The question: Do Giants fans want Matt Cain to stay with the San Francisco Giants?
The answer: Oh, forever and ever and ever and ever and until the ends of time, when our sun collapses upon itself, its death rattle shaking the notion of existence, swallowing our mortality whole, only then, when Matt Cain looks up at the dying star and thinks, nay, I shan't pitch another baseball for this Giants team, will it ever be acceptable for him to not be on the Giants.
The fine print: Well, the contract extension can't be for, like, a billion dollars.
So we have to figure out what the range is for acceptable Cain extensions. If he gets 10/$50M, well, I'll feel bad for the little scamp. That's good for a three-bedroom condo in San Francisco, and he'll be underpaid relative to his peers. If he gets the Zito, there's more than a fair chance that in 2017 we'll think of Cain with way more resentment than we ever thought possible.
Everyone can point to the Jered Weaver extension as a comparable contract, but that's almost certainly a rarity. Weaver signed a five year, $85 million contract against the advice of his agent, Scott Boras. It's not like he has to fly coach now, so let's not overestimate his magnanimity. But it's a team-friendly deal that's surely less than he would have received from another suitor after this season.
But there are shadowy figures lurking in the background -- those damnable baseball sources:
Baseball people believe Cain might be able to match Cliff Lee's $120-million as a free agent if he tested the market after the year
In this article, some of those baseball people -- I'll just assume they're all the same guy -- speculated that Tim Lincecum could get as much as $30 million next season, which, considering that his agent countered with a $44 million price for two years, seems more and more like hokum with each passing day. Sometimes baseball people find figures in their nether regions too. And while we can all agree that Matt Cain should get a bigger contract than C.J. Wilson, is he really $50 million better? Seems unlikely.
The Weaver and Wilson contracts do provide a good start, though. For one, they're both five-year deals. Cain's younger, sure, but he's still a pitcher. That's the obvious rejoinder to the but-he's-young argument from his agent. With a few very, very rare examples in the next decade, I'm thinking the seven-year deal is dead for pitchers. GMs just text pictures of Barry Zito back to agents when the negotiations stall. Six-year deals will still be reserved for the elite of the elite, too. I think the Weaver/Wilson deals set a precedent.
So if Cain signs with the Giants -- and I'm almost certain he will, which perfectly sets up the eventual agony of him going to Miami -- I'll wager it's for five years with moderately difficult-to-reach vesting options.
And at that point, I'm not going to quibble too much over the annual value. If it's $18 million or $22 million, I'll still be okay with the contract. I'm not going to be so glib as to suggest that the money doesn't matter. 'Tis the offseason of "No thanks! Six million for Marco Scutaro would mean that we'd have to trade Jeremy Affeldt!" The difference will always matter, and the less Cain signs for, the more the Giants would have to spend on the Gary Matthews, Jr. of 2016. Which is probably Gary Matthews, Jr.
I'm pretty sure, though, that Cain's contract will be lucrative-yet-reasonable. And that it will come before spring training. And that it will be with the Giants. Maybe I'm just a wild-eyed optimist. You know how often I get that label slapped on me.
Prediction: Five years, $96 million (2012 through 2016) -- That's a Rowand, a Huff, and a Tejada stapled to a Dave Roberts!