Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Twelve for 2012: Matt Cain

Matt Cain got it all started in 2002 when he was the team's number one pick (25th overall). Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Nick Swisher, Prince Fielder, Jeremy Guthrie, B.J. Upton, and Scott Kazmir were all in the same draft class. If you sort B-R's 1st round page by WAR, Cain is at the top with 24.7, followed by the rest of the guys in the order above. If I'd asked you before that fact if you'd rather have one of those guys instead of Matt you would likely have said "no way" and you'd be right. FanGraphs says Greinke (28.4) heads the list, followed by Cain (24.2), Fielder (23.4), and Hamels (23.0), but the point stands. Matt is a very valuable guy and matches up with some of the biggest stars in the game. Fielder is going to sign a mega-contract this off-season and Hamels goes to arbitration since his $20.5M three-year deal is up. Cain is looking at $15M for 2012, you can bet Hamels will expect at least that much and that Fielder will command $20M+ per year. The Giants better be looking long and hard at an extension for their big right-hander. He could ask for a $100M deal and not be at all out of line. (MLBTR discusses extensions for both Cain and Hamels. Good stuff.)

Back to our namesake here at RMC. Such an interesting character for such a soft-spoken guy. When they stick the mike in his face he is generally dull and relies on the usual ballplayer platitudes ("Eli called a great game and the guys made some great plays.") At the same time, he's the player rep. He must be reasonably smart and articulate to fulfill that role. Being the longest-tenured Giant I imagine gives him some gravitas and trustworthiness beyond his age (a mere 27). Alabama-born and Tennessee-bred Cain makes his home and is raising his family in San Francisco. How many Giants can say that? Matt lent his voice to the "It Gets Better" campaign (Bravo, Giants). He makes little or no off-season noise, generates no controversy, and always seems to be there when the Giants do some community thing. I think I remember him getting ticked off at one of the Hairston brothers in a ball game, but that's about it. Maybe there was a Dodger game or two where he showed some emotion, I forget. The point is that this guy is so stoic and self-contained as to be almost boring. And he's so consistent and steady when he performs that you don't really appreciate how good he is until the season is over and he's racked up another 200+ innings of first-rate pitching. He has to be taken as a whole. Tim Lincecum is exciting just to watch--the freaky delivery, the chance of a dozen strikeouts, and that ridiculous pitch they flail at every week. Pablo Sandoval is so weird and full of quirks, has outsized emotions, and hits doubles off his shoe tops. Buster Posey makes it looks so easy and was born to speak to a room full of reporters. It isn't hard to imagine him as a manager some day. Brandon Belt looks like he's still a kid and sometimes plays like one. Not Matt. He's been the same from the day he debuted and spent every season getting a little better at doing the same thing over and over again, namely throwing strikes and getting outs. You hear ballplayers talk about "keeping it simple." Look no further than no. 18! I expect more of the same for 2012.


p.s. I was curious about Matt's minor-league teammates and I came up with current Giants Brian Wilson at Fresno in 2005 and Nate Schierholtz at San Jose in 2004. Otherwise he's been around too long. Travis Ishikawa played with Cain in the AZL in 2002, Hagerstown in 2003, and San Jose in 2004.

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