Eligible for free agency after this season, Cain was certain to receive a big payday. But instead of waiting until the offseason and launching a bidding war, he instructed his representatives from Creative Artists Agency to pursue a deal with the Giants, the only organization he has known since they drafted him in the first round in 2002.
"Let's try to push for this," Cain, speaking at a news conference at San Francisco's AT&T Park, said he told his agents. "We always wanted to really give this our best effort. And I think we did that."
The Giants reciprocated the sincerity by creatively trying to sweeten Cain's contract, which includes a signing bonus, a no-trade clause, a buyout and an option for 2018.
Citing the contract's "untold permutations" generated by the earnest discussions, Giants general manager Brian Sabean said, "I really believe it was a true negotiation. ... It was particularly interesting because of not only the quality of the player and his potential in the [free agent] market, but also the fact that we didn't want to have him get into the market."
Renowned for their pitching, the Giants felt that way about other members of their staff. Vowing to keep as many of their talented hurlers as possible during the past offseason, the Giants avoided salary arbitration headaches with two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum by signing him to a two-year contract. They also kept left-handed relief specialist Javier Lopez off the free-agent market by giving him a two-year deal, picked up the 2012 option on left-hander Jeremy Affeldt's contract and gained some security by signing All-Star right-hander Ryan Vogelsong for two years.
Cain relished the opportunity to stay with the same group.
"It's been kind of cool, because we've been able to push each other all together," said Cain, the longest-tenured Giant who made his Major League debut on Aug. 29, 2005.
Cain also welcomed the chance to remain with an organization that, in his view, appears committed to developing more homegrown stars such as himself.
"I think that's exciting for a guy who's been around for a little while, to see the talent that we're going to have for years to come," he said.
Industry sources said that Cain's deal is technically a six-year, $127.5 million package, since it cancels out the final year of the three-year, $27.25 million agreement that ended with a $15 million salary this season. Cain will still earn $15 million this year, but he'll also receive a $5 million signing bonus, as well as $20 million per year from 2013-17.
The sources said that Cain's new contract includes a vesting player option worth $21 million for 2018, assuming he meets certain performance standards during the previous year. That can increase the contract's value to $141 million over seven years. If the option does not vest, it becomes a club option. Cain will receive a $7.5 million buyout if he or the team declines the option.
The $22.5 million guaranteed average annual value of Cain's deal isn't just the most lucrative ever for a right-hander. It's also the second-largest for any pitcher not a free agent at the time. The only larger contract for a non-free agent pitcher went to Johan Santana of the New York Mets, who gave him a five-year, $124.25 million extension in 2008. Interestingly, until Cain made his deal, the highest AAV for a right-handed pitcher with a multiyear contract belonged to Lincecum ($20.25 million in 2012-13).
The lone active pitchers bearing contracts with higher AAVs are all left-handers -- the New York Yankees' CC Sabathia ($24.4 million), Philadelphia's Cliff Lee ($24 million) and Santana ($22.9). Besides Cain, Texas Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish is the only other Major League pitcher signed through 2017.
Though such nine-figure contracts are enormous risks -- check the records of Kevin Brown, Mike Hampton and Barry Zito, for example -- neither Cain nor Sabean demonstrated any lack of confidence.
"I feel like I don't need to be motivated that way," Cain said. "I'm going to be motivated by playing."
Indeed, the Giants ignored Cain's 69-73 career record and focused on his other credentials. The two-time All-Star has received the Major Leagues' lowest run support (3.7) in the last five seasons. Despite being only 27, he has started 203 games, a figure eclipsed by only six Giants since the franchise moved west in 1958: Juan Marichal (446 starts), Gaylord Perry (283), Kirk Rueter (277), Mike McCormick (245), Jim Barr (220) and Jack Sanford (211).
Cain is among seven pitchers who have reached or exceeded 200 innings for five consecutive seasons. Mark Buehrle, Dan Haren, Roy Halladay, Sabathia, James Shields and Justin Verlander are the others. Also, according to statistician Bill Chuck, Cain, Halladay, Lee and Jered Weaver are the only starters to finish each of the previous two seasons with a WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) of 1.1 or below.
"We know Matt inside and out," Sabean said, pointing out that Cain has benefited in ways that other highly paid moundsmen didn't by performing under pitcher-friendly conditions at home and in other National League West parks.
Sabean also lauded Cain's character: "When you know a player like this and you know what he's about off the field ... he doesn't need any motivation."