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Cubs free agent target: Johnny Cueto

This just might work for the 2023 Cubs.

Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

I was perusing Fangraphs’ Top 50 Free Agents and found former Cubs nemesis Johnny Cueto listed at No. 32 — ahead of some guys I’ve already written about in this series — and I thought, “Why not look at this guy?”

Cueto had a really good year for the White Sox, posting a 3.35 ERA (3.79 FIP) and 1.225 WHIP. That was good for 3.5 bWAR, almost a full WAR point better than any Cubs pitcher (Marcus Stroman, 2.6).

But, you’re saying, he’s 37 and spent most of the previous four years injured.

Yes, absolutely, those things are true. Here’s what Fangraphs says:

In total, the 36-year-old pitched 158 healthy innings across 25 outings after requiring three IL stints in 2021. While his velocity held in the 90-93 mph range, Cueto’s strikeout rate tumbled to a career-low 15.7% in 2022, as his changeup missed fewer bats than usual and was closer to an average pitch in that regard. Increased cutter usage is another indication that Cueto has entered the twilight, pitch-to-contact phase of his incredible career. He still throws a ton of strikes (he tied a career-low in walk rate) and a ton of different pitches, eight if you count the rare low-slot sliders and slow eephus curveballs that Cueto occasionally manifests. Combine that with all the disruptive shimmies and slide steps, as well as Cueto’s trademark cool, and he’s a good veteran backend starter option on a one-year deal.

Right, you’re saying, that’s all the Cubs need, another soft-tosser pitching to contact. Signing a guy like this would almost necessitate signing one of the big-name shortstops, because then Nico Hoerner could move to second base and Cueto (and other pitch-to-contact Cubs starters) could take advantage of strong infield defense.

But here’s the thing that got me: Cueto made 24 starts for the White Sox. He threw more than eight innings four times. That’s more than all Cubs pitchers combined in 2021 (Kyle Hendricks was the only Cubs starter to go eight or more, just once). Cueto threw seven or more innings eight times. Cubs starters did that 18 times in 2022 — combined. Cueto threw six or more innings 19 times. Cubs starters did that 50 times in 2022 — combined.

That was one of the biggest issues with the Cubs last year, starting pitchers not going deep into games. It put pressure on the bullpen. Having a starter like Cueto who could eat up innings like that would be a huge bonus for a rotation that’s likely to have a couple of inexperienced guys.

Cueto is 37. He’s clearly healthy again after several injuries over the last few seasons. The White Sox got that 2022 performance at the bargain rate of just $5 million. I would absolutely, positively give him a one-year deal for twice that, $10 million. Heck, throw in a second-year team option for $12 million with a $1 million buyout. That way if he’s any good in 2023, you could probably squeeze out one more year from him at age 38.

What say you?


Johnny Cueto...

This poll is closed

  • 52%
    ... the Cubs should sign him to a deal like the one proposed in the article
    (318 votes)
  • 6%
    ... the Cubs should sign him, but it will cost more in years or dollars or both
    (38 votes)
  • 39%
    ... the Cubs should not sign him
    (237 votes)
  • 1%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (10 votes)
603 votes total Vote Now