On Monday the San Francisco Giants signed Johnny Cueto to a six year, $130MM deal. Ever a man of his times, Cueto's deal includes both an opt out and a club option for a seventh year. If he had lobbied for a little deferred money, he could have won 2015 contract provision BINGO.
Last week the Cubs signed Ben Zobrist. That one stung. A Ben Zobrist return had seemed like a possible, if unlikely, outcome. That hope was crushed when a flurry of tweets announced Zobrist had signed a four-year deal with the Cubs.
Cueto's signing did not inspire the same reaction. Fans had known Cueto was a three month rental since the day he joined the team. People made their peace, and 800,000 fans said their goodbyes on the steps of Union Station. The Johnny Cueto era was over.
The Johnny Cueto era had begun just three months earlier. The Royals had traded for Cueto to replace the number one starter they had lost when James Shields left for San Diego. They gave up a lot to get him, and they expected a lot out of him.
Cueto's regular season was erratic and terrifying, but he came through when it mattered most. His ALDS game five and World Series game two starts will be remembered as two of the most dominant postseason performances in Royals history. Cueto was the flight that hits a ton of turbulence but arrives at the gate five minutes early.
While Cueto's greatest contribution to the Royals was his dominant postseason performance, his greatest contribution to our society and culture has been his Instagram account. Most Instagram accounts are terribly boring. No one wants to look at food. All babies look the same. Hospitals have to literally label them. Sunsets are decent. It's hard to make Instagram interesting. Cueto makes Instagram interesting.
Cueto lowering his walk rate
Cueto modeling his clothing line for bloggers
Cueto bearing arms
Cueto baring arms
Cueto is sleepy. There are a lot of these.
Cueto is bashful.
Cueto is comfortable. Sofas are a common motif in Cueto's Instagram portfolio.
And then there's this.
The beauty of a photograph is that it captures a specific moment in time and rips it from all context. What wouldn't we give to know the context of this photo? The eye is naturally drawn to the horse, but that may actually be the most normal thing in this scene. The horse appears to be taking a walk through its little fenced in enclosure. That's a normal thing for a horse to do. Meanwhile, Cueto is riding this horse while dressed as if he just went for a jog after starring in an elementary school Christmas pageant.
At some point in that day, Cueto put on those clothes. At a later point in that day, Cueto was on a horse. Were these events connected? Is that how Cueto dresses for horseback riding? Was Cueto dressed for some other activity and just happened to end up on a horse? Things happen. If so, what possible activity was he planning for? Was it laundry day, and only the red load was done?
Mass production of Ford's Model T began in 1908. At that point, professional baseball already had thirty years of history. The Cubs had just won their second consecutive World Series and were clearly on track to become one of baseball's most successful franchises. In those early days, seeing a baseball player on horseback would not have been abnormal. Our primary question would have been, "How can you afford that horse on your paltry MLB salary? Have you been doing some teaching on the side?" Maybe Johnny Cueto is just the ultimate throwback. Maybe we should leave him alone.
It's also worth noting that none of these pictures are selfies. In every one of these situations, Cueto said, "Hey take my picture and put it on my public Instagram account," and someone else said, "Well OK." If there's one thing we can learn from Johnny Cueto, it's the value of surrounding ourselves with people who will tell us no, but who sometimes have the sense of humor not to.
Thirty years from now, when we sit down to tell future generations of Royals fans about Johnny Cueto, we're not going to talk about his 13 regular season starts, and we're not going to try to explain what Instagram was. We're going to talk about the two nights in October where he surprised us with what we once expected. Two nights where a dude with a hundred question marks and "Is Johnny Cueto broken?" think pieces hanging over his head walked out to the mound and dominated like Johnny Cueto.
Cueto didn't choose to be a Royal, and he wasn't here very long. Still, he seemed to fit well with the cheesy Disney movie that was the 2015 Royals. It was a bumpy ride, but he found the way to his own storybook ending, with a few extra goofy laughs just for fun.