With pitchers and catchers officially reporting to Spring Training next week, free agent right-hander Johnny Cueto is preparing to pitch and hopes to sign with a club for the 2024 season, per Jon Morosi of MLB.com.
Cueto is nearing his 38th birthday, which will be on Thursday next week, and last year wasn’t a great showing for him. He signed a one-year, $8.5MM deal with the Marlins, in the form of a $6MM salary and $2.5MM buyout on a 2024 club option. The Marlins were hoping he could provide some veteran innings to their youthful staff and replace some of the workload lost by trading Pablo López to the Twins as part of the Luis Arráez deal.
Unfortunately, Cueto departed his first outing of the year after just 30 pitches due to right biceps tightness, going on the injured list in the first week of April and not returning until July. He was eventually able to get some work in and finished the year with 52 1/3 innings over 10 starts and three relief appearances, but the results weren’t pretty. He allowed 6.02 earned runs per nine frames, striking out just 17.9% of opponents and allowing 17 home runs in that brief showing.
The Fish had a $10.5MM club option over Cueto for 2024 but made the easy decision to turn that down and take the $2.5MM buyout, sending him back to the open market. Given his age and rough campaign, it would have been fair to wonder if he was hanging up his spikes but he seems to be planning on another go. The interest will obviously be low after a season like that and Cueto hasn’t been connected to any specific clubs this winter. But it’s perhaps worth pointing out that he has come back from struggles in the past.
He posted an ERA of 4.38 for the Giants from 2017 to 2021, going on the injured list in each full season of that stretch. He stayed healthy in the shortened 2020 season but had a 5.40 ERA in that campaign. Going into 2022, he was a free agent and had to settle for a minor league deal with the White Sox, though one that came with a $4.2MM salary if he cracked the big leagues. He ended up making good on that deal, tossing 158 1/3 innings for the Sox with a 3.35 ERA, parlaying that into his deal with the Marlins.
The free agent market still features plenty of arms, with big names like Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery still out there, as well as guys like Mike Clevinger, Michael Lorenzen and Jakob Junis. Cueto will be part of a veteran contingent featuring guys like Hyun Jin Ryu, Rich Hill and Zack Greinke.
Cueto has appeared in parts of 16 MLB seasons to this point, having racked up 144 victories and 1,851 strikeouts while posting a 3.50 ERA in 368 games.