Johnny Cueto was in the mall when his phone rang. All day, he’d been working out at Oracle Park with the team, impending NLDS roster crunches looming. He left the park uncertain.
Cueto, 35, had never been left off a playoff roster in his 14-year MLB career. That changed when he picked up his phone.
“My first reaction was I felt really bad,” Cueto said before Game 2 of the NLDS. “Number one, because it had never happened to me. Throughout my career, I made the team. But when the manager told me that I was not on the roster, obviously I felt bad.”
Cueto and manager Gabe Kapler have both acknowledged that he can still impact the team even while being on the taxi squad. All year, he’s helped lighten the mood during one of the most intense division races ever by being a playful personality in the clubhouse. He’s occasionally fielded ground balls in the infield before games, and has taken young pitchers, including Camilo Doval, under his wing.
But it still stung. Cueto said he wasn’t necessarily “upset,” about the call, but rather it was more “uncomfortable.”
“Getting that news on the phone made me feel bad, because you don’t want to hear that type of news over the phone,” Cueto said.
The Giants were still mulling over the final roster decisions after most of the players left the facility, Kapler said. In the end, SF chose to carry 14 position players and 12 pitchers, keeping both Steven Duggar and Alex Dickerson in favor of Cueto.
Kapler has said it was a tough decision, and he doesn’t take those difficult conversations lightly. Kapler said when he called Cueto, he offered to come meet him. They concluded it would take too long to convene, and discussed the situation further, face-to-face, the following day, Kapler said.
Cueto recorded a 4.08 ERA in 21 starts during the 2021 season — his sixth with the Giants. He had two separate stints on the injured list with right elbow injuries. Cueto is unlikely to make the NLCS roster, too, especially if Brandon Belt — who’s getting re-examined this weekend — returns.
The Giants hold a $22 million club option in Cueto’s contract for 2022, which they almost certainly will not pick up. Cueto will likely be a 36-year-old free agent, meaning it’s possible he’s already pitched his last game with the Giants.
“I don’t know yet,” Cueto said about his 2022 plans. “The only thing I know is that I love playing baseball. I have to get mentally ready for what comes next. I’m still young. I have a brand new arm. So I want to continue playing baseball.”