A common statement, from both fans and the front office, this offseason has been, “One of the reasons we haven’t spent larger on the free agent market is that we need to lock up our starting pitching (Cain and Lincecum). And spending dollars today, might prohibit that goal tomorrow.”
Matt Cain is earning $15M this season, his last year under contract with the Giants. Will the Giants be able to sign Cain to an extension before the 2012 season is over? I don’t know. But I think fans, and maybe the Giants (though, I’m not bold enough to say that I know what their internal discussions are), are preemptively assuming that Matt Cain will forgo the market and, instead, sign an extension with the team.
Here is my question: Why would Cain not test the market?
You could probably cite a bunch of personal reasons (real or imaginary) that might sway Cain to remain with the Giants: he enjoys the city of San Francisco, he likes the team, he’s raising a family in the area, the Giants are his first team, etc. And I have no idea if those are legitimate reasons that might keep Cain in San Francisco — but here’s the other point, neither do you. Even if we assume a best case scenario of Matt Cain loves everything about San Francisco, the team, the fans, there’s a large siren that’s beeping and flashing in the back of my mind.
This recent quote from Lance Berkman is, in my opinion, a crushingly candid, and honest, answer to the question of doing business in major league baseball.
“It’s always about money,” Berkman said. “No matter what people say, it’s always about the money.”
Money. For professional athletes that only have a limited shot at earning an income it’s kind of important.
Money. Cain is poised to make a ton of it. Consider the following facts about Matt Cain:
- He’s going to enter the market at 28-years-old — relatively young for a starting pitcher with eight seasons (this includes the upcoming 2012) under his belt.
- The accolades: two-time All-Star, 0.00 ERA in 21.1 innings of postseason baseball
- More stats: career ERA+ (125), five years of 200 IP or more (2007-11), career fWAR (24.2)
Consider the following mystery pitcher and his statistics before he entered the market:
Mystery pitcher: Age: 28, IP: 1,659.1, ERA+: 120, BB/9: 2.8, K/9: 7.6
Matt Cain: Age: 28, IP: 1,317.1, ERA+: 125, BB/9: 3.2, K/9: 7.4
Our mystery pitcher was a three-time All-Star by the time he made free agency. He was a Cy Young Award winner in 2007, but otherwise he’s shockingly similar to Matt Cain in innings pitched, Adjusted ERA (ERA+), walks-per-nine, and strikeouts-per-nine. If you haven’t figured it out, our mystery pitcher is none other than CC Sabathia. In 2008, Sabathia signed a seven year, $161 million dollar contract with the New York Yankees. If I’m Matt Cain’s agent, that’s the very first comparison I’m making when it comes to Matt Cain and a contract.
All things considered, I think you have to assume that Matt Cain will test the market. He’s too young and too talented not to. The Giants current strategy of locking up their pitching is a noble goal, but I think they’ll have stiff competition, and unless the team knocks Matt Cain over with an offer, it seems borderline crazy to think he won’t test the market. There is just way too many dollars out there for him not to.
Depressing? Maybe. But talent like Matt Cain only comes around every so often on the market and trust me, Matt Cain and his agent both know this. To say otherwise, while bringing in non-monetary arguments to the discussion, seems like the definition of unrealistic.