On Monday, the Giants announced that they agreed to a long term extension with starting pitcher Matt Cain. This deal was expected to get done some time during the next few months and Cain landed the biggest deal for a right handed pitcher in MLB history. The extension tacks on an extra 5 years worth 112.5 MM dollars with a vesting option for a 6th year. The 27 year old is coming off of his best season to date and has finally established himself as a bonafide ace after a few seasons of playing sidekick to Tim Lincecum.
This deal looks to be one of the more sounds contracts given to big name pitchers over the past few years that includes market value money. Cain is going to be paid like an ace with a very high annual salary, but the Giants did not completely compromise the future by only giving him a maximum of 6 more years after 2012. Cain will be 28 when the extension kicks in and you have to figure that he still has at least 2-3 seasons of top performance. Cain is extremely durable and is almost guarantee to pitch 200 innings every season. The deal will end when Cain is at the age of 33. He may be in a decline phase at that point in his career, but probably not so much where he becomes completely ineffective (a la Barry Zito). I would expect Cain who is technically in his prime right now to continue to be an ace in the Giants staff for at least another 3 seasons. When he begins to lose a tick or two on his fastball is when concerns should begin for a decline. By the end of the deal, Cain will most likely be paid more than what he is worth, but the majority of mega extensions and free agent contracts end up turning a bit ugly in the final year or two. I think this is a deal that the Giants had to make though, locking up their still young, homegrown pitcher before he walks in free agency.
However, the Matt Cain deal could signal that the Giants front office have decided to keep him over other ace Tim Lincecum. Lincecum will be a free agent after the 2013 season so the Giants still have plenty of time to work out a deal if they want to. But by the time Lincecum hits free agency, he will be 29 years old going on 30 and most likely asking for a deal that exceeds Cain. Lincecum has a much more impressive resume than Cain, winning back-to-back NL Cy Young awards with 4 straight All-Star appearances and 3 years in a row of being the NL Strikeout Champion. Lincecum has certainly been one of the most dominant pitchers in the league through the past decade but by the time he hits free agency, his peak years will most likely be over. While he has had a high peak and could still be very good for a few more seasons after 2013, the Giants would most probably be overpaying for Lincecum’s services in terms of what they receive in production from him.
Even though Lincecum has been injury free throughout his whole career, there still will be questions of durability going forward with his unusual delivery and small frame. Matt Cain projects to be much more durable going forward. Also, with the emergence of Madison Bumgarner, the Giants may be sitting on another young ace who will have to be paid in the next coming years. A terrible hypothetical scenario would be to let Bumgarner potentially walk because they cannot afford him, having so much money tied up in Lincecum and Cain after their peak seasons. There are also Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and a whole entire team that will need to be paid as well in the future. To tie up 45 MM dollars or more in two starting pitchers could seriously handcuff even a larger market team like the Giants. There are still two more seasons left before the Giants will face this problem so there is still so much that can happen. But I predict that the Giants will end up letting Lincecum walk after his contract is up and instead use that money to extend Madison Bumgarner.