SAN FRANCISCO -- After months of speculation, the Giants made it official. Johnny Cueto will have Tommy John surgery, ending his 2018 season and putting him on the sidelines for most of the 2019 season.
Cueto will have the procedure on his right elbow on Thursday at the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic in Los Angeles. Dr. Neal ElAttrache will perform the surgery.
Cueto met with team doctors this week and went over another MRI, and the final diagnosis did not come as a surprise. The 32-year-old was shut down after five brilliant starts in April because of pain in his elbow. At the time, Cueto thought he was headed for surgery, but Dr. James Andrews told him he could rest and return to the mound. Cueto made it back for four starts but was never himself, with diminished velocity and unfamiliar results. After four innings Saturday night, the Giants threw in the towel. Cueto admitted afterward that his elbow still bothered him every time he was on the mound.
The recovery time for Tommy John varies, but pitchers generally miss 12 to 14 months even if everything goes well. Cueto is older than most starters who have had it in recent years, but he also is more creative than just about any pitcher in the game. It's possible he can return down the stretch next year, in September, and find a way to contribute. The more likely scenario may be that he misses all of 2019 and returns at full health in the spring of 2020.
The Giants signed Cueto after the 2015 season and he was one of the best pitchers in baseball the next year. At the time, he looked like a bit of a steal, but there were rumors about Cueto's elbow the offseason he signed, limiting his market, and that trouble resurfaced less than halfway into his six-year, $130 million deal. The Giants originally thought Cueto might opt out after two years, but a poor and injury-marred season in 2017 made that a non-factor.
Cueto is owed $21 million next year and each of the following two seasons, with a team option for 2022. Most pitchers these days return to form after reconstructive surgery, but the layoff will cover just about the rest of the guaranteed time on Madison Bumgarner's contract, and it's unclear what the rotation or roster will look like when Cueto is once again capable of leading a rotation.
In the short term, the Giants will slide Chris Stratton into Cueto's rotation spot. Long term, they're looking for other solutions. Vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean said Tuesday that much of the time before the deadline was spent looking for controllable starting pitching. The Giants feared the worst with Cueto's injury. Those fears have now come true.