two-game home series

Royals rough up Cueto, Giants swept in two-game home series

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO -- Royals slugger Mike Moustakas didn't care to get caught up in a debate concerning whether or not his latest home run landed in the waters of McCovey Cove.

With Kansas City finally finding a comfortable groove after a rocky start to the season, Moustakas is thinking big picture.

Moustakas hit his 18th home run leading off the second inning, Jorge Bonifacio and Lorenzo Cain followed with back-to-back shots in the third and the Royals beat the San Francisco Giants 7-2 on Wednesday to complete a two-game sweep.

The win was Kansas City's fourth straight and left the Royals at 30-34 - not bad for a ballclub that was nine games under .500 one month into the season.

"We're trending in the right direction," Moustakas said. "We've been playing great baseball on this road trip and if we keep this going we're going to be in a good spot after the end of this month."

Moustakas, one of Kansas City's top hitters over the past two weeks, stayed hot with his home run off former Royals pitcher Johnny Cueto (5-6) that initially appeared to land in McCovey Cove. Officials later determined that the ball landed on a walkway and bounced into the water.

It was the fifth homer in 12 games for Moustakas, who is already just four shy of his career-high.

"It's all good, a homer's a homer," Moustakas said.

Bonifacio finished with two hits and three RBIs, Whit Merrifield added three hits and three runs while Alcides Escobar singled three times to help Jason Hammel end an eight-game winless stretch on the road that dated to 2016.

Hammel (3-6) allowed one run over 6 2/3 innings to beat the Giants for the first time in 12 starts. The right-hander gave up eight hits, struck out four and walked one.

"He commanded the ball really well, he changed speeds, he used his slider effectively, got some big swings and misses," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "His last couple of starts, he's really come on for us."

Bonifacio homered in the third after Merrifield opened the inning with a bunt single. Two pitches later, Cain lined an 0-1 pitch over the fence in left-center that put the Royals up 4-0.

Cueto struggled in his first appearance against his former team since signing with San Francisco after helping Kansas City to the 2015 World Series. He allowed five runs and 10 hits over 5 2/3 innings with three walks and five strikeouts.

Kansas City has scored seven or more runs in each of its last four games, all wins.

Eduardo Nunez had two hits and an RBI for San Francisco. The Giants have lost 11 of 15.

San Francisco had two on and two outs twice but failed to score each time. Hammel fanned Brandon Crawford to end the fourth and reliever Peter Moylan got Buster Posey to ground out to end the seventh.

"The way we're swinging, it's a steep climb," San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. "This is humbling to go through something like this. It's a tough time for these fellows."

WALKED OFF

Brandon Belt's walk in the seventh inning was the first free pass issued by Hammel since May 29. It also was the last batter the right-hander faced, as Yost came scurrying out of the dugout to replace him with Moylan. Hammel hardly resisted. "I don't ever want to say I was getting tired but that inning the pitches were up," he said. "Probably the right move there."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Giants: 2B Joe Panik returned to the lineup after being sidelined for four games with a sprained left thumb he injured last week in Milwaukee diving for a ground ball. He went 2 for 4.

UP NEXT

Royals: LHP Matt Strahm (1-3, 4.05) makes his first career start Thursday in Anaheim against the Angels. Strahm has made 20 appearances out of the bullpen this season.

Giants: LHP Matt Moore (2-7, 5.28) faces the Rockies for the third time this season when the teams play at Colorado in the opener of a four-game series Thursday. Moore is winless in his previous five starts.

On big day for Slater, Nunez saves Giants from horrific time in Milwaukee

On big day for Slater, Nunez saves Giants from horrific time in Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE -- In the second inning Thursday, a man burst from the seats along the left field line and headed for second base, his arms spread wide to show that he had left his pants and any underwear somewhere along the journey. The man was taken down hard, a soon-to-be pixelated section of his body grinding into the dirt where Brandon Crawford had just stood. It looked painful, possibly scarring. The infield dirt at Miller Park is firm and well-manicured.

We do not know why exactly a man would run naked across the dirt in the second inning, although we can guess. What we do know is that he still nearly had a better time at Miller Park than the Giants. If not for Eduardo Nuñez's vertical, he might have. 

Mark Melancon blew a two-run lead in the ninth but this time the Giants didn't fold. They responded with four runs in the top of the 10th, winning 9-5 and partially obscuring what had happened an inning earlier, and another potential issue. 

"You look at how it's gone for us -- we've had some tough times -- and we give up a two-run lead there in the ninth and find a way to win the ballgame," manager Bruce Bochy said. "That shows a lot about them, the character and how resilient they are, to come back and put a four-spot up, especially on a road trip that hasn't been good for us."

The trip ended up being a 3-4 swing through Philadelphia -- home of the worst team in ball -- and Milwaukee, where the Giants have always played well. This was not the trip that got things back on course. In fact, it likely further emboldened any in the organization ready for a change. Brian Sabean was on hand Thursday and nearly saw the latest collapse. Nuñez prevented it, snagging a hot liner headed for left with the winning run on third. Melancon bounced back to get the Giants out of the ninth. 

The big offseason acquisition, Melancon has three blown saves in 13 oppotunities. Of equal concern is the fact that Thursday was his first opportunity since May 27. It's been that kind of year, and it's clear the Giants still have some concerns in the bullpen. At least they finally have something to celebrate in left field. 

Bochy has been waiting for someone to grab the job and Austin Slater certainly showed he's worthy of an extended look. Slater reached base three times and smacked a 461-foot homer off the base of the scoreboard. Slater's first career blast was the longest by a Giant since Brandon Belt went 475 at Coors in 2015. 

"People were telling me where it went -- I put my head down and started running," Slater said. "I think I got a little better at (slowing the game down) these last two games in Milwaukee. Those first three in Philly it just felt like everything was racing by and everything was going 100 mph."

Bochy has encouraged his young outfielders to try and play relaxed baseball.

"Just show your talent," he said. "The only way to play this game is loose and free, that's when your talent surfaces."