In spite of the San Francisco Giants vocal interest in re-signing pitcher Tim Lincecum, the 29 year old right hander is going to explore his options in free agency before deciding on a team. This is not a surprise, as there have been rumors that he would do this for years. But it does cast some doubt on his return. Lincecum’s popularity in the Bay Area is unquestioned as he has reached icon status, and up until this point the Giants have given every indication that they will do all that they can for him to be in a San Francisco uniform next year. They may not waver on that stance even with Lincecum hitting the market, and their most likely move is to extend him a 14 million dollar qualifying offer. This would mean that the team would receive draft pick compensation if Lincecum were to sign with another team, but it would also mean that they would have to pay him a hefty sum to pitch for them next year. With things currently as they stand, it begs the question whether or not Lincecum is actually a 14 million dollar pitcher. There are three main criteria for this. How he has done in the last two seasons, what the rotation looks like without him, and his organizational value.
How he has done in the last two seasons.
Lincecum’s career got of to a legendary start. Before the age of 27 he won two Cy Young awards and lead the National League in strikeouts three times. However the last two seasons have been night and day compared to what he did in those seasons. His ERA the season before last was 5.18. That is a ridiculously high number, and his struggles during that year have been well documented. However a single down year is acceptable, especially for a player of his caliber. This past year he posted an era of 4.37, a number far too high for his pay grade but something more reasonable. Perhaps the more startling number is his drop in fastball velocity. When Lincecum came into the league he averaged 94 mph. The past two season is just above 90. Considering his slight frame and his throwing style, its fair to wonder whether Lincecum’s velocity will continue to dip even further. The trend suggests so, and as a result, the pitcher could have to completely revamp his style in order to find the success that he once had. That would make Lincecum a different pitcher than the one who won two Cy Young awards. Which begs the question of who the Giants are really getting for 14 million dollars a year.
What the rotation looks like without him.
For the first time in awhile the Giants have issues with their pitching staff. As of right now, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain are the only solid members of the rotation for next year. Yusmeiro Petit is also a likely rotation member, but after that things become cloudy. Whether or not Ryan Vogelsong comes back to the team next year depends upon his salary, and it would be premature to pencil him into next season plans. Essentially only half the rotation is going to be back next year, leaving a lot of holes. Considering there are no top free agent pitchers available, it’s likely that the Giants will only bring in a mid rotation guy. Someone such as Dan Haren seems to to be a reasonable choice, but its hard to tell how the landscape is going to play out. Because of this, it would make sense for the Giants to bring back Lincecum, considering he has shown that he can be the best pitcher in the league, and worst case he becomes a top notch bullpen member. The Giants simply do not have a lot of options.
His Organizational Value
Although the last two years have been disappointing, Lincecum has still done enough to keep the fans on his side. His masterful performance out of the bullpen in the postseason two years ago and his no hitter this past year have both been instances in which Lincecum showed flashes of what he once was. These flashes have kept the fans on his side, and the overwhelmingly support of Lincecum throughout the Bay Area reflects his value to the club. This is a player that has won two world series, two Cy Young awards, and has captured the hearts of his fan base through his unorthodox lifestyle. He’s become a legend in San Francisco and he’s not even 30. If the team wants to continue to sell out games they should re-sign him.
Although Lincecum is not what he once was, there are simply no better options right now. He provides the most potential of any pitchers on the market. Combined that with his fan appeal and it seems that the best thing to do is to extend him the qualifying offer. If he takes it then the Giants get another chance at trying to turn him into what he once was. If he doesn’t sign it, then at the very least the teams receives draft pick compensation. It’s a win-win move.