Let's get something clear right off the bat—I'm not advocating that the San Francisco Giants trade Matt Cain in the 2010-11 MLB offseason. I'm not even suggesting they should consider doing so.
The Kid has been the Giants' most consistent pitcher for years, and he's been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball for the same duration. Though Tim Lincecum is unquestionably the staff ace and justifiably dominates the limelight, his right-handed stablemate is only a nose behind him.
What Cainer lacks in pure filth when compared to the Freak, he compensates for almost completely with mental impregnability.
Despite the sizable public perception gap, the actual difference in team import between the two aces is much narrower. Should anyone still doubt this fact, he or she need only reference the Gents' 2010 World Series championship campaign.
The squad probably doesn't even make the playoffs without its longest-tenured member thanks to Lincecum's struggles in May (4.95 ERA, 1.54 WHIP) and August (7.82 ERA, 1.82 WHIP). While the Franchise was wallowing in the misery of decreased velocity and lost command, Cain was at his best—he posted a 1.81 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in May, then followed it up with a 3.00 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in August.
Remember, Los Gigantes needed a win in Game 162 to survive the regular season and San Diego Padres by a razor-thin, two-game edge in the National League West. So the margin for error was equally slim.
Oh, and speaking of the postseason, not even Tim Lincecum was better.
In fact, neither Christy Mathewson nor Carl Hubbell—nor any pitcher in the time-worn history of the Show—can look down upon Big Game Cain's performance in October (OK, maybe Big Six can). That's because the youngster from Alabama was virtually perfect—2-0, 21.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, seven walks, 13 strikeouts and only one extra-base hit (the miracle double to Ian Kinsler in Game 2 of the Fall Classic).
Nope, San Francisco has a handful of untouchables as far as trade chips go, and Matt Cain is most certainly one of those.
But therein lies the fun.
Just imagine what the franchise could demand in return for such a priceless commodity—this is a 26-year-old with successful postseason experience under his belt and off his back. Furthermore, he's shown consistent improvement from each of his five full seasons to the next.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the hypothetical bounty Matt Cain could fetch.
And note, the acquisition of Miguel Tejada changes none of what follows.
At $6.5 million for one year, I'm intrigued by the Miggy signing. But he'd still take a reserve role to the guys on this list. On with it.