San Francisco Giants: How Much Is Johnny Cueto Worth on the Trade Market?

The San Francisco Giants’ slow start isn’t going to help them keep All-Star pitcher Johnny Cueto from opting out of his contract at the end of the season. The 31-year-old righty is in the second year of his deal with the Giants. As part of the deal, Cueto has the option to opt out following the 2017 season.

Increasing market values already made it likely Johnny Cueto would opt out of his deal long before the season even began. Madison Bumgarner‘s injury will further hinder the Giants from crawling out of the basement. Cueto did not sign with the San Francisco Giants to lose. As a result, he might get vocal early on this season and make it clear he does not plan to return in 2018.

If it becomes clear Cueto will opt out, San Francisco may want to consider an alternative plan. To ensure they get something more in return than a draft pick, the Giants could trade Cueto.

Cueto’s value as a player is easy to understand. He’s an ace who often settles for lesser accolades. Not many pitchers have been as great as him over the last several seasons. Cueto hasn’t been especially amazing this year, but he has faced tougher opponents. The red-hot Colorado Rockies have already faced him twice. Cueto does still own a 3-1 record. Through 22 games, this accounts for one-third of the Giants’ wins.

A wrench is thrown into estimating Cueto’s trade value because of the opt-out. It’s hard enough trading a pitcher on a big contract. Add in the uncertainty of how long he will stick around and the Giants may have to settle for less.

Like last season and every one before it, pitchers are an incredibly desirable commodity at the trade deadline. Someone would pay a premium for even a few months of Cueto. The Kansas City Royals already did in 2015 and it helped them win the World Series. This year, it could be someone else’s turn.

Cueto’s contract is a risky one for anyone who does sell prospects to get him. The Giants essentially have to sell him as a rental while the team who picks him up would need to accept the fact that he may or may not return. Opt-out clauses with the player making the decision often help land top talent in free agency. Unfortunately, it takes away any power from the franchise.

Cueto could continue to pitch less ace-like for several weeks and become a guy on a disastrous contact. At that point, the Giants wouldn’t have a chance at dealing him anywhere even with the impressive resume.

The Giants will remain limited as to which teams would accept Cueto. Even if they know an opt-out is coming, there’s the remainder of his $21.8 million salary this season to consider. Only the high rollers with luxury tax wiggle room in MLB could afford him financially.

Before anyone would even want him, Cueto has to pitch like a $20 million man again. His below average numbers to start 2017 will make it an uphill climb should Cueto eventually become a trade consideration for the Giants.

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