San Francisco Giants pitcher Johnny Cueto has chosen not to exercise his right to opt out of his contract, per reports. Cueto just finished the second year of a 6 year, $130 million contract he signed with the Giants as a free agent after the 2015 season, and he had the right under that deal to opt out after the 2017 season and become a free agent.
By choosing not to opt out, he locks himself into the next four years at $21 million per year, with a 2022 team option for $22 million that includes a $5 million buyout. The decision by Cueto follows on the heels of starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka choosing not to opt out of his deal with the Yankees, which pays him a similar annual value over the next three years.
Cueto opting out seemed likely after his strong 2016 season, where he put up a 2.79 ERA and a 2.95 FIP in 219.2 IP, good for a 5.6 bWAR. However, Cueto struggled in 2017, making just 25 starts and putting up a 4.52 ERA and a 4.50 FIP, as his walk rate spiked and his home run rate was the highest it had been since early in his career. Cueto also missed time due to forearm tightness in the second half of the season, and in his return to action in September, had a 4.26 ERA in 6 starts while allowing opposing batters to hit .312/.387/.504 against him.
Given that Cueto turns 32 before the start of the 2018 season, opting out after such a down season, particularly one where he missed time with “forearm tightness,” which can sometimes be a sign of UCL issues, would be a huge gamble. If he had repeated his 2016 campaign, he probably could have gotten a few million more per year and an extra guaranteed year or two. Instead, he’ll be staying in San Francisco, and the Giants will be hoping he can get back on track.
UPDATE — I just saw that, per Jon Heyman, Ian Kennedy is also not opting out of his deal with the Royals. Kennedy is due $49 million over three years on a deal that was seen as questionable when he first signed it, he was terrible last year, and he’s had one good year out of his last five seasons, so this appeared to be a foregone conclusion, but it is now confirmed.