White Sox signing Johnny Cueto, the best free agent pitcher remaining

(Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports)

With Lance Lynn succumbing to a two-month stay on the injured list, the White Sox’s pickings in free agency were slim.

By signing Johnny Cueto, they did the best they could.

Cueto’s coming to the White Sox on a minor-league deal, more due to timing than talent. There is an MLB-caliber salary if he’s able to ramp up and join the White Sox in short order, as he’ll make a prorated form of $4.2 million. The deal also includes an opt-out if he’s not called up by May 15, but given how precarious pitching seems to be around the league, Cueto’s presence on the South Side seems more of a matter of “when” than “if.”

The White Sox have not yet announced the deal because it’s pending a physical, but Cueto did what he could.

Cueto has three top-six Cy Young finishes and a 20-win season for the Reds back in 2014, but his more recent form is less imposing. He posted a 4.08 ERA over 114⅔ innings for the San Francisco Giants in his age-35 season, which is fine, but that’s coming off three less impressive seasons shortened by injury. He’s spent time on the injured list with elbow and lat problems, so he’ll likely need a generous extended spring training.

He’s only throwing 91-92 these days, but he only threw 92-93 at his peak, relying on a kitchen sink of pitch types and deliveries. His ability to mess with timing limited the damage on a fly ball rate, because he’s good for a double-digit pop-up rate just about every season.

The lead question here is whether he’ll stay healthy. After that, it’s a matter of whether he can keep beating back the tides of the league’s rising velocity, and whether a smaller ballpark can be as hospitable to his brand. A look at his spray chart shows about dozen or so flyouts that would be at the fence or over in Guaranteed Rate Field.

Worst-case scenario — at least the one where he reaches the majors in the first place — Cueto’s smoke-and-mirrors razzle-dazzle will get blowed up real good, in a way that makes Odrisamer Despaigne references more than ironic.

Best-case scenario, he’s a clear upgrade over Vince Velasquez in the search for five useful innings, and the kid who imitated Craig Kimbrel’s look-in will get a chance to anticipate Cueto’s triple shimmy.

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soxfan

“This is fine” meme, but unironically.

A starting rotation of Giolito, Cease, Kopech, Keuchel, and Cuenaldquez feels like a reasonably good starting point for the season. If Lynn gets his knee right, his arm may actually benefit from a shortened season, and then we can see where we are at the break and add reinforcements as necessary. The back of the rotation really just needs to stay healthy, eat innings, and let the offense feast on the rest of the league’s also-diluted pitching.

WHITESOX_RIGHT_SOX

Totally agree. And kudos for the trio “Cuenaldquez” 😂

calcetinesblancos

I really want to see them start Lopez here or there because I think he’ll probably be better than expected, but also because he becomes a nice trade chip and gives them some options if he excels.

Joliet Orange Sox

I don’t expect López to do great things but I think he will certainly exceed the expectations of many of the commenters on this site. I think many on this site don’t think López is capable of walking out to the mound without tripping.

He threw 57.2 innings last year with an ERA of 3.25 and a WHIP of 0.954. I’m aware that luck factored into those numbers and don’t expect him to be nearly that successful this year but there is certainly a place in MLB for Reynoldo López in a world where Tyler Danish is sticking on a team expected to contend.

texag10

I’m not saying Lopez is going to be a disaster as a starter but saying he is going to defy expectations because of his ERA last year is a bad argument. He started 9 games last year, threw 37.1 innings, with a 4.10 ERA and 1.125 WHIP. Those numbers were also helped out by late season starts against Oakland and Cincy. I think he can munch some innings but he’s probably going to end up somewhere between 2018 ReyLo and 2019 ReyLo.

Joliet Orange Sox

We agree.

GrinnellSteve

This is a great no-risk signing. He’s probably an upgrade over everyone but maybe Lopez. Who knows? Maybe he can teach some guile tricks to Keuchel. Perhaps the two can feed off of each other and both improve. There’s your best-case scenario.

jhomeslice

Best they could do, and better than making a trade that is an overpay. I hope he has been getting in shape already and doesn’t take a ton of time before we see him on the mound. I’m sure the 6M they saved on the Kimbrel trade helped make this possible.

roke1960

Yeah, it’s like getting Pollack and Cueto for Kimbrel. Who knew Rick was such a genius?

TylerDurden

Pollack making 10 but will get a 5 mil buyout..total cost 15mil. Sox save 1. They would have gotten a SP anyway

snoopy369

Ah, but 5 mil buyout is on next year’s payroll 🙂

phillyd

Why are we assuming they are going to buy him out?

Wayne

Player option, $5m buyout at minimum; or opt in for $10M (that grows with plate appearances). So we hope he plays well enough to be in line for $5m Free Agent contract in 2023, and he opts out.

calcetinesblancos

If he plays decently and stays healthy, there’s a good chance he just leaves and we don’t even have the option of buying him out.

BenwithVen

IIRC, BP has Cueto as around league average. If we get that kind of production, I would be ecstatic.

He also works out with Reynaldo in the offseason, which maybe he learns him something during the season.

roke1960

That 6-pitch sequence to Cron was amazing! All 6 pitches had a different delivery. That’s gotta mess with a batter’s head.

GrinnellSteve

My wife couldn’t stop laughing over that final pitch.

jhomeslice

Last year he was decent enough. You would think hitters would not have much rhythm /timing against him, which is probably one reason for his success without overwhelming stuff.

He’s a great bet to be better than Lopez, VV, Keuchel, and should be interesting to watch. Better than nothing, and much better than a bad trade.

Last edited 2 years ago by jhomeslice
burning-phoneix

Reminds me about reading Ted William’s book where he wonders why more pitchers don’t throw with different deliveries to mess up hitter’s timing.

calcetinesblancos

It’s because most of them have a hard enough time throwing strikes and executing pitches with a single delivery.

asinwreck

Worst-case scenario — at least the one where he reaches the majors in the first place — Cueto’s smoke-and-mirrors razzle-dazzle will get blowed up real good, in a way that makes Odrisamer Despaigne references more than ironic.

It is a shame that Big Jim McBob and Billy Sol Hurok were not available to announce the games of the 2019 Chicago White Sox.

Shingos Cheeseburgers

Shimmy Shimmy Ya

joewho112

Just had the realization that Lance Lynn coming back from injury means we have to deal with the “Lance Lynn is our mid-season acquisition” excuse for not making trades

shaggy65

Time will tell, but I think this has to be in the running for Best Week of Rick Hahn’s Career.

It’s tough to rival the Eaton and Sale double-whammy, but Rick accomplished a lot this week without giving up a lot.

jhomeslice

Not close to Eloy/Cease for Quintana, or the Eaton trade for Giolito. A good week, but Pollack, Cueto, McGuire not the equivalent of even one really good multi year FA signing like a real 2b would have been.

We’ve just grown accustomed to crappy offseasons that even moderately good moves seem miraculous.

texag10

The Eaton trade was shocking to me that we got that much in return. The Quintana trade was maybe a little more than expected but Cease was much more of a question mark at the time. Trading Collins for McGuire is a damn steal that no one saw coming and it appeared to me that most people thought we were aiming high to get Didi back for Kimbrel but instead we get a bonafide hitter that is also an outfielder in Pollock (will he stay healthy? probably not). These moves may not move the championship needle all that much but if anyone had put those two trades in their offseason plans, they would have most likely been universally panned.

jorgefabregas

Tmobile/Sprint/Metro customers: don’t forget to use the Tuesdays app to get your free mlb.tv subscription today.

BrianB

Thanks!

dongutteridge

If he’s healthy, I feel much better about him than Velasquez.

Last edited 2 years ago by dongutteridge
MrStealYoBase

Something I’ve never really understood: why stack your best starters together in the rotation?

Giolito and Cease seem like the best bets to give you length and give the bullpen a day off. Why not pitch those guys 1-3 or 1-4 instead of 1-2? And try to break up your Keuchel – Lopez/Cueto/Velasquez pairing so that the bullpen isn’t heavily taxed on back-to-back days?

The 1 and 2 spots are the only ones lined up for 33 games instead of 32, but between the inevitable injuries, reshuffling, extra rest, and getting things set for game 1 of a playoff series that doesn’t really matter anyways.

You see this across every team, so not just asking about the White Sox here. If you have DeGrom and Scherzer (theoretically) in the same rotation, do you really want your bullpen sitting for two straight days rather than getting that rest more regularly?

Josh Nelson

Ideally, you have 5 starters split up a 162 game season (although we know today that’s almost impossible)

SP1: 33 starts a season
SP2: 33 starts a season
SP3 – 5: 32 starts a season

Having your two best pitchers go 1-2 gives them an additional start over the others in a regular season.

Again, if everyone stays healthy.

phillyd

Given a week off at the all star break to reshuffle, if everyone stays healthy a good manager could get 33 starts out of more than 2 starters. A good manager shouldn’t be planning for 5 starters to make 162 starts. I think MrStealYoBase’s question deserves more discussion.

joewho112

But I think we all know the season is too messy for that to ever really work out. Between the All Star break and rainouts, there will be opportunities to skip backend starters and get your good starters an extra start.

But for the same reason, ordering them 1-5 isn’t that big a deal because there is going to be rainouts and other randomness to give the bullpen rest/re-order the rotation

MrStealYoBase

True, but when there are opportunities to reset the order (start of season, all-star break) why not take the approach of spacing out the best guys in order to give the bullpen a more consistent workload?

joewho112

My point is it would only matter for a week or two before circumstances outside team control reshuffle the order or make it moot or your ace lays an egg by only goes 2 inning or… or… or…

MrStealYoBase

Unless you are in a playoff race down to the wire, why would you want your #1 or #2 starting games 161 and 162? You’re likely going to need to reshuffle for a playoff series (ideally) anyways. Even if it works out that 161 and 162 are must-win you can always push them one day or skip a spot in the rotation the week or two before if there’s a rest day.

Plus there’s always the chance to reset the rotation at the all-star break if you really want to maximize the starts out of your top guys.

Planning for the last week of September seems like a silly reason to not try and manage the bullpen load for the first 155 games.

Last edited 2 years ago by MrStealYoBase
Josh Nelson

You are right. It’s hard to plan what’s going to happen in September when in April.

Foulkelore

I’ll add to Josh’s point that you also want to use your best pitchers when you can. Say they split Cease to 3rd/4th, but then there are a couple of rainouts after game two. Then, they wasted an opportunity to skip one of their worse starters. This also applies to injuries, suspensions, and other things. It will end up not making a ton of difference, but it matters a bit.

TylerDurden

I am not excited as some of you are over Cueto lol but that is because I’m looking at the big picture…

Heading into off-season I think we all knew SP was an area of need to win in postseason.
Missed out on Bassitt and Manaea. They could have beaten that mediocre return for Manaea.

So looking at that if you’d told me we’d not only lose Lynn for awhile, but ADD Velasquez and Cueto, I would be and am very disappointed.
Both guys are doubtful to help us win in the postseason.

Whereas a 3.5 WAR pitcher in Manaea would have.

Augusto Barojas

True. I can’t give them credit for a great or even good offseason when Pollack is injury prone, and they missed out on all good free agents.

But still Cueto is a good add. They are not likely to get more than 3 innings or so out of 3/5 of their rotation until he is ready, which will be brutal for the bullpen. 2-3 weeks of that with a few weather related cancellations should be tolerable. 2 months of that would be a real problem.

soxfan

We don’t need SP to win in the postseason. We need starting pitching depth to keep the guys we need to win in the postseason healthy by the time the postseason rolls around. If Cueto starts a game in the postseason something’s gone terribly wrong. We just need him to provide league average innings so we don’t need to rush Lynn back and/or can give Giolito and Cease the occasional day off. Last season, our staff had the best ERA+ in the AL, but between injuries and career-high usage none of our starters were able to get out of the fifth inning against the Astros. If Cueto can help keep Giolito and Cease around the 160 IP mark rather than the 200 IP mark and they’re both fresh for the postseason, then he’ll have done his job.

Greg Nix

I think it makes some sense to wait and re-evaluate the rotation at the deadline, particularly since they don’t have a lot of prospect depth to spare. By that point we should have some idea of whether Lynn is a good bet to be healthy and how Kopech is translating to the rotation. There’s a small but realistic chance that if they acquired Manaea now he’d be their fifth best starter in October, which doesn’t add much to their World Series odds — versus using the same prospect capital to trade for an impact second baseman or something.

BenwithVen

I don’t necessarily disagree, but the equivalent prospect to give up would have been someone like Bryan Ramos or Jose Rodriguez, which I’m not sure I would given up for a year Sean Manaea is who is the definition of “ok”.

Last edited 2 years ago by BenwithVen
vince

If he gives us 117 innings of 100 ERA+ pitching in the back of the rotation, I’d be ok with that.

a-t

Average but in a really fun way is what Cueto was last year/projects to be, and that’s totally fine by me. Manaea would’ve been a nice luxury but I don’t think the difference between him and Cueto is big enough that I’d rather have parted with already scant prospect talent.

Money is another consideration, Manaea’s making $9.75M, and Cueto’s deal maxes out at less than half of that, pro-rated. The rotation looks like three studs, two old tricksters who project for average-ish production, an electric young guy who needs load management, and two swingmen. That’s pretty good to start the season.

Cueto did have some homer luck, but also important to note that his generally successful year with SFG’s pitching coaches will have continuity in style & content w/ Katz.