Matt Cain Is Out For The Year, And That’s Bad

Quick news from up north: Matt Cain, out since July 11, is going to have season-ending elbow surgery. This is bad news for the Dodgers. Yes, really.

No, it’s not because Cain was having the worst year of his stellar career. It’s because without him, the San Francisco rotation is Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson, Ryan Vogelsong, and Jake Peavy. That’s fine, I guess, but not impenetrable. Bumgarner is great, of course, and Hudson’s having a very good season, but each of the other three can be considered questionable. Like the Dodgers, they could do with another starting pitcher, and even if they couldn’t, they have a motivation to get one anyway.

Remember, now, how waivers work. A team will put a player on waivers — and please, please, keep in mind that 99.9 percent of players end up on waivers, and 99.5 percent of the time it means nothing — and every other team in baseball gets to put in a claim on them. There’s four outcomes to this process:

  1. A player is claimed, and the original team pulls him back, meaning he can’t be traded. (This is the overwhelmingly likely outcome.)
  2. A player is claimed, and the winning team and original team work out a trade.
  3. A player is claimed, and the original team says “fine, he’s your problem now.” (This is rare, but has happened, to Alex Rios, Randy Myers, Cody Ross, etc.)
  4. A player goes unclaimed, and the original team is free to trade him to anybody without restriction

But what’s important there is how the “winning” claim is awarded. It goes by league, by record. That is, if the Dodgers want an American League player, that player must go unclaimed by all the AL teams — worst record to best — then all the NL teams, worst record to best. If they want an NL player, they don’t have to worry about AL teams, but that player still has to get past every NL team with a worse record.

The Giants, of course, have a worse record, currently sitting two games back of the Dodgers after beating the Mets today. What that means is that the Dodgers can’t get anybody unless the Giants allow it. They could literally place a claim on every single player, prevent the Dodgers from trading for anyone, and there’s not a damn thing the Dodgers can do about it.

They won’t go to quite that extreme, of course, because they have payroll limits, and because there’s always the risk that the original team will just let him go to the claiming team, contract and all, and because some of the players on waivers will be so lousy that San Francisco won’t even care if the Dodgers get him. (“What, you really want Colby Lewis? Okay, good luck with that.”) But the point is, for as long as the Dodgers remain ahead of the Giants in the standings, there’s only so much they can do because of San Francisco’s motivation to block them. Now, with Cain gone, the Giants may have a need in exactly the same place that the Dodgers do.

About Mike Petriello

Mike Petriello
Mike writes about lots of baseball in lots of places, and right now that place is MLB.com.