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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cain They or Cain't They?

The Giants kept telling us fans all offseason that their priority was to lock up their pitching. That's all we heard. Pitching, pitching, pitching. They didn't go after big free agent hitters because they wanted to lock up their pitching. I'm pretty sure locking up the pitching didn't mean just signing Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez to above market contracts. I'm pretty sure they meant they wanted to lock in Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong, and Matt Cain. Maybe even get some cost certainty over Madison Bumgarner. Well, one out of four is great, right? The Giants signed Vogelsong to a team friendly 2yr/8M deal with an affordable option for a third year. But aside from that? They settled with Lincecum on a 2 year 40.5M deal that did not buy out a single one of his free agent years. And while they discussed a long term deal with Bumgarner, they couldn't come to an agreement and settled on a one year deal. And Matt Cain, the potential free agent, remains unsigned 2.5 weeks before the season starts.

Way to lock up that pitching, Giants.

Cain set a soft deadline of Opening Day to get an extension done. If you've ever followed baseball, you know that if a player entering his walk season doesn't have a contract by the time the season starts, that player will undoubtedly become a free agent and most likely leave.

Most recent example? Albert Pujols. Did anyone really think he wouldn't be a Cardinal this year? Yet there he is sitting in a Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim jersey. The Cardinals couldn't work out an extension before he hit free agency and even despite extra revenues from winning the World Series St. Louis couldn't keep their star player.

Now, why Cain remains unsigned is up for debate. Is it because the Giants aren't willing to meet Cain's demands? Or has Cain decided he wants to test free agency? From all accounts, Matt Cain loves San Francisco. His wife is from the area. And they have a young baby that they're raising. San Francisco loves him back. He's a team leader in the clubhouse. He's won playoff games and a World Series. So what's the hold up?

No RHP has landed a bigger contract than Kevin Brown's 7yr/105M contract with the Dodgers from way back in 1998. Cain undoubtedly would break at least that dollar amount if he hits free agency. And his agent has made it clear he won't be taking a hometown discount from the Giants. And since the Giants failed to sign Lincecum beyond 2013, they know that if they want to retain Big Time Timmy Jim it's going to take a monster contract, possibly rivaling that of the Yankees CC Sabathia (originally 7yrs/161M and then extended for 5 years/122M). And with Bumgarner and Posey going to be due big contracts in a few seasons and Brian Wilson a free agent after 2013 then the Giants may not be ready to commit the super mega bucks Matt Cain's agent knows he's worth on the open market. What will it take to keep Cain in SF? 6yrs/120M? How high are the Giants willing to go?

Obviously not high enough this offseason to get Cain to sign. At least not at this juncture. There's still 2.5 weeks. But make no mistake, if Cain makes his first start of the season against Arizona without a contract, you can fully expect that 2012 is Cain's last year as a Giant. He will get offers from big market teams that will blow away anything the Giants would likely offer. Half the league would want Cain at the front of their rotation. The Cubs, Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox would all be interested. If Cole Hamels (who's in the same boat as Cain in Philly) doesn't get re-signed, then Cain likely lands on the Phillies radar. And that's just the obvious teams. The Angels and Rangers could hop in if they make room in their budget. The Braves could be a dark horse. And the Nationals and Marlins haven't been shy of throwing money to free agents of late either.

In other words, the line for Cain will be long. And it'll be hard for him to turn down the highest offer even if it means leaving a place where he's revered, loved, respected, and familiarized.

So keep close attention the next couple of weeks because if nothing gets resolved, be prepared to watch Matt Cain pitch in his first walk year and likely last season as a San Francisco Giant.

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