Deals don't appear imminent with either Lincecum, who earned $13 million this year and is arbitration-eligible twice more, or Cain, who will earn $15.3 million in 2012 before becoming eligible for free agency.
"We've had an exchange of ideas and some conversations about not much," vice president of baseball operations Bobby Evans said Tuesday. "With so many other things, we have not advanced very far down the road. There's just been some exchange of some numbers and some ideas."
With Lincecum destined for a significant wage hike, whether he enters or avoids arbitration, and $81.6 million committed to only eight players (Barry Zito, Aubrey Huff, Brian Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, Cain and the released Aaron Rowand), the Giants must control costs as much as possible. Besides Lincecum, their arbitration-eligible horde includes right-handers Ryan Vogelsong, Ramon Ramirez, Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla, outfielder Nate Schierholtz and third baseman Pablo Sandoval, which will further strain the payroll.
That, in turn, will prevent the Giants from pursuing any of the three premier free agents -- Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes or Albert Pujols.
"There won't be a big splash," general manager Brian Sabean said. "Our mindset ... is that our pitching is our gold standard. We have to make sure that we take care of that commodity first."
Sabean indicated that the Giants probably won't have the available funds to woo anyone from the next tier of free agents, which includes shortstop Jimmy Rollins and the multitalented Michael Cuddyer.
Attempting to re-sign free agent Carlos Beltran would be the most dramatic move the Giants might consider. San Francisco would relish placing the right fielder in the middle of a lineup that could include Melky Cabrera, Sanchez, Sandoval, a healthy Buster Posey, a more polished Schierholtz, and an improved Brandon Belt or a rededicated Huff. But given Beltran's extensive injury history, the Giants are unlikely to offer the switch-hitter more than a two-year contract. Beltran, whose leading suitor is believed to be the Boston Red Sox, likely would want a three-year deal.
"The best way to phrase it: He is a consideration," Sabean said of Beltran. "But [contract terms] will be an issue with anybody we pursue."
Sabean hasn't ascertained whether trade talks or free-agent negotiations looked more promising for the Giants.
"I couldn't predict what direction we'll end up going," he said.
With left-hander Jonathan Sanchez's departure to Kansas City for Cabrera, the Giants relinquished their most marketable and expendable trade commodity. The Giants have several attractive prospects in the lower Minors, but none they'd be willing to part with who are close to being Major League-ready.
That leaves free agency, which usually has been Sabean's preferred player-acquisition method since it doesn't necessitate losing an existing member of the organization.
But at this juncture, it's anybody's guess what the Giants' next move will be.
"I think we created enough food for thought and we have enough flexibility," Sabean said. "It's just a matter of how well we execute or what presents itself [as] the best deal."