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Half Way To Opening Day

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With a couple weeks of Cactus League games by the boards, a couple more weeks to go, let's review spring training so far.

Health-wise, the only main blips have been Ryan Vogelsong's back injury, which could keep him out of the rotation until mid-April, and Freddy Sanchez's slower than expected shoulder recovery. OK, perhaps not slower than expected. But it sure seems....


Oh right. I forgot. The manufactured panic button of the moment is Matt Cain's contract extension status, which, according to whispers and rumors and the subtle twitch in Cain's left eye when reporters corner him on the subject, is now less than a sure thing. If it doesn't happen by Opening Day, it might not happen at all, and Matt Cain hitting the open market in November would probably make the Giants' stated grand plan this winter -- saving money on offense to lock up Cain and Lincecum long-term -- a canard.

That's French for "duck," and it means we season ticket holders will be less likely to pay attention the next time Larry Baer opens his beak to quack.

So the Cain negotiations are, among many things, a proving point of the Giants' willingness to throw money where their mouths have been. If they come back and say, wide-eyed, "One hundred twenty million dollars and six years? Well, we do declare," they'll hit the heights of disingenuousness. Whatever Matt Cain and his agents ask for, it's not going to include a hometown discount. We've all known this. The Giants know this. Once they started talking publicly about robbing Peter-at-the-Bat to pay Pitcher Paul, they should have made sure the Rainy Day fund had enough sheckels to see them through the Cain negotiations, wherever they might lead.

But I do think the team wants to get this deal done before the season starts. It'll probably take more years and dollars than fans or team executives are comfortable with, and it might cripple the team's chances of having both Cain and Lincecum to infinity and beyond, but it's always been unlikely both Cain and Lincecum would be Giants for life. An expensive Cain extension now at least gives the team both of them for 2013, Cain beyond that, and, well, November 2013 is November 2013. My guess: Cain agrees to five years guaranteed, with sixth and seventh option years triggered by fairly easy milestones, plus lots of lush bonuses for innings pitched, All-Star nods and post-season performance.

So I'm not buying into the mini-hailstorm of hysteria that's rumbling across the Internets. Now, whether it's actually a good thing to sign any pitcher, even one named Cain or Lincecum, to a five, six, or seven-year deal, is another argument entirely...

More Cactus thoughts:

- Without a late-spring injury like Cody Ross's calf strain last year, it's hard to see how Brandon Belt makes the Opening Day roster. Gregor Blanco is almost surely the fourth outfielder. Aubrey Huff hasn't contracted valley fever. And the bench talk keeps revolving around the need for right-handed bats (i.e., Brett Pill). At this point I'm resigned to not seeing much of Belt until 2013, especially if Huff bounces back and makes it difficult to pull him from the lineup, which isn't necessarily a bad thing; I'll swap a 2010-ish season from Huff for another year of Belt delay. The only wiggle room I see for Belt is if the Giants carry 11 pitchers -- four starters, seven relievers -- until Vogelsong is ready and/or they need a fifth starter. Something like this:

Cain, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Zito (4)
Wilson, Romo, Affeldt, Lopez, Casilla, Hensley, Mota (7)
Cabrera, Pagan, Schierholtz, Blanco, Belt (5)
Posey, Stewart (2)
Huff, Pill, Theriot, Fontenot, Burriss, Crawford, Sandoval (7)

- With F. Sanchez not likely ready for Opening Day, second base could be a Theriot/Fontenot Cajun platoon for a few weeks. It would also make Manny Burriss more secure, though pay no mind to the talk of his excellent spring. He was hot in the 2009 camp, and it came to nothing during the year; he made the team and immediately turned into the no-power, no-OBP player we've come to know and, uh... well, apparently he's a nice guy.

- The Giants are running, running, running! Leading the majors in spring-training steals! And, er, caught stealings. Are they going to run-n-gun their way into the regular season? I'll be surprised if it's to the same extent. Part of this, I'm guessing, is to plant the seed in opponents' minds and create a little anxiety. Sometimes the threat of the steal is better than the actual attempt.

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