The strategy: Lock up Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum forever and ever and ever.
You know what that's better than? A strategy of trading them now because there's no way the Giants can't afford to keep them. Remember that when you're feeling sorry for yourself because you follow a team with a meager $130 million payroll. Lincecum and Cain should be together in French vanilla forever and ever and ever. They should finish each other's sentences during their Hall of Fame inductions. They should be holding hands on a 2051 bobblehead that's given away at the park. The Giants ostensibly agree.
We can debate the merits of long-term deals to pitchers later. It feels like the Giants have been burned by those before, but I can't remember the details. But if there were ever pitchers who deserved long-term deals from the San Francisco Giants, they're Tim F. Lincecum, and Matt M.F. Cain.
But here are two thoughts on the strategy. The first is sort of a whiny grumble. The second is a legitimate fear.
First: The Giants keep saying that they're avoiding long-term deals because they have to spend money to keep their pitching. Understood. But even with long-term deals to Cain and Lincecum, what would be drastically different about the payroll? The Giants are going to pay their two top starters a combined $35 million or so in 2012. What would be the annual total for both on long-term deals? A combined $40 million? Maybe $45 million? While that's not exactly a rounding error, it's not a crazy, drastic difference.
They can afford it now, even though they're paying almost $50 million to three useless or near-useless players. So the Giants are basically saying, "We're saving our money for our pitchers, who will make close to the same money on a long-term deal they are now, but they'll do it on their new deal after Zito, Rowand, and Huff are off the books."
Again, that's just whiny nitpicking, but it still kind of bugs me. I'm not saying there's a perfect fit for the Giants to go huge and compete with the Marlins for Albert Pujols, but there should be a way to afford Carlos Beltran.
The second thought on the strategy: What if Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, like, don't want to stay?
If there's anything to learn from the Pujols/Marlins lunacy, it's that even the favorite sons of a city can wander off. Cain has a place in San Francisco, and he supposedly loves it here. The park is a perfect complement to his pitching style. Lincecum is the most beloved sports idol in the area since Joe Montana, at least when you factor in that Barry Bonds was always a bit divisive with the common folk. They each have very good reasons for staying.
But they have to be tired of pitching behind a punchless offense. Cain's under .500 for his career, one of the two unluckiest pitchers in baseball history. Lincecum finished 13-14 last year. That's the kind of stuff that can hurt Hall-of-Fame chances, even if wins and losses are mostly meaningless stats. There's no shame in thinking about a legacy when searching for a long-term deal. Can Lincecum and Cain trust Brian Sabean to build an average offense more than once every six or seven years?
I mean, we all trust him to do that, of course. But can they?
All it takes is one of them to leave for the whole strategy to be a failure. The Giants have three great starting pitchers now. I don't know about 2016, but I know they have one of the very best rotations right freaking now. They're not going to buy an offense now because they want to keep the rotation for the future, at which point they might figure out how to get an offense behind them. But if they lose either Cain or Lincecum, the whole strategy of setting the team up for 2015 at the expense of 2012 will be a huge mess.
Which is all to say, if this was really their strategy, they should have been way, way more aggressive far earlier. No "we had preliminary talks with Lincecum's agent." No "we played footsie for a bit after exchanging text messages." If that's the strategy, they should have pursued it like maniacs. We're ten months away from Matt Cain's agent taking phone calls from teams with real hitters. Just over 20 months away from Lincecum's agent doing the same. It's a dangerous game of chicken, and it scares the hell out of me.