Over the last few seasons, the San Francisco Giants' farm system has gone from one of the worst in baseball to one of the best. In fact, numerous baseball sites have the Giants ranked as high as fifth in talent rankings for minor-league prospects.
However, Giants ace Matt Cain made his major league debut in 2005 when San Francisco had very few big league prospects. Cain was essentially their only grade A prospect at the time and was counted on to turn around the fortunes of a dismal franchise.
During his first 14 big-league starts from 2005-2006, the Giants' 20-year-old pitcher went just 3-6 and finished 2006 with a 4.15 era. Oddly enough, Cain finished with a 13-12 record in '06 despite posting his career worst era. But in the following two seasons Cain recorded a 15-30 record despite an era of 3.70.
Cain has gone through the struggle of receiving little to no run support for the majority of his big league career. But too his credit, Cain has handled the lack of run support quite well for being still only a 24-year-old pitcher.
The 6'3" 246 pound right-hander hardly ever gives excuses or complains about the lack of run support and so far this season is being rewarded for his solid pitching with W's.
This season Cain has already been credited with five victories in just nine starts. It took him twice as many starts last season before recording his fifth victory. In seven of his nine starts Cain has allowed just two runs or less and has thrown at-least six innings in all nine of his starts.
In all of MLB, Cain is sixth amongst starting pitchers, with a 2.40 era. An era that is more than a full run lower than that of teammate and last year's Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum. Granted the baseball season is less than two months old, most non-Giants fans would find it odd that Cain is fairing better than Lincecum.
However, if you were to ask the hard core Giants faithful, you'll find a fair share that believe Cain is the their best pitcher.
Lincecum has better "swing and miss stuff" and without a doubt will one day be a better pitcher than Cain, but right now Lincecum can still fall guilty of being a "thrower". Pitch count can often run high with the reigning Cy Young award winner, who can often fall into the trap of relying too much on the strikeout.
Meanwhile Cain, despite actually being younger than Lincecum, already looks like a savvy veteran pitcher on the mound. Cain understands how to get hitters out even without his best stuff.
For these reasons, Cain ought to be considered "Untouchable".
Untouchable is the phrase that has been coined by numerous general managers in the sports world, and one that Giants GM Brian Sabean in particular likes to use when referring to those players who he will absolutely NOT trade away.
Lincecum has been labeled one of these "Untouchables" ever since his major league debut but Cain has fluttered back and forth from untouchable to touchable since his major league debut.
And recently, in an article in the Mercury News by Giants beat writer Andrew Baggarly, Sabean is considering Cain as being part of a deal that brings the Giants a much needed middle of the lineup hitter.
Even though the Giants desperately need a new bat in their lineup, giving up Cain is an absolutely idiotic idea.
In less than four full seasons as a MLB starting pitcher, Cain has recorded an era of 3.63 and nearly a 2/1 k/bb ratio with a whip of 1.28. Being just 24 years-old and already one of the game's established power pitchers, Cain will go on to pitch for at-least another 10 seasons. In his three full seasons at the big league's, Cain has never gone on the DL.
Therefore, if he were traded to a team with a quality lineup, Cain would average at-least 15 wins a season for the next 10 seasons and the Giants will have traded away one of this generations most dominant pitchers.
With Cain and Lincecum, along with grade-A pitching prospect Madison Bumgarner, the Giants' rotation is a year or two away from having an absolutely ridiculous "big three." A big three that could be even bigger the the A's' one time big three of Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, and Mark Mulder.
Instead of using Cain as the center piece of a trade, Giants general manager Brian Sabean can package a deal of prospects. Unlike when Cain made his major league debut, the Giants actually have a healthy farm system.
Sabean could make a deal including prospects such as grade A pitching prospect Tim Alderson, pitcher Kevin Pucetas and infielder Conor Gillaspie for a middle-of-the-order bat.
A combination of either two of these prospects and one of the current everyday Giants should easily be enough to reciprocate the value of a marquee hitter.
Now perhaps Alderson may have the potential to have a career as productive as Matt Cain's but Cain is already established. Who knows what can go wrong in the development of prospects, there is still a major unknown factor. Not all grade-A prospects end up having quality big league careers.
However, right now, barring injury (which isn't likely) Matt Cain is sure to finish his career with at least 150 wins and an ERA under four.
Knowing that, trading away a 24-year-old established ace would be one of the worst moves the Giants could make.
Getting rid of Cain for a hitter would not get the Giants to the playoffs this season, regardless of who they get in return. The rotation would be significantly weakened, having to rely too heavily on 45-year-old Randy Johnson and Barry Zito.
Plus the Giants would now have No. 4 and No. 5 starters in Jonathan Sanchez and Kevin Pucetas that would be eaten alive by opposing lineups.
Not only that, but trading Cain away would ruin the potential of having a "big three" in the rotation. Next year's Giants would have to hope that both Madison Bumgarner and Tim Alderson make the rotation and have ridiculously good rookie season's.
If they didn't, Randy Johnson's retirement will have left the Giants with a rotation rather meek with the exception of Tim Lincecum.
Clearly the Giants can find ways to improve their offense without giving up Matt Cain in a trade.
That being said, I have a message for Brian Sabean:
Put Matt Cain back on your list of "Untouchables"!