"What?!" you might be asking "Is Sabean trying to trade Matt Cain?" No, no stupid rumor like that. Just this: the biggest signing of the off-season should not be any of the players signed (or agreed to sign) thus far, it should be the Giants announcing that Matt Cain has been signed for the rest of his pre-free agency years, just like what the Giants did with Noah Lowry earlier this year in April.
Matt Cain is our centerpiece for our future, there are no other Giants player whose shadow looms bigger (though Lincecum could muddy the waters but that's a good thing to have). Yes, we control him for another 5 years anyway, but arbitration is a process that don't always help a team keep salaries down. In addition, he seems to be a really nice, grounded guy, from the interviews I have heard him before, so he does not seem to be a money driven type of player, he seems to be a player who just wants to play baseball, let his agents handle his business affairs.
How Much for Cain?
I don't have a great idea for what Matt Cain should get. I don't recall any other young pitcher signing except for Lowry's, which I dug up from Cot's Baseball Contract website: signed April 2006 to a 4 years, $9.25M contract, with $1M signing bonus and the following salaries by year:
- 2006: $0.385M
- 2007: $1.115M
- 2008: $2.25M
- 2009: $4.5M
- 2010: $6.25M club option
- bonuses may increase total value of contract to $17M
- escalators may increase 2010 club option to $7.75M
I would have to assume that after the crazy signings of Meche, Padilla, and Lilly, plus Suppan and others to follow, that Cain's representatives will want much more than what Lowry got in a contract.
First off, the bonus I would think would be in the $1.5-2.0M range. Maybe $3M if you want to try to get the dollars lower in later years.
Next off, there are his two pre-arb years, though he probably (hopefully) will go Super-2, so there would only really be one pre-arb year. That we can bump up to $500K-1M.
Then comes the four arbitration years. If we double Lowry's contract we get: $2.23M, $4.5M, $9.0M, $12.5M club option. If we just double everything, then it is a 4 year, $18.5M contract covering 2007-2010, with a 2011 club option, with bonuses that may increase total value of extension to $34M and escalators that may increase 2011 club option to $15.5M. That actually seems about right given the new salary structure this hot stove season.
One example I just remembered for comparison is Dontrelle Willis. In his first arbitration, he got a record $4.35M for a first year arbitration player in 2006, which covered his third season. That is more than what the numbers above would pay Cain. But Cain hasn't done what Willis did in his first two seasons, though he may be poised to. But that is still pretty good change to get when he has trouble still with the long ball and walks.
That reminded me of another: Brandon Webb. He first signed a 3 year contract with team option after his first season, the signed an extension that replaced his final year of that contract in January 2006. In effective sequence, his contracts paid him: $0.335M, $0.715M, $2.5M, $4.5M, $5.5M, $6.5M, $8.5M club option (with $0.5M buyout, increasing by $0.5M for each top 5 finish in Cy Young, so I guess it is now $1M). This covers into his post-free agent years, two years in. Personality-wise, he seems to be similar to Cain, so perhaps Cain can be enticed into going into his free agent years as well.
Boy, now I remember Johan Santana. He signed an extension before his second arbitration season (where he asked for $6.8M and was offered $5M) and got: $5.5M, $9M, $12M, and $13.25M. This covered his remaining arbitration years and two years into his free agent years and was signed in February 2005, before the heated salary inflation of the last two off-seasons.
Seems like teams are able to get their players to accept losing their free agent years for some security. Even if we take Cain's first two free agent years, like their respective teams took for Webb and Santana, Cain would still be only 28 years old when his contract ends and he becomes a free agent. So that looks doable to me and thus is a goal the team should focus on in extending his contract.
It looks like the doubling of Lowry's contract for Cain would seem to compare favorably with these top pitchers contracts. $11M is the new middle-rotation salary and that's basically what Santana and Webb got for their last year of pre-free agency, though Webb was on the low side of that, so perhaps we can insert $7M into the middle of the doubled Lowry contract, adding a year to cover Cain's first free agency year, and smoothing out the growth in salary each year. Then we could add another year at the end and remove the team option stuff, for $13.5M.
That would result in a contract something like this ($50M is a round number so I juggled the bonus and smoothed out the salaries the way I have seen Sabean do before, or, I guess, rather, like Colletti did before) : Cain signed to a 7 years, $50M contract, with $1.5M signing bonus and the following salaries by year:
- 2007: $0.5M
- 2008: $2.5M
- 2009: $4.5M
- 2010: $6.5M
- 2011: $8.5M
- 2012: $12.5M
- 2013: $13.5M
I could debate whether to make the free agent years team options, but given his relative good health and youth, and good pitching up to now, even if he turned out to be an average middle-of-rotation pitcher, pitchers like that are probably going to be making what we are offering for his post-free agent years, if not more, since Meche and Padilla got $11M per season and Lilly got $10M. So guaranteeing them seems reasonable to me, though there is always the risk of injury later.
In addition, we might be able to reduce the backend salaries for more bonus money up-front. Maybe $1M in bonus for every $2M reduction in back, as a rough estimate. However, the structure above seems reasonable to me, relative to contracts I have seen handed out.
This is a risky contract, covering 7 years, particularly for a pitcher who only has slightly more than a season under his belt. However, if the Giants are to make a risky signing this season, I would hope that it is Cain that they are signing. I was originally thinking that doubling Lowry's contract would be crazy, money-wise, but given the salary inflation, it was a good structure to build on.
Promising $50M to an unproven starter seemed crazy before but after Boston gave Matsuzaka a $52M contract (plus paid the $51.1M bid), I don't think the contract I proposed is that bad a contract. Cain is our Matsuzaka and he won't cost us a posting bid. Nor was his arm overworked like Matsuzaka's reportedly was in Japan, the Giants have handled their golden child with kid gloves, moving him slowly up the system and then easing him into our rotation.
As that KNBR ad drones over and over again, I think it's the biggest no-brainer in the history of mankind. Even with the example of how badly Kerry Wood's contract ended up for the Cubs, I think it is something the Giants should do to protect our future. It is certainly better, in my opinion, than the contracts they reportedly offered to Soriano, Pierre, Lee, and Matthews this off-season.
Hopefully we will get news of this during spring training to brighten up our 2007 season, which looks, thus far, to be a struggle to be competitive in the NL West unless the pitching comes through, big time. But that's life in the MLB, no team can buy their way to competitiveness, they will always have to hope that someone comes through, whether rookies, free agents, or team vets. The Giants hopes rest on the pitching staff pitching to their past good performances.