Ken Davidoff's baseball insider

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The Yankees and Cole Hamels and Matt Cain; Prince Fielder and opt-outs

San Francisco Giants' Matt Cain throws during the

San Francisco Giants' Matt Cain throws during the first inning of Game 2 of the World Series against the Texas Rangers. (Oct. 28, 2010) (Credit: AP )

Let's check in with our two cents on recent work by two of my favorite competitors:

1) In today's New York Times, Tyler Kepner wrote that the Yankees, who haven't upgraded their starting rotation this winter, could simply be waiting for next offseason, when Matt Cain and Cole Hamels can be free agents.

Good point. Undoubtedly, the Yankees, in discussing their roster, have looked ahead to next year's free-agent class and factored that into their decision-making. It's what every well-run club does. As Kepner points out, it's what the Yankees did four years ago, when they exhibited only minor interest in a Johan Santana trade because they envisioned signing CC Sabathia as a free agent following the 2008 season. And we know also that the Yankees had their eye on Cliff Lee a year ahead of time, except that didn't work out as well.

When making these calculations, there's much to consider, and at this point, you're doing so with a year of data still to come: For starters: 1) Will the pitcher actually make it to free agency? 2) Would he consider New York? 3) Is he a good investment, when looking at track record, age and health?

For Sabathia, the answer to the first question was easiest: Yes, he was going to become a free agent. There was no chance the small-market Indians were paying market prices for him, and the Yankees caught an additional break when Cleveland traded Sabathia to MIlwaukee, which simply couldn't afford him. The trade also helped answer question number two, as the midseason transition helped Sabathia realize that he could pitch pretty much anywhere.

Sabathia was a reliable workhorse back in '08, and he faced the same questions then that he did a few months ago, when the Yankees had to extend him to keep him from opting out: You can't seriously question the track record, his second-half fade of 2011 aside, but sure, you worry about that big body.

Moving onto Cain and Hamels, question three is the easiest: Yes on both. Cain will be 28 and Hamels 29 on Opening Day of 2013. Both have impressive, established track records.

Would they pitch in New York? You'd think it wouldn't be a problem for Hamels, who seems to enjoy life in the Philly spotlight and, by golly, publicly took on the Mets a few years back. There's no indication that Cain, playing in baseball-mad, culture-rich San Francisco, would object, either.

Will they make it to free agency? That might be the trickiest one for this pair. Unlike Sabathia in '08, both play for clubs that have the means to keep their own elite players. Both teams' calling cards, in recent years, have been their fantastic starting rotations.

The Phillies have Roy Halladay under control through 2013 with a 2014 vesting option, but Halladay turns 35 this year. They have Lee under control through 2015 with a 2016 vesting option, but Lee turns 34 this year. The Phillies have displayed a willingness to let important players depart via free agency - see Pat Burrell, Jayson Werth and Ryan Madson - but Hamels, given his youth and value, would present a more difficult challenge for Ruben Amarao, Jr. and his crew to simply let go.

The Giants, as Kepner noted, have their two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum up for free agency after 2013. They might decide to save their resources for that immense deal, count on Madison Bumgarner's continued maturation and for their resident pitching genius Dick Tidrow to keep drafting and developing strong starting pitchers.

They're also cutting back a little, as evidenced by their decision to let Carlos Beltran depart after giving up the highly regarded Zack Wheeler to get him from the Mets.

It's all fun stuff to monitor in the coming season. In the meantime, though, I still think the Yankees will wind up with someone _ of those remaining, they like Hiroki Kuroda (free agent) and Matt Garza (trade candidate) the best _ to improve their current starting rotation.

2) On the wonderful thing called Twitter, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and the MLB Network reported of an industry-wide assumption that Prince Fielder and his agent Scott Boras want an opt-out for Fielder's upcoming contract.

Rosenthal notes of a team executive who said that an opt-out benefits only a player and not the team. That's true in theory. Yet as Tim Dierkes points out at MLB Trade Rumors, the opt-out can help a team in reality.

Look at A.J. Burnett and the Blue Jays, who gave the flighty righty a five-year, $55-million deal with an opt-out after Year 3 prior to 2006. Burnett gave Toronto three pretty good years overall, albeit with some visits to the disabled list, and when Burnett opted out (going onto sign with the Yankees, of course), Blue Jays officials smiled and said, "See ya!" They had done all right for themselves, didn't have to worry about Burnett anymore and picked up a couple of compensatory draft picks.

For what it's worth, there are very few instances (that I can recall, at least) of a player being a complete bust and not exercising his opt-out because he would do far worse on the open market. I can't think of any, as a matter of fact; I'll gladly change this if you bring such an example to my attention.

The only player I can remember who simply went on with multiple years of a contract (as opposed to a one-year player option), saying, "No thanks" to an opt-out, is Mariano Rivera after 2002, a season in which he visited the disabled list three times and therefore probably wasn't feeling particularly invincible.

Like in point number one today, time will tell. But if I were running a team and wanted Fielder, I wouldn't let the opt-out faze me.

--Check back later for a contest.
 

--UPDATE, 2:24 p.m.: The two examples submitted to me, concerning players who didn't opt out of their contracts: Vernon Wells, who could;ve opted out after last season (big miss by me - I had forgotten), and Rafael Soriano, who elected to stay with the Yankees for 2012 and has a chance to opt out again following the '12 campaign.

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