Apparently the Giants have done the math. Speculation about management's possible negotiations with the team's co-aces has proliferated. SI.com's Jon Heyman wrote in a Twitter message Wednesday that Giants president Larry Baer confirmed talks regarding contract extensions with both of San Francisco's co-aces. Baer didn't immediately return a phone message left by MLB.com. Heyman added that the Giants were exploring the framework for four-year deals.
Contracts of that length would ease short-term fears of losing the right-handers to free agency. Cain is currently eligible to become a free agent after this season, when he will earn $15.3 million to conclude his three-year, $27.25 million contract.
Lincecum isn't eligible to become a free agent until after the 2013 season. But a four-year deal would wipe out his first two years of free agency. Until then, it would also bring the Giants some cost certainty, since Lincecum is guaranteed huge annual salary increases if he remains an effective performer and sticks with arbitration.
The practical sense of such deals is considerable. Cain and Lincecum appear destined to remain productive for years. They're only 27. Neither has endured a significant arm injury. Cain has exceeded 200 innings in each of the last five seasons, Lincecum for four. They've combined to make six National League All-Star teams. Lincecum, one of only four pitchers to win the Cy Young Award in consecutive years, has exceeded 200 strikeouts in each of his four full big league seasons.
Both are coming off strong years. Cain (12-11) limited opponents to a .217 batting average, third-lowest in the NL. He yielded nine home runs, fewest in the Major Leagues among pitchers who worked at least 200 innings.
Lincecum received the Majors' lowest run support. That negated his 2.74 ERA, which ranked fifth in the NL. Lincecum and Philadelphia's Cliff Lee each logged an NL-best 15 starts in which they worked at least seven innings and permitted one run or fewer.
As is the case with any athlete who signs a multiyear deal, some risk is involved. Cain missed two weeks of Spring Training with right elbow inflammation. Though the ailment wasn't serious, it represented Cain's first sign of baseball mortality.
Lincecum averaged a career-low 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings, though that was attributed to a growing ability to force batters to hit into harmless outs. But he also averaged a 2.56 strikeout-to-walk ratio after exceeding 3.00 in that category from 2008-10.
Skeptics might question how much endurance Cain and Lincecum still have, despite their relative youth. According to STATS, Cain has thrown more regular-season pitches (20,614) than any NL pitcher since 2006, his first full year in the big leagues.
Similarly, Lincecum tops all NL starters in pitches (14,164) since his first complete season in 2008. Cain ranks second in that span with 13,957.
The possible stress on their arms is matched only by the strain on San Francisco's payroll if they receive these deals -- at least initially.
It's difficult to fathom how the Giants could accommodate Cain and Lincecum economically in 2012. They'd probably command close to $35 million total, though Cain's value has been established. Including Cain, the Giants already have committed more than $81 million to eight players. Limiting the payroll to approximately $125 million, which is reportedly the Giants' goal, would be virtually impossible, given the plethora of arbitration-eligible players to retain.
The price tag for Cain and Lincecum likely would rise to a combined $40-$45 million in later years. Though the Giants will shed more than $36 million in expiring contracts after next season, left-hander Barry Zito's salary will escalate from $19 million to $20 million for 2012 and catcher Buster Posey will be arbitation-eligible for the first time. Right-hander Brian Wilson also will re-enter arbitration, further reducing San Francisco's savings.