The Matt Cain Game

The Matt Cain Game

S.F. Giants

The Matt Cain Game


There’s little question that the San Francisco Giants are by far the dullest franchise in Major League Baseball. And that’s exactly the way President and Chief Executive Officer Larry Baer and team Executive Vice President Brian Sabean like it.

I’m not talking about avoiding splashy front page embarrassments.

Like rogue tweets from disgruntled or socially brain-dead players or partying players having late night interactions with the law enforcement community.

In San Francisco Giantsland everything has to be under strict control and the message always has to be positive and smiley. Everything is vaguely bland, vanilla coated and securely locked down.

That’s not an accident– at AT&T Park it’s the law.

So there can never be any real controversies, problems, or issues other than the ones management packages and sells to the fanbase and the local sports media.

For instance, I am apparently the only person in North America who has noted that at the start of each season the past five years the Giants sign one or two inexpensive over-the-hill (or never-were-that-talented) players and then sells some version of the following story:

“We’re really excited to have [player name here] in camp and we hope he makes this team. He had a great season [4, 5, or 6] years ago and we think he can get back to that level.

“This guy really has [some pop, speed on the bases, a great clubhouse presence] and we’re just happy that every other MLB team passed on him.”

So for Spring Training 2017 the front office urged everyone to get excited about the big “battle” between two older rookies, Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson, to see who would get the starting job in left field. (The Giants didn’t pick up a left fielder this off season, hence the phony sell job.)

In the war between outfielders Parker and Williamson the only likely loser will be the Giants offense.

But this year there’s another, more problematic, issue that the Giants are playing down and wish would just go away. Let’s call it The Matt Cain Gambit.

From 2013-2016 starter Matt Cain was paid $80 million ($20m a year). During those four seasons he put up a 1.301 WHIP and a 4.65 ERA. In other words, he’s been a disaster.

In 2017 the Giants will owe him another $20 million, and in 2018 they either owe him $21 million or a $7.5m buyout. So no matter what happens Matt Cain has a minimum of another $27.5 million coming from the San Francisco Giants.

This Spring the front office became annoyed when this uncomfortable question was repeatedly asked: given his performance the past four years, will Cain be the team’s 5th starter in 2017?

Trying to give the impression they were open to doing what’s best for the team, the Giants’ braintrust declared another phony Spring Training “battle” for the 5th spot in the 2017 rotation between Cain and either 26-year-old lefty Ty Blach or, at different times, 23-year-old rookie RHP Tyler Beede.

The only problem is there never was a battle for the 5th starter spot. Matt Cain was preordained to be the Giants’ 5th starter from the beginning because the Giants are paying him so much money they were forced to pick one of four ugly choices:

  • Make Cain the 5th starter and convince the fanbase he can be productive again
  • Try and hide him in the bullpen (and potentially screw up the bullpen instead of the starting rotation)
  • Release him and eat his salary (like San Francisco did in mid-season 2011 when they released OF Aaron Rowand and IF Miguel Tejada and ate $15.3 million in salary)
  • Try and trade Cain which, even if that could be done, would likely mean eating $15-20m of his salary anyway.

Recently the talented Tyler Beede was quietly sent down to the minors and Blach is likely to end up in the bullpen. This is how Giants’ front office-managed excitement usually ends up.

To create an “edge-of-the-seat” moment for the fans, and to avoid any franchise embarrassment over Cain’s contract, the San Francisco Giants will once again rely on their favorite strategy: opting to cross their fingers and hope for the best.

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