The Giants moved to further strengthen their starting rotation Monday, agreeing to a six-year deal with free-agent right-hander Johnny Cueto.
Cueto’s deal, worth $130 million, is pending a physical, which the Giants hope to complete Wednesday. The contract includes an opt-out clause after two years, meaning Cueto, 29, can become a free agent again after the 2017 season, and a club option for a seventh year.
The deal will pay Cueto $46 million over the first two years, with $84 million over the next four seasons if he decides not to opt out.
“He’s not a guy that you relish facing,” Giants general manager Bobby Evans said on a conference call. “You have a guy that has a chance to be an elite presence in our rotation.”
The Giants’ rotation looks a lot deeper than it did a week ago. The deal with Cueto came just days after the Giants introduced right-hander Jeff Samardzija at AT&T Park after signing him to a five-year, $90 million deal. The two signings give the Giants a projected 2016 rotation of Madison Bumgarner, Cueto, Samardzija, Jake Peavy and Matt Cain.
“We need (Cain and Peavy) to be a big part of our rotation,” Evans said. “But hopefully with these two significant additions, it gives us a balance of five guys that can give us the starts and innings we need to protect our bullpen and give us the best chance within our division to compete for the division.”
Cueto was one of the National League’s most consistent starters in recent seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, finishing in the top four in Cy Young voting in 2012 and 2014 and throwing 212 or more innings in three of the past four seasons. He finished second to Clayton Kershaw in Cy Young voting in 2014 after winning 20 games with a 2.25 ERA and leading the league with 243 2/3 innings and 242 strikeouts.
But after being traded to the Royals in July, Cueto went 4-7 with a 4.76 ERA in 13 regular-season starts. That inconsistency extended to the postseason, where Cueto was rocked in his one American League Championship Series start, but he came back to pitch a complete-game two-hitter in Game 2 of the World Series against the Mets.
Cueto’s rocky second half came at an inopportune time, heading into free agency. Because of that, Evans said the opt-out clause was an “attractive” factor for Cueto, who will be able to test the market again in two years. Cueto has a 3.30 ERA over eight seasons and, despite his 2015 second-half drop-off, was one of the top names on the free-agent market.
Cueto missed one start in May with the Reds because of elbow stiffness. But he reportedly had an MRI that showed no structural damage and went on to make 32 regular-season starts between Cincinnati and Kansas City. Evans said the Giants have reviewed Cueto’s medical files and believe they’re getting a pitcher who is “healthy and ready to contribute.”
“Until we actually see the player and do the medical evaluation, physical, you ultimately don’t know,” Evans said. “But we’re very confident based on what we know today.”
As with Samardzija, Evans said the Giants value Cueto’s ability to pitch deep into games. Cueto also has a tendency to vary his delivery during starts, “so if you’re a hitter, when you see him the third time through the order, you still don’t know what’s coming.”
Evans said Cueto has “always been … high on our short list,” but the two sides met for the first time this month at the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn.
Two new arms
In the past 10 days, the Giants have agreed to contracts with free-agent pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto. Their career statistics: