Spring is almost always a good thing. Baseball starting. More daylight. Better weather. The reason I could never get too excited about football starting was that it began in the late summer. Hope you enjoy grown men tackling each other, football says, but don't forget that winter is coming. Runny noses, coughs, and sunsets that happen a few minutes after sunrise. And football. But that other stuff. Be warned.
There's usually nothing like that in spring. It's all good. The only downside is that you lose an hour of sleep when the clocks change. That's literally the only bad thing about spring -- literally!!! That and mucus secreting through your pores because pollen is holding you at knifepoint. Those are the only two bad things about spring.
This spring, though, I have an itch. Something's not right. It isn't all ice cream and chinchillas this spring. Matt Cain is under contract with the Giants for the next eight months. After that, he can start taking calls from other teams. He is, as they say, a free agent.
Matt Cain: Say, that's cool. The Yankees have scored 900 runs combined over the last two seasons. That's pretty consistent.
Agent: No, that's last year. They scored 900 runs last year.
Cain: I see. And they're the ones offering me $20 million more than the Giants. Golly, this is a tough call. Is this New York place governed by similar laws to what I'm used to, or is it a quasi-anarchist state run by militant factions, like Somalia?
Agent: Well, it's …
Cain: Ah, screw it. Doesn't matter. I'm sure I could get used to it either way.
That can happen. That can happen in a few months. And the Giants' plan -- squeeze every drop of pitcherade out of the young pitchers they've developed and hope like hell -- becomes that much more unsustainable. More than that, though, the Giants will have lost the first beacon of hope after the post-Finley crash. After the Finley grand slam, things were miserable. The creation myth started with a 20-year-old first-round pick. The Giants did well to extend him through his arbitration years, but now he could be gone.
When was the last time the Giants had a homegrown guy like this get so close to free agency? For the purposes of our discussion, we'll consider Bonds a homegrown guy. He did reach free agency during his amazing run. Technically other teams could have made a run at him. But Bonds and the Giants were sort of like the characters in the lyrics of "Such Great Heights," except replace "freckles in our eyes" with "cold sores." The Giants and Bonds were just perfect for each other, and that was fine with everyone else. There was never really a chance that Bonds would leave.
I might be missing someone, but it seems like this is the most important walk year for a homegrown player since Will Clark. And that was a disaster. The Giants didn't want to pay Clark $30 million over five years, which is what Aubrey Huff made while you were reading this. Different era, sure, but it was a poor decision that led to Todd Benzingers and Mark Carreons and the J.T. Snow epoch, which wasn't a horrible thing, but it wasn't Will Clark building Hall of Fame credentials with the only team he'd ever known.
It says something that the Giants haven't had to deal with this in almost 20 years. Mostly that they went quite a while between the development of fan favorites. Now we have Cain flirting with free agency. Oh, look, free agency just sent a drink over to Matt Cain. Before we know it, free agency will mention something about checking out You've Got Mail in its hotel room. Things are getting scary.
There's still a chance that Cain will sign an extension before free agency. There's still a month before the season starts, and he hasn't set a hard deadline like Albert Pujols did last spring. But Cain isn't necessarily a Giant forever and ever and ever. That makes this spring feel a little different. It's not all perfect. I noticed a daffodil that smelled like burning hair, and I think that finch just hissed at me.
Until then, Cain will be awesome. He always is. He stayed away from home runs last season compared to previous years, and I'd wager that's more of a fluke thing than a skill that he suddenly developed. Last year around this time, Cain was shut down because of elbow grumbling. It looked like the amazing luck the Giants have had with the health of their first-round pitchers -- and it truly is amazing; Pirates fans want to stab us -- was over. Then Cain was awesome. He put up his third straight winning year for a team that hasn't averaged more than four runs per game for him in five years.
Here's to another season of 30+ starts, 200+ innings, and fantastic pitching. And here's to another five or six years after that. With the Giants, dammit.