The Parallelism Of Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, And Zack Greinke

SAN FRANCISCO - Cole Hamels #35 of the Philadelphia Phillies throws a pitch in the first inning against the San Francisco Giants in Game Three of the NLCS during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at AT&T Park. (Photo by Robert Meggers/Getty Images)

There might be three premium starters on the free-agent market this offseason. Where the best of this year's crop included a pitcher who has only been a starter for two seasons and a pitcher who has never thrown in the majors, next year's crop could feature three known quantities. And it's a little spooky how close they are to each other. Their stats from 2008 to present:

Zack Greinke: 823 innings, 3.37 ERA, 126 ERA+, 126 starts
Cole Hamels: 845 innings, 3.29 ERA, 126 ERA+, 129 starts
Matt Cain: 880 innings, 3.17 ERA, 128 ERA+, 133 starts

Cain has the edge in every category, but just barely, and he also has the lowest strikeout-to-walk ratio of the three. It's a pretty evenly matched troika. They're all free agents after this season, and they've all expressed a willingness to stay with their current organization. They like where they're at. That's worth something, in which "something" is defined as an intangible value that probably doesn't relate to money.

Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander, and Felix Hernandez all signed virtually identical contracts to stay with their current teams -- five years and $80 to 85 million. All of those contracts were signed within the last two seasons, so it's reasonable to think that Cain, Hamels, and Greinke will use those as starting points for their negotiations. But their contracts are almost certainly going to be based on a different figure: the contract of whichever pitcher signs an extension or free-agent deal first. It's a three-way game of chicken, and there isn't a lot of urgency on the players' side just yet.

Forget about talk of a hometown discount. Hamels has watched his team acquire two older pitchers to put ahead of him in the rotation, and they were both paid handsomely. Greinke has been with the Brewers for all of a year now, and while he says he likes it, there probably isn't that soulmate-connection yet that makes him feel like giving up tens of millions of dollars because the Brewers are so swell.

And Matt Cain? Ol' Matt Cain, who is the longest-tenured San Francisco Giant, who owns a house in San Francisco, and who loves pitching in AT&T Park? Why wouldn't he want to give something back to the Giants, right? The best way to put it is this: Over his career, Matt Cain has made less than Barry Zito made last year. Cain's already given back to the Giants. The hometown discount has already happened.

All three are waiting for the other one to make a move, as their contracts will all mean a lot more to each other than the Verlander/Weaver/Felix extensions. And when one contract is signed, don't be surprised if the other ones get done shortly after, whether we're talking about this month or in December. If nothing gets done during the season, expect a wild bidding war for all three. (Including the Royals swooping in and signing all three for a combined $325 million, which I've decided should happen because that would be amazing.)

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