|The core of the Giants is the presumptive opening-day battery of Buster Posey and Matt Cain. (Getty Images)|
In order to prime you for the 2013 season, we here at Eye on Baseball have been examining each team's "core." The march toward all 30 clubs continues with the San Francisco Giants, owners of the belt and the title.
If you've been with us for the entirety of this ongoing series, then feel free to skip the blockquoted section that follows, which is an explanation of what a "core" is and what constitutes a team's core.
What's a core? For our purposes, a team's core comprises a "cornerstone player," a "face of the franchise" and then the "future face of the franchise."
So what's a "cornerstone player"? For starters, it's one of the best players on the roster and perhaps the very best player on the roster. Beyond that, though, it's the player whom the organization has identified as the talent around which to build by signing him to a long-term deal. In other words, they've backed their faith in the player's abilities with the most powerful statement of all: lots of redeemable U.S. currency. Not only do they see this player as central to their current aims but also to their designs on future contention.
What's a "face of the franchise"? He -- and we're getting subjective here -- is the player who most prominently embodies the franchise in question. He's that player you think about when you think about this team. Is he the same guy as the "cornerstone"? Sometimes. But the cornerstone is primarily a financial designation. The "face" is, for lack of a better term, a cultural identifier. They're not mutually exclusive, but they're not not mutually exclusive, either. What about the word "values" you see in the headline above? After we identify and evaluate the three elements of the core, we're going to slap a letter grade on the whole thing.
And now, the core of the Giants:
Cornerstone player(s): Matt Cain
In April of last year, the Giants re-signed Matt Cain to a six-year, $127.5 million extension that includes a $21 million vesting option for 2018. Given that Cain's option has a very good chance of kicking in (he need only log 200 innings in 2017 or 400 combined from 2016 to 2017 and not end the 2017 season on the DL with elbow or shoulder problems), this will likely wind up as a seven-year commitment -- to a pitcher. Such things were unthinkable just a few years ago, but the market is the market.
|Core Values series|
What was also unthinkable just a few years ago is that Cain would emerge as the Giants' cornerstone performer. In 2009, for instance, Tim Lincecum polished off his second Cy Young award at the age of 25. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval finished in the top 10 in the NL MVP balloting as a 22-year-old. While Cain was certainly no slouch (2009 was his breakout), you'd probably have laid odds on Lincecum or Sandoval as the emerging cornerstone talent. But things didn't unfold that way.
Lincecum has lost some velocity and even more consistency, and Sandoval has battled injury and weight issues. Cain, meanwhile, has evolved into a true ace. Over the last four seasons, Cain has a combined ERA of 2.93. He's one of just nine pitchers (minimum 500 IP) to have a sub-3.00 ERA since the beginning of the 2009 season; only three hurlers have a lower mark -- Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and Roy Halladay. So, yes, Cain is being paid like a first-order ace because he is a first-order ace.
The good news moving forward is that Cain is at an age -- 28 -- that lends itself to "prime" performance, so expect more of the same from the right-hander, barring injury (he has never been on the DL in his career). As well, he's coming off a season in which he posted career-best marks in strikeouts as a percentage of plate appearances and walks as a percentage of plate appearances. Cain's contract is sizable, but it's looking like a wise investment on the part of the Giants.
Face(s) of the franchise: Buster Posey
The reigning NL MVP is the face of the reigning World Series champs. Because of the rigors and defensive demands of the position, young catchers don't always develop offensively as we would hope. Throw in Posey's season-ending leg fracture in 2011, and the uncertainties mounted.
Well, worry not. Posey in 2012 led the majors in batting and OPS+, tallied 64 extra-base hits and spent almost 1,000 innings behind the plate. In doing so, he put himself on the short list of best players in baseball.
Throw in those boyish good looks and a championship veneer, and you have an obvious "face of the franchise" -- even if that face is behind the mask. After all, how many players can lay claim to a pair of championship rings, an MVP and a Rookie of the Year Award? As it turns out, only five: Posey, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Thurman Munson and Albert Pujols. The difference -- and this eases us nicely into our next category -- is that Posey achieved all this by age 25.
Face(s) of the future: Buster Posey
There's reason to believe that full-time catchers -- of which Posey is, of course, one -- tend to peak about two seasons later than do hitters from other, less taxing positions. The implication is that the best might be yet to come for Posey. Considering his present excellence, this is good news for Giants fans. Even in the absence of improvement, Posey figures to remain one of the best players in the game for at least the next five years or so.
Alongside him will be Madison Bumgarner, whom the Giants have locked up through 2017 and who is lavishly gifted. And Cain, of course. And Brandon Belt certainly has potential. But this team will be Posey's moving forward.
Giants' core value: A. When your core comprises one of the best pitchers in baseball and the reigning NL MVP and the "oldest" of the two is 28, you've got an A-grade core. So it is with the Giants. There are concerns moving forward. To wit, can GM Brian Sabean overcome his somewhat spotty history of surrounding his core with a capable supporting cast (he did an awful job of this during the Barry Bonds-Jeff Kent years)? Will the weak farm system exact a toll? What's to become of Lincecum? Those are all pressing questions, but the core in San Francisco -- Cain and Posey -- is to be envied.