Cueto, healthy and relaxed, gives Giants another workhorse


SAN FRANCISCO — In the middle of a frantic offseason, Johnny Cueto, the perennial Cy Young candidate who wasn’t getting treated like one, had some peculiar advice for his agent, Bryce Dixon.

“I told Bryce, ‘Just take it easy, relax, don’t worry about it,’” Cueto said Thursday through translator Erwin Higueros. “I’m at home with the kids, relaxing and spending time with the family. God will take care of the rest.”

Cueto’s Instagram backs up the claim. It’s filled with photos of the right-hander relaxing by his pool at home in the Dominican Republic, happily riding in a helicopter and taking a nap on an outdoor couch. Cueto wasn't worried about a pitching market that was exploding and leaving him behind. He knew his time would come, and on Wednesday he finally put pen to paper on a six-year, $130 million contract that changed the landscape of the National League West. 

A year after starting pitching issues kept the Giants from keeping up with the Dodgers, the organization has added Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, two right-handers who regularly shoot past the 200-inning mark and are potentially No. 1 or No. 2 starters on most staffs. General manager Bobby Evans said the Giants added “two significant workhorses" to a group that already includes Madison Bumgarner. 

“It really addresses an area we really struggled in last year,” Evans said. “That’s what gives me a lot of hope. It’s an area of weakness we faced most of last year, getting starting pitchers to compete day in and day out.”

Bruce Bochy, the man tasked with getting through nine innings every night, made the point over and over again in organizational meetings. Bochy had a message for an ownership group looking to win another even-year title.

“Bochy said get me another 200-inning starter and I’m good,” team president and CEO Larry Baer said. “I’ll figure out left field … It’s our recipe: Pitching, defense and sprinkle in position players where we can.”

Baer noted that the development of homegrown stars like Matt Duffy and Joe Panik made this offseason spending spree possible. Counting the Brandon Crawford extension, the Giants -- resigned to paying the competitive balance tax for a second straight year -- have committed $295 million to three players over the past month. Cueto’s deal is by far the biggest, and it’s a complicated one.

Cueto, 29, wanted an opt-out so he could get back into the market in two years, and the Giants guaranteed him $46 million through the first two years, with the opt-out coming after the 2017 season. Cueto will make $15 million in salary in 2016 and $21 million each of the next five years, and he’ll get a $5 million signing bonus, paid out over the final five years of the deal. The contract also includes a $22 million team option for a seventh year and a $5 million buyout that will be paid if Cueto opts out in two years or if the Giants turn down the seventh-year option. The contract does not include a no-trade clause, but Cueto gets an additional $500,000 if he gets traded and $1 million if traded a second time.

Dixon focused on the two-year opt-out because he felt Cueto was getting unfairly dinged in his first foray into free agency.

“Johnny, a little bit unfairly, had a lot of questions about his arm,” Dixon said. “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 elbow issues limited Cueto’s market, but the Giants aren’t concerned. He missed a start while in Cincinnati last season because of a flexor tendon strain, but an MRI during the season came back clean and Evans said an MRI the Giants took on Thursday came back clean.

“His elbow looks great,” Evans said. “It really looked good.”

There were performance issues that haunted Cueto, too, a 4.76 ERA in 13 starts after a midseason trade to Kansas City. Dixon said Cueto was slumping at the time and did not find an immediate comfort level with new catcher Sal Perez. Once Cueto settled in he gave the Royals two outstanding postseason starts, including a two-hitter in the World Series. 

The Giants don’t anticipate it taking much time for Cueto to fit in. Catcher Buster Posey reached out via text as soon as Cueto signed and right-hander Sergio Romo met with Cueto on Thursday before working out on the field. 

Romo’s eyes grew wide when asked about a rotation that currently has Jake Peavy and Matt Cain slotted into the fourth and fifth spots, and doesn’t have room for Chris Heston, a savior for much of 2015. After a year of patching it together, the Giants are hoping Cueto can more often than not hand the ball directly to Romo, Javier Lopez and Santiago Casilla, shortening games.

“That’s important for us,” Romo said. “It’s going to help us out in the bullpen.”

Romo said Cueto has a fun-loving, loose personality that’s going to fit right in. When the Giants checked with past Reds teammates and coaches, the reports were that Cueto is a “plus guy and a plus teammate, a huge plus,” Baer said. Romo and the rest of the Giants can’t wait to get going with their revamped rotation.

“Think of the potential,” he said. “It’s pretty awesome.”

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