Giants right-hander Johnny Cueto is making quick progress in his recovery from August 2018 Tommy John surgery and could return this September, manager Bruce Bochy told reporters Saturday (via Kerry Crowley of the Bay Area News Group and Andrew Baggarly of The Athletic).
After Cueto threw a bullpen session, Bochy declared: “He surprised a lot of us with how hard he was throwing and command. He’s in great shape —about the best shape I’ve seen him to be honest. What you saw today, you’ve got a believe he’ll be pitching before the season is over.”
That’s a welcome bit of positive news for the Giants, who, at 18-25, are on pace for their third straight sub-.500 season. The team’s woes this year have come thanks in part to its disappointing starting staff, which entered Saturday last in the majors in fWAR (minus-0.5) and 25th in ERA (5.20). Only Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija have offered decent run prevention numbers to this point, though the latter’s peripherals aren’t nearly as encouraging. Meantime, 2018 success stories Dereck Rodriguez and Derek Holland recently lost their spots in the Giants’ rotation, while free-agent addition Drew Pomeranz floundered before heading to the injured list with a lat strain on May 9.
Going forward, it’s unclear which members of that five-man group will even be on San Francisco’s roster come next season. Bumgarner, the best of the bunch, is an impending free agent whom the non-contending team could trade this summer, and Holland and Pomeranz are on track to join him on the open market in the winter. With that in mind, someone will need to eat innings for the Giants in 2020, and if he’s at full strength by then, Cueto could be the top option on a Bumgarner-less staff.
Unfortunately for San Francisco, the 33-year-old Cueto has not been a durable performer since the team handed him a six-year, $130MM guarantee in free agency entering the 2016 season. The former ace did record 219 2/3 innings of 2.79 ERA/2.96 FIP ball in Year 1 of the contract, but he has combined for just 200 1/3 – including 53 in 2018 – since then. When Cueto was able to take the hill during that two-year span, he was nowhere near the front-end starter he used to be, evidenced by his 4.18 ERA/4.55 FIP. Nevertheless, the Giants can only hope for a late-2019 return and an immediate rebirth from Cueto, who has a guaranteed $47MM left on his deal (including a $5MM buyout in 2022) beyond this season.