The White Sox announced Monday that they’ve selected the contract of right-hander Johnny Cueto from Triple-A Charlotte. Cueto, who signed a minor league deal with the Sox last month, will start tonight’s game against the Royals. Infielder Danny Mendick was optioned to Charlotte in a corresponding move. Chicago’s 40-man roster is now at capacity.
Cueto had a May 15 opt-out clause in his contract, so he could’ve become a free agent had the Sox not selected him to the big league roster. Whether Cueto formally triggered that clause yesterday isn’t clear — teams typically have 48 hours to add a player to the roster once an opt-out of that nature is exercised — but with Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn currently on the IL, there was a natural opening for him anyhow. Cueto will earn a prorated $4.2MM salary now that he’s been selected to the Majors.
Through four starts in Triple-A Charlotte, the 36-year-old Cueto posted a tepid 5.17 earned run average, but the remainder of his numbers were far more encouraging. The former Cy Young runner-up fanned 27% of his opponents against a very strong 6.3% walk rate — complementing those solid K/BB numbers with a hefty 57.1% ground-ball rate. It’s a small sample against lesser competition, of course, but Cueto was a generally solid arm with the Giants last season as well. In 114 2/3 innings with San Francisco, he notched a 4.08 ERA with a 20% strikeout rate and a 6.1% walk rate.
While Cueto still appeared to be a viable back-of-the-rotation option, his market was slow to come together this winter. Several teams expressed interest following the lockout — the Twins and Tigers reportedly among them. However, once Opening Day was within arm’s reach, the possibility of a Major League deal ultimately evaporated, as interested parties knew that Cueto wouldn’t be game-ready come Opening Day after looking for a suitable offer throughout the duration of Spring Training.
Cueto will still be able to earn approximately $3.32MM under the prorated terms of his White Sox deal, and he’ll be in the Majors with just 39 days of the trimmed off the calendar. Depending on how he fares early on, it’s possible there’ll be a long-term opportunity for him. Both Dallas Keuchel and Vince Velasquez have struggled to ERAs north of 5.50 through their first six starts, while righty Jimmy Lambert had his own struggles through a pair of spot starts thus far. Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech and, once healthy, Giolito and Lynn all seem like locks for long-term rotation spots, health-permitting — but the fifth spot in the rotation is a bit less certain. Keuchel’s weighty contract may well keep him in that spot for now, but if he continues pitching at his current pace and Cueto is able to replicate last year’s solid form, it’d be hard for the Sox not to make a switch.