In case you missed it today, Matt Cain signed the richest deal of any RHP in baseball: 6 years and $127M.
The Cubs meanwhile are nearing a crossroads with their own staff ace Matt Garza. Now, Garza hasn't been as productive as Cain has been to this point but last year was something of a breakthrough for him. In fact, it was very similar to Cain's year. At this point, Garza may be thinking that if he has a big year in 2012, he may be in line for a pretty big payday himself.
The most comparable pitcher to Garza statistics-wise over his career is White Sox lefty John Danks, who recently signed for 5 years and $65M. But Garza has better stuff and had much better peripheral numbers than Danks did last year. If you were to pick a pitcher to take another step forward, you'd have to pick Garza.
So if you're Garza, do you choose the safe route and get Danks money now or roll the dice and see if you can have a big year and earn even more?
For the Cubs, the choice is similar. They can try and sign him now or wait until the trade deadline. If he struggles, then he loses value but the Cubs can re-sign him cheaper. If he does well, his price goes up and the Cubs may try and trade him for the best offer at the deadline -- though they'd have to trade him to a bigger market team with realistic hopes of re-signing him to get the best return, in my opinion.
For teams looking in the short term, the 28 year old Garza must look like a bargain right now when you compare his 2011 stats to the 27 year old Cain...(see stat glossary for explanation)
They're almost mirror images of each other for 2011, but if you go over the past few years then Cain has been the more consistent pitcher. He had put up WARs between 3.3 and 4.0 over the previous 5 years -- very good, but certainly not elite. They are obviously counting on him sustaining this new level as he reaches his peak performance years.
Garza is a year older but doesn't have the same track record. While he had 3 WAR years in 2008-2009, it dropped to 1.6 in 2010. However, another 5 WAR year and he can certainly make an argument that he belongs closer to Cain territory than he does Danks. We know his agent will.
In the end, the biggest difference is between the teams themselves. The Giants have averaged 88.5 wins the last 3 years and won the World Series in 2010. They have a young star in RHP Tim Lincecum at the top of the rotation and they believe they have a window to contend for the next few years.
The Cubs, meanwhile, are in full-fledged rebuilding mode, and you can even argue that it hasn't really even started yet. The Cubs have mostly cleared salaries and shipped off short-term players. They have taken some flyers that may or may not pay off -- but they certainly are nowhere near completing that foundation that can sustain long-term success. If they can get Garza at Danks money, then they should do that. If they wait and his price rises, their organization is not in a position to sign him to a multi-year deal that will approach $20M. If it comes to that, they'll have to shift gears and see what they can get for him by the trade deadline.