According to Mike Rodriguez of Univision, the White Sox have signed veteran righty Johnny Cueto. Cueto signed a minor league deal and will make a prorated $4.2MM in the Majors, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan. Cueto has an opt-out date of May 15, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network. Bryce Dixon is Cueto’s manager.
Cueto, 36, adds depth to a White Sox rotation that just saw Lance Lynn undergo surgery for a partially torn right knee-tendon. Lynn is anticipated to miss roughly two months of work. The club has also recently taken a few hits in the bullpen, including a voluntary transfer of Craig Kimbrel to the Dodgers and a sad injury requiring Tommy John surgery for Garrett Crochet.
The White Sox’s first four starters will remain Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech, and Dallas Keuchel. Cueto, who was just added to the starting rotation, will try to step up and join a group that already includes Reynaldo Lopez and Vince Velasquez. Cueto knows White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz from his time with the Giants from 2019 to 2020, and he’s been training with Lopez in recent offseasons.
After a strong age-24 season in 2010, then-Reds GM Walt Jocketty saw fit to sign Cueto to a four-year, $27MM contract with a club option. Cincinnati gained two more years of control, at which time Cueto developed into a Cy Young Award contender. When free agency arrived, Jocketty traded Cueto to the Royals, who went on to win the World Series. In-Game 2 of the World Series, the righty completed his brief Royals career with a full game victory.
Cueto signed a six-year, $130 million free-agent deal with the Giants under Brian Sabean’s administration about a month after the parade. Cueto was fantastic in his debut season with the Giants, but the gamble did not pay off for the team. Cueto’s contract had an opt-out clause after the second year, which he might have taken advantage of if it hadn’t been for a flexor strain in 2017.
In May of 2018, Cueto suffered an elbow strain, necessitating Tommy John’s surgery in August of that year. After a fairly quick 13-month rehabilitation, he returned to pitch in September of 2019. Cueto started all of the Giants’ games on Opening Day in 2020, despite the team’s short season.
Cueto missed nearly a month in ’21 due to a lat strain, followed by the further time late in the season due to flexor and elbow issues. On September 30th, he made his final appearance for the Giants, the first of his illustrious 14-year career. Cueto was unable to make the Giants’ NLDS roster due to his limitations, and the team was forced to buy out his $22MM club option for $5MM. Despite this, Cueto pitched 114 2/3 innings for the Giants in 2021, the first time he has pitched more than 63 1/3 innings in a season since 2017.
In 178 innings since 2020, Cueto has a 4.55 ERA, 20.1 K%, 7.3 BB%, and 39.1 percent groundball rate. Cueto was never a huge strikeout pitcher, even in his prime, and he threw harder in 2021 than he did in his final solid season, in 2016. Cueto’s lack of a Major League contract is startling, but his compensation in the bigs will be substantial compared to a little league contract. After the lockout, a handful of other AL Central teams, the Twins and Tigers, at least considered Cueto. As the club tries to recover from Lynn’s injury, there’s a decent chance the control artist will end up in Chicago