Wiggling by The Bay: Johnny Cueto signs with the Giants for $130 million

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San Francisco is spending big on free agent pitching, agreeing to a six-year, $130 million contract with right-hander Johnny Cueto two weeks after signing right-hander Jeff Samardzija to a five-year, $90 million deal. Cueto’s pact includes an opt-out clause after two years, potentially allowing him to hit the open market again following the 2017 season.

Cueto and Samardzija join a rotation that already boasted Madison Bumgarner in the ace role and with Chris Heston, Jake Peavy, and a rehabbing Matt Cain also in the mix the Giants are making a big bet on high-end starting pitching getting them back to the World Series.

Cueto’s injury history and underwhelming performance following a July trade from the Reds to the Royals are why some teams apparently viewed him as a risky signing, but he’s topped 200 innings in three of the past four seasons–including a league-leading 244 innings in 2014–and when healthy few pitchers are better than the wiggling righty.

In fact, combined during the past five seasons (2011-2015) only Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw has a lower ERA than Cueto among all pitchers with at least 500 innings. Here’s the top 10:

2.11 – Clayton Kershaw
2.71 – Johnny Cueto
2.82 – Zack Greinke
2.89 – Cliff Lee
2.94 – Chris Sale
2.99 – Adam Wainwright
3.02 – David Price
3.03 – Felix Hernandez
3.05 – Madison Bumgarner
3.11 – Stephen Strasburg

There’s certainly room to haggle over where exactly Cueto ranks among the game’s elite starting pitchers and where he’ll rank during the life of his six-year contract, but there’s no real argument against him being a top-10 starter from 2011-2015. Zack Greinke, who ranked third on the above list, just signed a six-year, $206.5 million deal with the Diamondbacks. David Price, who ranked seventh on the above list, just signed a seven-year, $217 million deal with the Red Sox. Within that context, six years and $130 million for Cueto seems perfectly reasonable and maybe even a bargain.

Handing out huge contracts to veteran starters hasn’t always worked out well for the Giants, as the Barry Zito contract and Matt Cain’s current deal have shown recently, but San Francisco now has a pair of aces–a 26-year-old lefty in Bumgarner and a 30-year-old righty in Cueto–along with strong options in the 3-5 spots.