SF declines Cueto's option; veteran now FA

November 7th, 2021

Johnny Cueto’s six-year run with the Giants might be coming to an end.

As expected, San Francisco declined Cueto’s $22 million club option for 2022 on Sunday, making the 35-year-old right-hander a free agent this offseason. The Giants will still owe a $5 million buyout to Cueto, who logged a 3.81 ERA over 104 appearances after signing a six-year, $130 million deal with San Francisco in December 2015.

The Giants exercised '22 club options for infielder Wilmer Flores ($3.5 million) and relievers José Álvarez ($1.5 million) and Jay Jackson, who joined the team on a Minor League deal last winter.

Cueto, who endeared himself to Giants fans with his shimmies on the mound, earned his second career All-Star selection in his first season with the club in 2016, but he missed nearly two seasons while dealing with right elbow trouble, which eventually led to Tommy John surgery in ‘18.

Cueto struggled to recapture his form after returning from the procedure, logging a career-worst 5.40 ERA over 12 starts in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. He showed flashes of dominance at the beginning of '21, but he was hampered by lat and elbow injuries and ended the year with a 4.08 ERA over 22 appearances (21 starts).

Cueto was activated for the final weekend of the regular season after missing most of September with a right elbow strain, but he returned in a new role, as he was asked to shift to the bullpen for the first time in his 14-year career.

Cueto admitted that he wasn’t comfortable with the assignment, though he made only one relief appearance and gave up one run over 2 1/3 innings against the D-backs on Sept. 30. That could mark Cueto’s final outing in a Giants uniform, as he was subsequently left off the postseason roster for the National League Division Series against the Dodgers.

The snub disappointed Cueto, but he has said he plans to keep pitching beyond 2021. The native of San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, is third among active NL pitchers with 135 career wins, trailing only Clayton Kershaw (185) and Adam Wainwright (184). He also ranks fifth in wins among Dominican-born pitchers, behind only Bartolo Colón (247), Juan Marichal (243), Pedro Martínez (219) and Ervin Santana (149).

“The only thing I know is that I love playing baseball,” Cueto said last month. “I have to get mentally ready for what’s going to come next. I am still young. I have a brand new arm, so I want to continue playing baseball.”

Cueto is slated to join fellow starters Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood in free agency, and the Giants are expected to continue to have conversations with all of them about potentially returning to San Francisco. Budding ace Logan Webb is the only pitcher locked into the rotation for 2022, so starting pitching is expected to be the Giants’ top priority this winter.

Trio of waiver claims
The Giants made a flurry of waiver claims on Friday, scooping up former first-round Draft pick Hunter Harvey from the Orioles, outfielder Austin Dean from the Cardinals and left-hander Joe Palumbo from the Rangers.

Harvey, a 26-year-old right-hander, is the most intriguing name of the bunch, as he was selected with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft out of Bandys High School in Catawba, N.C. Harvey has struggled to stay healthy since debuting with the Orioles in '19, but he’s shown promise when he’s managed to stay on the mound, recording a 3.42 ERA over 26 relief appearances in the Majors.

Dean, 28, has hit .225/.282/.391 with 11 home runs over 356 Major League plate appearances with the Marlins and Cardinals over the past four seasons. The right-handed hitter also has a .349 career on-base percentage in the Minors and a .322/.394/.535 slash line at the Triple-A level.

Palumbo, 27, has logged a 9.47 ERA over nine appearances (four starts) with Texas over the past two years, but he has a 2.92 ERA over eight Minor League seasons.

Marte selected
Right-hander Yunior Marte, who posted a 3.49 ERA over 43 appearances for Triple-A Sacramento this past season, was selected to the Giants’ 40-man roster on Sunday. Marte, 26, will be a right-handed relief option for San Francisco heading into 2022, joining Tyler Rogers, Camilo Doval, Kervin Castro, Dominic Leone, Zack Littell and Jackson.

The Giants now have 38 players on their 40-man roster.