The Urgency of the Matt Cain Deal

Wake up. Roll over. See the Matt Cain contract next you. Roll on your back. Stare at the ceiling, eyes wide, thinking about how things are different now. Start to have doubts. Try to piece the night together, see how it all happened. Relax a little. Fall back asleep. Worry about everything later.

The rebuttal to that is this: Matt Cain. With Cain signed, we can relax a little. The next scheduled ol'-fashioned freakout isn't for a year, yet. Oh, there will be plenty of freak outs over the next year -- Scott Hairston, still in the National League -- but the next scheduled one, about the Lincecum contract, is a ways off.

The Cain contract felt more urgent than any Giants-related move in recent memory. A big part of that is that I'm absolutely convinced that Tim Lincecum is determined to reach free agency. That's been his plan from the beginning, even in his arbitration years. I obviously have no idea how many times the Giants have approached him with extension offers over the last four years, but he's rebuffed every one of them that involved buying out his free-agent years.

So if Cain left as a free agent, here were the two scenarios for the Giants:

1. The Rotation Apocalypse
In this scenario, Cain is gone. At the end of the 2013 season, Tim Lincecum shops around. The Kansas City Royals, who just signed a 20-year/$400 billion television deal because that's what the kids are doing this day, entice Lincecum to play for them, partially with descriptions of vibrant and robust Kansas City nightlife. By the time he figures out that they were talking about 1939, the ink will have dried.

The Giants have Madison Bumgarner. Maybe another pitcher from the farm. They'll have money to spend on the Matt Morrises of the present day. In this scenario, the pitching becomes unbearably awful. Gary Brown, Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Joe Panik form a big orange machine, and the Giants score 900 runs. They allow 901. We file a class-action suit against the universe for violating our civil rights.

2. The Payroll Apocalypse
With Cain gone, the Giants know they need to sign Lincecum. It's a public-relations imperative. The team can't, can't, can't let both Cain and Lincecum go while selling the ballpark out night after night. The fans would feel like their hard-earned money is being stuffed under a mattress. The Barry Zito excuse is gone, off the books. Can't even blame Aubrey Huff or Aaron Rowand anymore. The Giants letting Cain and Lincecum go would have made the team look like a caricature in an early-20th-century political cartoon.

Lincecum's agent is no dummy. He knows this. So he teases the Giants in the months leading up to free agency, rejecting every offer that is presented. He waits. And waits. The Giants come at him with something like what they gave Barry Zito. Nope. They offer something close to what CC Sabathia got. Nope. They add a year. Nope.

The agent whispers four words into the phone on a rainy November morning: "Give him the Votto."

Ten years. For a pitcher. Over $200 million. For a pitcher. The Giants can't possibly … there's no way … yet, what are their choices? Let him walk? Have the fans revolt because the team can sell out a ballpark but can't keep a fan favorite around? It's the brand that's at stake. The lunatic fringe is where the "Giants are cheap!/Rainy-day fund!" comments come from. But lose Lincecum and Cain both -- say, one to the Dodgers and one to the Yankees -- and it puts the torchfork* into the hands of the regular fan. The ones who make up the majority of season-ticket holders.

And for a decade, the answer to "Can we get ..." is "No. Lincecum.", just as it was with Barry Zito.

There are other scenarios. I'm guessing these were the two likeliest. There is still time to freak out over losing Lincecum, but I'm starting to come to terms with the fact that he might be more expensive than we can even imagine. At least with Cain around, the Giants have a little negotiating leverage, even if they have less money.

The important part is Matt Cain. But the ancillary benefits are that we don't have to worry about the homegrown aces slipping away completely. We still have two more years of Lincecum, by the way. The freakouts are over. For now.

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