Matt Cain may leave San Francisco in 2012.
Though both Cain and the Giants have indicated a mutual desire to agree on a contract extension prior to April's Opening Day, sources have acknowledged that at present, Cain and the Giants are significantly far apart.
Though the Giants would like to sign Cain for "far less" than the nine-figure deal he is after, those same sources claim that Cain and agent Len Hardison are seeking considerably more than $100 million for a long-term deal.
With Cliff Lee ready to collect $21.5 million in 2012 and $25 million each year from 2013-2015, it is a player's market: even Giants teammate Tim Lincecum is set to earn $40.5 million over his next two seasons of service.
If no deal is reached by Opening Day, Cain will revisit the issue of free agency at the conclusion of the 2012 season, a fact that San Francisco is fully aware of and wants to prevent, lest the Giants come face-to-face with a personnel or financial nightmare come October.
To head off the financial hit such a move would cost, the Giants might revert to a certain five-month-old mindset of theirs: trade Cain for a cheaper star to fill a hole or bolster the team's struggling offense, which ranked 25th or worse in every category from home runs to OPS across the major leagues last season, including a second-to-last place showing in the Moneyball category, on-base percentage.
The following is a glimpse at five MLB clubs ready to pursue Cain if he enters the trade market with that fifth potential team a hallmark example of the classic phrase, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
The Giants are playing it safe with Cain, trying not to rush into a nine-figure deal that could bring back memories of Barry Zito—initially billed as the next Barry Bonds face of the franchise, Zito proved to be a dud during his first seasons after signing a seven-year, $126-million contract following 2006—whose ERA still hasn't fallen back below the 4.00-mark since he signed with San Francisco.
In the end, however, that prudent strategy might entice the famously-rich Boston Red Sox to make a go for Cain.
In January, the Red Sox traded shortstop Marco Scutaro to the Colorado Rockies in an effort to set some money aside for what turned out to be an ill-fated Roy Oswalt bid.
Now, with Oswalt settling in for the long wait until mid-season before signing a deal—very likely with the Phillies, Cardinals or Rangers—the Sox have some (more) spending money, even after acquiring outfielder Cody Ross, a 2011 Giant that San Francisco hopes to replace with 28-year-old Nate Schierholtz.
If the boys from Beantown hope to contend with rivals New York and the likes of C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova and former Dodger Hiroki Kuroda, they'll have to do better than projected starter Daniel Bard, who has no MLB starting experience since coming up with Boston in 2009.
Reigning AL Cy Young and MVP Award winner Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello—and Matt Cain?
According to Tigers GM Al Avila, the team is still on the hunt for a quality fifth arm: "We'll be looking at other pitchers in other camps throughout spring training to see if there's anything that makes sense for us."
Waiting in the wings are Jacob Turner, Duane Below and Adam Wilk, though these internal candidates are all second choices to bringing in an outside starter.
Throughout the offseason, the Tigers have been looking for pitching and had been linked to the likes of Matt Garza and Gio Gonzalez.
After signing Prince Fielder at first and ensuring infielder Ramon Santiago would remain their backup shortstop, the Tigers have valuable options throughout their depth chart, including a logjam at third base caused by Miguel Cabrera's move to the hot corner.
The Tigers were in MLB's top five across several offensive categories in 2011, but below-average in pitching. As such, the Tigers and Giants both have incentives to pursue a Cain-for-bat trade if such an opportunity presents itself in 2012.
Just because the Yankees were unsuccessful in their first 2011-12 attempt to trade for Matt Cain, don't count New York out.
Though Jesus Montero may not be the option San Francisco is looking for, the Yankees now find themselves forced to contend with the potential devastating loss of Joba Chamberlain, who was injured after suffering a child play center-related accident last week. Though Chamberlain was released from the hospital Sunday, he is not a certainty to pitch this season.
The Yankees have been the richest team in baseball since—forever?—which means that Cashman and Co. have the flexibility to offer just about anything to get what they want. After all, this is the team that picked up former Ranger Alex Rodriguez and former Angel Mark Teixeira simply by outbidding its opponents.
History has demonstrated the Yankees are willing to spend and acquire, though their going after Cain—in addition to its dependence on Cain's availability—is likewise contingent on Chamberlain's extended stay on the disabled list.
When the Blue Jays unsuccessfully offered Alex Rios for Matt Cain back in 2007, the Giants rebuffed the Jays proposal.
Over the 2011-12 offseason, the Cain-to-Toronto discussion has continued, albeit most palpably in the minds of Jays fans disappointed that the Texas Rangers had landed Yu Darvish.
Still, the Jays were in the bottom ten of MLB clubs in 2011 pitching and after extending pitcher Dustin McGowan for two more years, the Blue Jays are poised to build up their starting rotation.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have several exciting prospects in Travises Snider (who lost the starting left field job to Eric Thames after a Rookie-of-the-Year candidacy in 2011) and d'Arnaud, a two-time spring training invitee that could be a fine supplement to any farm system: as a catcher, d'Arnaud would certainly not replace Buster Posey.
Just as players get antsy toward the end of spring training and a long offseason, sportswriters and rumor-spinners become just as restless.
Though a number of teams could benefit from adding Matt Cain while the Giants could benefit from adding another bat to its lineup, perhaps the best course of trade conjecture is one that leaves Cain in San Francisco—in other words, no trade.
If the Giants cannot agree to terms with Cain prior to the season, the club may be wisest to allow Cain to finish the year in orange-and-black before trying to ring him in again in late 2012.
Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner and Vogelsong helped give San Francisco MLB's second-best pitching staff in 2011 and with the Giants poised to improve in 2012 thanks to an upgraded offense, why mess with success?
Logically, if San Francisco has better offense now than they did last year, Cain and the other pitchers remain in the Bay Area and Buster Posey pulls off the kind of season we expected from him pre-injury last year, the club will find itself in serious contention for the NL West championship.
If the Giants are able to fire on all cylinders early in 2012, the best policy might be a closed-clubhouse meeting to reassure players of San Francisco's commitment to them and to their success. In such an event, a trade would be disruptive to that environment, even if Cain were to be replaced by far more statistically valuable candidates.
In a world where sports are such a grand business, sometimes camaraderie and the intangible element of confidence or security play huge roles—if the Giants find themselves well off with Cain on the club pre-All-Star break, the front office should consider keeping him post-All-Star break.
After all, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.