The San Francisco Giants were able to win the 2010 World Series largely because of their tremendous starting pitching. They had a young group of electric starters, including Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and Madison Bumgarner. With their 2010 victory, the Giants looked well poised to make another run at it this year. However, the team declined greatly in the second half of 2011, and San Francisco didn’t even make the playoffs. One of their problems, is that they are offensively deprived. Because of this, GM Brian Sabean may be open to trading some of their plentiful starting pitching for offensive production. The name that pops out, besides Lincecum (who is untouchable), is Matt Cain.
Since 2007, Matt Cain has been one of the top pitchers in the National League. Cain has averaged roughly 211 innings pitched, each year, since his first full year of 2006. When looking at his stats, one thing that immediately jumps out is consistency. Since 2007, Cain has either maintained or improved his BB/9, K/9, HR/9, and H/9 every single year, with only a few minor exceptions.
Throughout Cain’s career he has kept his platoon splits very much the same. Right-handed batters have hit Cain for .228 AVG / .295 OBP / .365 SLG, while left-handed hitters are similarly hitting .227 AVG / .301 OBP / .359 SLG. One thing we’re looking for is the ability to get lefties out just as easily as right-handed batters. We all know what a short porch right field is at Yankee Stadium, so a right-hander who struggles against lefties is of little desire. Matt Cain is not that way, as evidenced by his platoon splits. And, although he has been pitching in a very pitcher-friendly ballpark, his numbers on the road are still pretty darn good: .236 AVG / .307 OBP / .376 SLG. Another great quality of Cain’s is his consistency throughout the season.
Unlike certain pitchers the Yankees have, cough-cough-A.J.-cough, Cain seems to pitch well in every single month of the season. There are no Burnett-Augusts, etc. Consistency goes a long-way in stabilizing a rotation.
As far as Cain’s repertoire goes, he has three above-average pitches: a low-nineties fastball (90-94mph), a mid-eighties slider, and an excellent change-up of about the same speed. He also features a curveball, but it is an overall lesser pitch.
A huge factor of the Yankees’ search for starting pitching, postseason pitching. Although the sample size isn’t too big, Matt Cain has started 3 games in the postseason, all in 2010, and pitched tremendously well. He did not pitch less than 6 innings in one start, and didn’t even allow an earned run. Cain certainly came in the clutch for San Francisco in the playoffs, and that is exactly what the Yanks are looking for.
If you were to only read the positives from above, Cain would be the perfect pitcher for the Yankees to acquire. However, unfortunately, Matt Cain is not a perfect fit for the Yanks. Earlier, I mentioned how he has been pitching in an extremely pitcher-friendly ballpark. Cain is a pitcher that would be classified as a moderate strike-out, fly-ball pitcher. Although by a slim margin, he gave up more ground-balls than fly-balls this past season, in other years, Cain has been a decisively fly-ball pitcher.
Because Yankee Stadium is an undoubtedly hitters-ballpark, fly-ball pitchers typically don’t fare too well. However, there is such thing as pitching-to-the-score, or in this case, pitching-to-the-field. One of the reasons Cain has such a high fly-ball rate, is that he knows he can get away with giving up fly-balls. If he were traded to the Yankees, Cain would absolutely have to make adjustments.
One last disadvantage of trading for Matt Cain, is that he will be a free agent after this coming 2012 season. That means, if a trade was made, you would be giving up prospects for 1 year of Cain. You could, however, give the “Cliff Lee Argument”, that by letting him get a year’s taste of New York, you increase your chances of re-signing him in the 2012-2013 off-season.
A Fit for the Yanks?
In my honest opinion, despite the negatives I brought up above, Matt Cain would be an excellent fit for the Yankees needs. Although he may give up more home-runs, the really good pitchers adjust their game, and I believe Cain could do that. He would bring stability and consistency to the Yankees’ #2 spot. These are qualities you simply aren’t assured by other potential free agent / trade targets out there.
From the Giants’ Perspective
Matt Cain is in line to make $15MM this next year. There have been indications that the Giants will not be in the running for big-time offensive free agents like Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder. However, that could change, as the Giants will need improved offense if they want a shot at winning next year. They might possible trade Cain and his $15MM contract to someone, to clear up room to spend on Pujols or Fielder, to improve over Aubrey Huff. It makes even more sense for the Giants to trade Cain, considering his contract his up after next season.
Cost for Yanks?
The Yankees would likely have to give up a considerable amount of talent for Cain. Think somewhere in line with Cleveland’s deal for Ubaldo Jimenez. I really do not want to trade Montero unless it is for someone who is a clear #1, like King Felix, or Cliff Lee, for that matter. One possible route would be to pick up Nick Swisher’s option and include him in a trade for Cain. Carlos Beltran is a free agent, and the Giants will have to replace him. They have a very good prospect in Brandon Belt who played a good amount of left-field for them last year, so Swisher could complete their outfield along with center-fielder Andres Torres. San Francisco did lose their top pitching prospect, Zach Wheeler, trading for Beltran, so throw in Dellin Betances and you’re certainly getting somewhere. The only players I would hesitate to put in a deal for Cain would be Montero and Banuelos.
Overall, I would love for the Yankees to trade for Matt Cain, for the right price. If San Francisco asks for Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, or a combination of both, then I’d hang up right there. Remember, you’d only be getting a guaranteed one year of Cain. Although there are distinct disadvantages to Cain (i.e. his GB/FB rate), in my opinion he is just the reliable #2 the Yankees need.