Could Matt Cain Be The Closer Of The Future?


Matt Cain is a true San Francisco Giant, there is no question about it. The years he gave the team early on in his career — with the lack of run support — were even more impressive than some of his years as an All-Star. Though, even in years he was an All-Star (2011) he had no support.

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In that year, Cain was 12-11 with 179 strikeouts and a 2.88 ERA in 33 starts. Twelve wins? Tim Lincecum went 13-14 that year with a 2.74 ERA, so obviously the run support was hard to come by for the whole team.

With that recent success still somewhat fresh in the minds of Giants fans, Cain has been working diligently to get back to that same level of success. Most fans are hoping for the same out of Lincecum. Although a return by Lincecum is possible, Cain is most definitely here through 2017. What is surprising is that a lot of fans, and even some radio personalities have floated the idea of moving Lincecum to the bullpen to be a closer.

But what about Matt Cain?

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There have been some amazing arms that have switched roles later on in their careers, moving from the rotation to the bullpen. Dennis Eckersley is a prime example of an arm that made the transition, and never looked back. Then there is John Smoltz. All he did was dominate as a starter early on in his career, then became an All-Star closer, and returned to his role as a dominant starter once again.

Eckersley was switched partially due to ineffectiveness the previous year. But it had more to do with the foresight that Tony LaRussa had and recognizing the value in his arm. All he did to reward the decision was go from a good starter (two-time All-Star and 20-game winner), to a Hall of Fame closer. He was already twelve years into his career when he became a closer, and pitched for twelve more years.

Smoltz, on the other hand, had a situation more similar to Cain’s current one — arm trouble. This prompted the switch and from 2002-2004, he pitched in fewer innings (226.1) than he did in most of his seasons as a starter. Save the arm, resurrect the career, build the confidence. And ultimately, add value.

The Giants have been in the news lately speaking about their rotation and what they would like to get done. Obviously, Madison Bumgarner is a lock and will be for the foreseeable future. It was surprising to see the manner in which he continued to pitch this year after all of the innings accumulated over the previous season.

Sept 1, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starter Madison Bumgarner (40) delivers a pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kudos are in order for both his preparation and determination in the off-season. A leader like that goes a long way toward inspiring his teammates.

After Bumgarner, there are some questions about San Francisco’s rotation. Jake Peavy had a commendable year, and Chris Heston has the stuff to get it done. Both of those guys have the inside track as the fourth and fifth starters. But what about two and three?

The team has indicated that they are going to be players in the free-agent market and will be in search of arms. There has been talk of bringing Mike Leake back, which would be a smart move. His age (28), athleticism, and competitive nature show a good career projection. Also, he likes it here.

Familiarity and respect for your team always breeds chemistry, and that is something most teams lack. The Giants have been a great place to play under Bruce Bochy, and all the team needs is for a player to get a taste. Just ask Hunter Pence.

There have also been rumors that the team will also go after one of the aces that will be available this offseason. Some of the names thrown around have been Zack Greinke, David Price, and Jordan Zimmerman. Any of those would make a great number two starter with this defense behind him and playing at AT&T Park with its spacious dimensions.

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  • If Cain had managed to have an amazing second half last year, the questions about him wouldn’t even be raised. They may have not even traded for Leake for the stretch run. But most things happen for a reason, and with several high quality arms waiting to crack the rotation, it may be time to make some room. And with two years, and $42 mil left on the guaranteed part of the contract, the Giants have the right to maximize the value of that contract.

    Heston was a surprise, as his projected ceiling had supposedly been hit already. But the movement on his pitches shows a higher ceiling than expected. All that needs to be done now is to harness that talent, and be consistent.

    But along with Heston, there are several prospects who could be ready. Most have heard the names; Clayton Blackburn, Ty Blach, Tyler Beede, Adalberto Mejia. Hopefully for the sake of the team, these arms will cause an overcrowding in the rotation.

    So, with that in mind, maybe it’s time to take one of the arms that has shown amazing value over a career, and try to get even more out of it. This is not to say that Santiago Casilla is not effective. But he has shown signs of susceptibility recently. By pushing him up to be the setup man, and using Sergio Romo in a more situational role, you would only be strengthening the back end of the bullpen.

    And just as Smoltz did, he can always come back to the rotation after a few years of less wear and tear. One more piece of food for thought — as we all know, the Giants have won World Series titles three times withing a five year period. However, each one of those titles was won with a different pitcher as their closer.

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    Brian Wilson was the closer in 2010. Sergio Romo handled those duties  in 2012. A Santiago Casilla was San Francisco’s closer in 2014.  Of course it was Bumgarner who went into the phone booth and put on his cape and closed it out for the team in 2014.

    It could all be nothing more than chance, but maybe a new closer means another title. It also could mean that a very good starter, becomes a Hall of Fame closer.