Johnny Cueto has no purpose on the Marlins roster

Why won’t the team accept that Cueto is a sunk cost?

Why won’t the team accept that Cueto is a sunk cost?

After years of stubbornly relying on internal, mostly inexperienced starting pitching options, Miami Marlins principal owner Bruce Sherman opened up his wallet so that his front office could add the accomplished and eclectic Johnny Cueto on a one-year, $8.5 million contract via free agency. The Marlins paid what was the going rate for an elderly back-end starter, anticipating some regression from his 2022 campaign with the Chicago White Sox—3.5 bWAR in 158.1 IP—but still counting on him to be an efficient innings eater and positive clubhouse presence.

The Marlins were wrong, and now their stubbornness is manifesting itself in a different way.

Cueto has been returned from rehab and reinstated from the 60-day injured list. He initially landed on the IL on April 4 with right biceps tightness, then suffered a sprained ankle during his initial rehab assignment. During his time away, the 37-year-old cut off his signature dreadlocks and put on some weight. He embarked on a fresh rehab assignment one month ago to reinforce a contending Marlins team with serious rotation depth concerns.

Just one problem: he’s washed up.

I really wanted this to work, as I imagine many of you did, but Cueto has nothing to contribute.

Often one of the first places we look when evaluating starting pitchers is earned run average, but that isn’t applicable to rehab assignments. ERA is fickle over such a limited sample size. I won’t even reference ERA in Cueto’s case.

Rather, the Marlins (or any other MLB team) should be putting a greater emphasis on fielder independent pitching (FIP), quality of stuff and command when assessing a veteran’s readiness to return. Cueto has not checked any of these boxes.

There are more than 2,000 pitchers in Minor League Baseball this season who have thrown at least 20 innings. Cueto’s 10.81 FIP across 29 frames is the worst of them all. We have advanced MiLB stats available going back to 2006 via FanGraphs and Cueto’s FIP is third-highest for any single season during that span (min. 20 IP) behind only 2022 Jordan Sheffield (11.71) and 2011 Ian Snell (11.10), both of whom played in more extreme hitter-friendly environments. To be crystal clear, Cueto is struggling to this extent against minor leaguers—two starts with Double-A Pensacola and five with Triple-A Jacksonville—and now he’s being bumped up to the highest level?!

Home runs are largely responsible for inflating Cueto’s FIP. Perhaps the most astonishing stat I’ve come across: he has allowed more homers in seven MiLB games this year (16 HR) than he did in 25 MLB games last year (15 HR). While there have been a few “unlucky” wall-scrapers, there have been just as many wall-bangers that could’ve flown out with the help of a gentle breeze:

Cueto has an expansive pitch mix including a sinker, four-seamer, cutter, changeup, slider and a break-in-case-of-emergency curveball. He used everything he’s got during his rehab starts and everything was getting barreled. The only mildly encouraging note from Saturday’s Triple-A outing is he averaged 90.7 miles per hour on sinkers and four-seamers combined, slightly above where he had previously been. However, even that falls below his 2022 average (91.4 mph) and would place in the bottom 10% of current major leaguers.

Cueto still has the ability to throw the ball over the plate, topping a 60% strike rate in every rehab start. Consistently down the middle, though seldom on the corners (lousy command). I wholeheartedly recommend him for the 2024 Home Run Derby, if it’s not too soon to apply. Perhaps Adolis García would be interested in hiring him.

Initially, the Marlins will utilize Cueto out of the bullpen, Craig Mish of SportsGrid reports, presumably to mop up in low-leverage situations. Some will say it’s a worthwhile experiment considering how solid the two-time All-Star was only a year ago. Bring him into games that are already out of reach and see if something clicks. If nothing does, part ways once an injured arm like Edward Cabrera, Matt Barnes or Andrew Nardi is ready to come off the IL.

What I’m trying to tell you is that the 2023 version of Cueto is not even qualified for that thankless role. Name a random Jumbo Shrimp pitcher—Devin Smeltzer, Daniel Castano, Chi Chi González, Jeff Lindgren, Enmanuel De Jesús…they are all better than Cueto right now and similarly stretched out. If the Marlins are so underwhelmed by them, go outside the organization for an alternative and show some urgency to improve a roster that’s capable of being the franchise’s best in 20 years.

Including the remainder of his 2023 salary and the buyout of his 2024 club option, Johnny Cueto is owed more than $5 million. The Marlins made a poor investment, but hey, that’s baseball. As much as it would hurt to let a healthy pitcher walk at this stage of the season, they’re tempting fate by enabling somebody who could make their staff substantially worse.

Photo courtesy of johnnycueto47/Instagram

4 responses to “Johnny Cueto has no purpose on the Marlins roster”

  1. It amazes me that after this long writing about the team Ely either does not understand or refuses to acknoledge who Bruce Sherman really is and how it affects the team. He is a longtime vulture hedge fund manager who, before owning the Marlins, never had any interest in baseball. His sole interest in the team is financial.
    He has never released a player still under contract and never will because of how cheap he is. Even Stevie Wonder can see that Avisail and Cueto are finished. But because Sherman is still paying for them, the Marlins are going to play them and like it. This is not Skip’s call or Kim’s, it is solely on Bruce. And no amount of whining from internet comentators is going to change things.

    1. Just last season, they released Aguilar in August with $1.8M owed to him and that was despite him being a well-liked teammate and a mildly useful player.

      1. They released Aguilar near the end of the season with only a month left to play, the Fish 17 games under 500 and just $1.6 million salary still owed. Fans had been clamoring for his release all season. If you read Kim’s comments at the time they timed it so another team could sign him for his bat for the post season and pick up part of his salary.
        By contrast, for Cueto, we still have half of the season left, so about $3 mm. Until he went back on the roster, insurance was paying his salary.
        Its even worse with Garcia with another $6 million owed this year and $12 mil for the next two years.
        So yeah, Sherman is cheap whether you want to admit it or not. A real owner would have released Aguilar sooner and Cueto now.

  2. The Marlins are just hoping against hope that there’s some value to squeeze out of Cueto. It’s a symptom of the financial condition, understandable to me and other Marlins fans. It is, of course, the same pall cast over Garcia’s status. No team in the Marlins’ position in the standings would throw Garcia back in the mix, upsetting the team’s chemistry. We’ll see on both players. I hope Sherman and Ng don’t put unnecessary obstacles in the way of this playoff run. I bet they cut bait on both and, to further indicate a strategic change, push hard for realistic deadline additions. Marlins – don’t squander this opportunity for both on-field success and fan goodwill.

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