Price of Pitching Just Went Up

If you haven’t yet heard, the San Francisco Giants have signed pitcher Matt Cain to a 5-year, $112M extension — which averages out to over $20M per season.

This news comes about a week after the Dodgers were purchased for over two billion dollars in cash, and leads me to ask, has the world gone mad?

There’s no doubt: Matt Cain is a very good pitcher. But is he worth over $20M per year? Isn’t that figure reserved only for the extreme elite, the very best handful of pitchers in baseball?

Johan Santana was given a $20M-per-year contract after winning the Cy Young multiple times and being generally considered as among the top five pitchers in MLB. Cain’s teammate Tim Lincecum makes $20M per year. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are in that $20M club, as is C.C. Sabathia. I think that’s about it. Does Cain belong in that class? I’m not so sure.

For one, there is the career won-loss record, which is under .500. OK, we’ll throw that out, because if Cain had better run support, he most assuredly would be over .500, and likely would have won more than 14 games in a season at some point. But two other factors make me scratch my head about this deal. First, on how many contending teams would Cain be the “ace” or #1 starter? Second, and perhaps most importantly, how much would Cain garner on the free-agent market — in particular, one that would also potentially include Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke, and one that would likely not include the Yankees in the bidding (the theory being that the Bombers would not be able to fit him into their self-imposed $189M budget)?

Maybe the Giants were spooked by the sale of the Dodgers, fearing that they’d buy away Cain next winter. I don’t know who else would have the interest and the wherewithal to pay Cain that much money over that many years. Not the Yankees, Phillies, nor Mets. I don’t think the Red Sox would have the flexibility, after signing Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to massive deals, and having Josh Beckett and John Lackey on the books through 2014, though I could be wrong. The Angels would seem to be out, after signing C.J. Wilson, Albert Pujols, and Jered Weaver. Who else has the kind of money to afford $20M+ over five years for a 28-year-old pitcher? Would the Cubs suddenly start spending, despite the rebuilding phase?

Cain’s age (27) and stretch of five consecutive 200+ inning seasons would make me wary of locking up at that price. It’s a deal that’s eerily similar to those handed to Santana and Barry Zito at similar ages, and with similar wear and tear. I’m not saying Cain will break down in the next five years, but it would seem to be a concern.

What say you? Is Cain worth it? Why or why not? Or have we transitioned into a new phase of free spending by MLB, who appears to be completely impervious to economic struggles that affect the rest of us? And what does this deal mean for Hamels, Greinke, and others who may be on the open market next winter? Make your case in the comments.

11-12 Offseason

About the Author

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.

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