Link to my Wednesday Johnny Cueto column. Text below:

Now, the Giants pitching rotation is set.

Well, almost set. They picked up Johnny Cueto as a free agent, are paying him a cool $130 million if Cueto sticks around for six years — he can opt out after two years. You and I should have such an opt-out clause. Add Cueto to new addition Jeff Samardzija and the Giants have five respectable to good to great starting pitchers, if everything works according to plan.

Big “if,” but well within reason.

And let’s not mess around here. If things work out, the Giants will have one hell of a pitching staff, will be the best team in the National League West, and probably the best team in the National League. The Giants always go big, swing for the fences — sure I mixed my metaphor right there, talking about pitching with a hitting image. I dare the Mixed Metaphor Society of America to sue me.

What are the ifs?

I’ll get to the Cueto ifs in a moment. First, a quick summary of the Samardzija ifs. No slow pitch to set up his heat. Hitters can time him — and do. Needs work on his delivery — i.e. a project. Career losing record. Which makes him, excuse me, a career loser. Was no big deal in Oakland. Everyone around here saw that.

On the other hand, he does throw very fast, and Giants pitching genius Dick Tidrow signed off on him, and Brian Sabean likes him, and Dave Righetti will work on his delivery and his mind, and AT&T is very forgiving to pitchers. Call Samardzija Giants starter No. 3 — exactly where he belongs.

That brings us to Cueto, the anointed one at No. 2. Question: Can a Two ever be an anointed One? Oh, forget it.

The Giants were in desperate need of a No. 2 to Madison Bumgarner’s exalted No. 1, that’s if they want to compete for real and not just be poseurs. They had a serious Two Gap. Now, they have filled it. Cueto has great stuff, throws hard, varies his delivery all the time. Batting against him is like facing a human octopus.

But there are ifs. Or if you prefer, issues.
He had a losing record last year in a season he split between the Reds and Royals. He went only 4-7 with the world-champion Royals. Not so hot. He pitched well at home but tended to lose his mind on the road. In the postseason, Kansas City arranged his pitching schedule so he started only one time away from home.

Which leads you to wonder about his noodle. About what’s between his ears. And there may an issue — an if — about his actual ears. Being literal here.

The enduring memory of him is the 2013 wild-card game between his Reds and the Pirates in Pittsburgh. Marlon Byrd led off the bottom of the second with a home run. The fans noticed. They started chanting a derisive “Cuaaaaay-toooooe, Cuaaaay-tooooe” as Russell Martin stepped into the batter’s box. Cueto freaked. Dropped the freaking ball while standing on the mound. How often do you see the pitcher do that?

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Cueto lost control of the ball. Then he lost control of the game. A Pittsburgh friend of mine wrote Cueto then “threw a meatball to Martin.” Which probably makes Cueto a meatloaf. Martin slammed a home run to left. Cueto lasted 31/3 innings and gave up four earned runs and got the loss.
But the same thing goes for Cueto as goes for Samardzija. He gets the OK of Tidrow and Sabean and he will work with Righetti and he will pitch at AT&T. Lots of good stuff there. Plus he’s a better pitcher than Samardzija and, if he’s right, the Giants will have killer No. 1 and No. 2 starters. Not the same as if they got Zack Greinke. But potentially in that territory.

The Giants do not settle. They are in it to win. They are what the Warriors are, what the Raiders want to be, and what the A’s and 49ers forgot about being. Or just don’t care being anymore. The Giants are a model of “You may beat us, but you’ll have to kill us first.”

I love the San Francisco Giants.

Let’s put their rotation into perspective — something they just did with purpose and clarity. Bumgarner, Cueto, Samardzija — one, two and three. Lovely. If the ifs aren’t ifs.

Jake Peavy is No. 4. One heck of a No. 4. It is exactly where he should be. Not any higher. Peavy at No. 4 shows how deep and good the Giants rotation can be.
Matt Cain is the No. 5. An expensive No. 5. An intriguing No. 5. He could go either way. Up in the rotation or he could go down and slide right out of it. At one time, the Giants saw him as the future. He may be the past. He lost his release point after surgery, and release points sometimes vanish and never come back. No one knows what will happen with Cain. He doesn’t know. Even Tidrow doesn’t know.

If Cain comes back, the Giants are solid — better than solid — one through five. If he doesn’t come back, Chris Heston is ready to roll. Which means the Giants are well-placed where championship teams live — in their pitching.


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