I once saw a movie or TV show in which people began to fade slowly away, their earthly presence correlated to the memory and attention of those they loved. They didn't die because their hearts and lungs and brains stopped working. They died because they were no longer in other people's minds.
Dagnabbit, what was that movie? Help me out, people. It might have been sad, or simply melodramatic. I thought perhaps it was something by the Japanese animator Miyazaki, but I don't think so.
It came to mind -- or partially to mind, which is kind of ironic, eh? -- because the few times I've sat down this year to write about the Giants, or when I've bantered with friends about the rotation, I've forgotten about Matt Cain.
Something like this: The Giants starters who are under contract or control in 2016 are.... let's see... MadBum, Jake Peavy and Chris Heston. Vogey? No, he's a free agent. Wait. Isn't there....?
Matt Cain. He's like a spirit in limbo, which is ridiculous, because he just pitched in Sacramento the other day and is back on the Giants' active roster. Flesh, blood, ligaments, sweat: Matt Cain. He's the same guy, minus a few elbow chips, whom we've cheered and lionized for years.
And this, my friends, is the cruelty of professional sports. Even for the die-hardest of a team's die-hard fans, if a player isn't contributing, he's a disembodied voice, a wavering image, whispering every so often from beyond the screen door at night. He's out there somewhere.
So here's to thinking more about Matt Cain and keeping his molecules, the ones that make up our image of him as Matt Cain, San Francisco Giant, from drifting off in various directions into space. The molecules will eventually reassemble, of course, in that place called nostalgia -- another cruel little chamber of the sports-fan brain -- fueled by video tributes and anniversaries and such. But let's push that moment as far into the future as possible.
In fact, let's slap ourselves out of this fog: The Giants need Matt Cain next year, and their eyes will be on him intently these final few weeks; he's reportedly going to pitch out of the bullpen. If he seems to shake off the rust he showed the past month or two, perhaps the off-season calculus is different. Perhaps the Giants won't need to pursue, and overpay, a co-ace to swagger with MadBum at the top of the rotation. (Though if I had to choose one: Zack Greinke, if he opts out of his Dodger contract.)
Let's assume Cain looks solid in September, and there are more friendly noises between the Giants and Mike Leake. How's this rotation for you: Bumgarner, Leake, Cain, Peavy, and Heston, with backup from Petit, triple-A guys Clayton Blackburn and Ty Blach, perhaps a couple more fast-moving prospects (Ty Beede?), and perhaps Tim Lincecum on a minor-league deal.
If you guarantee me that Cain could average more than six innings a start next year, with slightly better than league-average results, I'd almost be willing to roll the dice on that rotation.
Almost. There's no Cain guarantee. The offseason flirtations with top starters will begin anew. Last year it was Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields. This year... will the Giants even be within sneezing distance of David Price or Zack Greinke, if he opts out of his Dodger contract? There are many options. The list is long.
Grant put a stake in the ground for Jordan Zimmermann a few weeks ago.
Here's what I would do. Make a quick-strike offer to Leake, with fewer years compensated by more dollars. Something like two years, $35 million. He's only 28, perhaps he'll be willing to go short and play for a long-term contract when he turns 30. If he holds out for three years, that's a conversation, too, but for more years, he'll have to take a back seat to the pursuit of Price, or Greinke, or...
If the Giants actually land a premier starter, and Leake's
not yet on board, the question is whether he's necessary. Frankly, I'd love to
see them grab a top guy and an innings-eater guy. Bum, Co-Ace, Innings Eater,
Cain, and Peavy. Heston starts in Triple-A, with Ty Blach and Clayton Blackburn
honing their skills there. Maybe Tim Lincecum, too. But the first step toward
the hot stove starts this month, with every inning Matt Cain is on the mound.