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Johnny Cueto And The Starting Five

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Good band name, eh? Johnny Cueto is now a Giant, perhaps for two years, perhaps for six. Perhaps, even, for seven, with an odd team option for 2022 tacked on.

The Giants are paying him $46 million the next two years, according to reports, then Cueto can opt out of his deal to see if pastures greener than the remaining four years, $84 million beckon. The way these opt-outs work, he'll have to be fairly bad, or injured, to decline it. By this time in 2017, pitchers with worse track records than, say, Jeff Samardzija, could be earning north of 4/84.

Still the specter of a broken Cueto looms, his nagging elbow of 2015 transmogrified into the Giants' worst-case scenario, opening his paychecks til 2021 with his left hand. Obviously the Giants brass have factored the risk. They have called the insurance company. Cueto still has to pass a physical, for what that's worth. MRIs can be so fickle.

Other than that fear, I love this. If Cueto opts out after 2017, it probably means he's given the Giants what they wanted for two years, then wiped the risk of four more years -- and a pitcher entering his mid-30s -- from the books. I believe it's called quitting while you're ahead, from the Giants' point of view. Or selling high, from Cueto's.

An opt-out would also mean there will be three rotation slots open going into 2018, or two if Matt Cain gets his second wind. That timeline might actually fit well with the Giants' prospect timeline. Candidates by then, perhaps, will be Tyler Beede, Clayton Blackburn, Sam Coonrod, Adalberto Mejia, and Phil Bickford.

Then again, some of those pitching prospects might not be around much longer. The Giants are now less likely to sign a free agent left fielder than trade for one, and let's think about that for a moment. GM Bobby Evans has indicated in recent days that he wants to trade farmhands, not big leaguers. If a trade happens, it will be for an outfielder better than their own outfield prospects (otherwise, what would be the point?) yet still cheap. Which means top prospects.

So stay tuned. Cueto gives the Giants a potential co-ace for two years unless his body parts go sproing, in which case he gives the Giants a Zito acid flashback -- except without the 175 innings a year or the charming improbability of 2012.

Cueto also gives the Giants a short-term out, which makes room for their top pitching prospects, unless they trade them all away because the Giants can no longer afford to pay for a pricey left fielder.

Got that?

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