Big League Stew

Matt Cain gets $100 million-plus contract from Giants, but what does Tim Lincecum get?

David Brown
Big League Stew

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The San Francisco Giants have talked for some time about how they want to sign right-handers Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, probably their best players, to long-term contracts. One school of thought was that they might have to choose one and let the other go. Well, as first reported by John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle, Cain is off the market after agreeing to a deal Monday that could be worth $141 million through 2018.

Buster Olney of ESPN tweeted that the average annual value of the deal is $22.5 million. Of course, it makes Cain only the second-richest pitcher on his own team, after Barry Zito, who still is gnawing on a $126 million deal that runs through next season.

Folks already are wondering which dominoes fall next — for Cole Hamels, for Clayton Kershaw and others — after the Giants and Cain agreed to what's being reported as the biggest ever for a right-handed pitcher and fifth-biggest of all time.

I'm thinking about someone closer to home for Cain. What about Lincecum, the best pitcher on the team? Lincecum is a free agent after 2013 — if the Giants let it get that far. After making such a big splash with Cain, GM Brian Sabean wouldn't let The Freak get away — would he?

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Lincecum isn't making chump change, of course. He just signed a two-year deal for $40.5 million, but it came after the Giants rejected an eight-year contract offer. So there's that, and then there's Timmy dialing down the use of his slider to protect himself this season. Are the Giants taking that as a sign Lincecum might be too risky for a long-term deal?

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The Giants have money to spend; they were eighth in payroll in 2011, per USA Today's figures. But $300 million or $350 million for two players? Would they blink if someone else came along — say, in the offseason trade market — and was willing to pay Lincecum's price? As for suitors come free agency, the Los Angeles Dodgers will have money to spend by then. Lincecum's hometown Seattle Mariners ought to have grown tired of their austerity program by 2014. Imagine Timmy, in his home city, in that ballpark. It might be appealing to everyone involved. Except for the Giants, perhaps.

Cain was due a significant raise. He's just 27 years old. His strikeout rate is steady, his hit rate has declined, his walk rate too. He's durable. If the Giants had let him go, he would have commanded enormous money in free agency. And they would have been out a heck of a pitcher. He's not a two-time Cy Young winner, though.

So now, can they afford — or will they afford — to lock up their ace?

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