Face Of The Franchise: Yes We Cain

Ray Ratto's recent column about Pablo Sandoval, combined with the ESPN Franchise Player draft brought the idea of franchise players back to my mind. Through the years, the Giants have had their share of legends. Mel Ott. Christy Mathewson. Carl Hubbell. Mays, McCovey, Cepeda. Marichal. Barry Bonds comes to mind. When they won the World Series in 2010, it was all Posey this, Lincecum that, Wilson has a beard or some such. And panda hats. So many panda hats...

But then there was this article from Andrew Baggarly today that really hit it home about how much the Giants have a lack of trust in making some of their young players the face of their franchise for the future. The Kung Fu Panda was exciting, and he has really taken the city by storm. In terms of marketing. Same with Tim Lincecum. The wigs and the hair and The Freak and the letting of Timmy smoke. And Wilson and the beards.

Yet marketing does not a franchise player make.

Commitment by management does. The ability to be a lightning-rod for hope and belief does. Consistency does. Barry Bonds was a franchise player not because he brought a World Series title to San Francisco, but because he hit 586 homeruns, drove in 1440 runs, and stole 263 bases in a Giants uniform. Because you look here and see all the bold-face and italic-face and awesome-face that he was. Nobody had Barry Bonds...bald-caps. It was just Barry. And he was the guy.

But now we're in 2012. Brandon Belt is supposed to be part of the core for the future, but the jury is still out on that guy. Way out. Buster Posey definitely is a symbol of hope and change and America, but remember when his ankle kind of got shattered into 7,000 pieces? Even though he's done well this year, damaged lower body parts on a catcher doesn't scream 20-year All-Star career to me. Brian Wilson emerged as a premier closer in the majors but two Tommy John surgeries isn't exactly ideal. Also, nobody builds a franchise around a closer.

Which brings us to our most viable, but still flawed pair of options. Pablo Sandoval had the marketing side coupled with the on-field output to make it all possible. He can hit 25+ homers in a season. He's a middle of the order guy. He actually plays a pretty good third base, and now that he has no hamate bones, he'll play until he's 52. Except he's got a weight problem, which isn't encouraging. And apparently, a Roethlisberger problem. OK, maybe that's overstepping a little bit, but seriously, no news is good news when it comes to off-the-field problems. But even though the Giants extended him through 2014, there's no guarantee anymore that he's the longterm building block for current management.

Lincecum came up in 2007, won two Cy Youngs and a World Series, and decided that was enough. He's currently the fifth-best starter on this staff, and hasn't shown any signs that this is just a bump in the road. The control is declining every year. Again, I'm oversimplifying, but the volatility that Lincecum has shown this year is EXACTLY why ownership hasn't given him a long-term extension. And factor in the off-field things like being pulled over for speeding with drug paraphernalia  and that he has hippy hair and looks like a vampire and things, and he hasn't exactly garnered the full-throttle support you want either.

You'll have to go back even further, to 2005, to find the guy who has been there through everything. He has a World Series ring. He has a long-term contract. He has a clean record off the field. He's still young. He's been consistently good, making two All-Star teams. Also, Matt Cain.

Yeah. I said it. How is this not the guy you want to represent your franchise? Sure, he's never been the guy that the media flocks to, nor does he have a bevy of marketable physical features about him, but he is the longest tenured Giant. He's signed through 2018, showing a commitment from the guys upstairs and a reward for his awesomeness. He's married with a daughter. He has never been almost traded for Alex Rios.

By the time his contract ends, assuming that he's still wearing a Giants uniform, Matt Cain will have been in San Francisco for fourteen years. I know I keep throwing his name around, but Barry Bonds was with the Giants for 15 years. Comparably, Rich Aurilia spent 12 years (non-consecutive) with the Giants. J.T. Snow is next with 10 years of experience with the club. Same with Kirk Rueter. 

And at the end of those 14 years, Matt Cain will be...wait for it...34 years old. CC Sabathia is on the hook for $25M when he's 37. Cliff Lee will be earning $27.5M at age 38. Kevin Brown, whose record for a right-hander's contract Cain broke a couple months ago, signed a 7-year contract that paid him over $100M when he was 33. 

So why not? Why can't Cain be the face of the franchise? Why shouldn't he be? If you combine him with Madison Bumgarner, you've got two of the most consistently good pitchers heading into the next decade anchoring your staff. Two family-first, baseball-also-first, selfishness-nowhere pitchers who have produced but have also remained under the radar since they got into the league. 

ESPN's draft had Cain nowhere to be seen in their top 30 picks. Bumgarner snuck in as a fan pick at #29. On the pitching side, Clayton Kershaw (#3), Justin Verlander (#4), Stephen Strasburg (#6), Felix Hernandez (#10), Neftali Feliz (#22), David Price (#25), Jeff Samardzija (#26), and Yu Darvish (#28) all made the cut. I don't know about you, but I'd take Matt Cain against any of those guys any day.