From a strict nut-and-bolts numbers sense, you’d have to think that it wouldn’t make very much sense for the San Francisco Giants to be in the Tim Lincecum market at all this offseason.
By the numbers (well, by many numbers), the 29-year old is undoubtedly a quantity on decline; he is a former ace looking to get his first and perhaps only long-term major payday with his name, despite not having pitched anywhere close to the level that he exhibited in his pre-prime days. Even if the Giants are in going to have more than their fair share of needs in the starting pitching department, they should know better — after all, they witnessed all of this first-hand.
But baseball is more than just a numbers game, of course, even when it comes down to the dollar and cents of contract negotiations.
The fact is that unlike the other Giants that have come and gone from San Francisco, Lincecum represents a bit of a unique case. A home-grown prospect who won a pair of Cy Young awards en route to being a fan favourite and a two-time World Series champion, the Freak means more to the team than just what he does on the field.
That much was clear in his largely disastrous 2012 season, where he had no business being on the playoff roster (5.18/1.47 ERA/WHIP), made it anyway thanks to his $18 million salary, and transformed himself into a key weapon in the World Series run. It was just 4.2 combined innings of near perfection (one walk, eight strikeouts), but for those few frames, he was once again the ace of the Giants, something that the fans certainly won’t forget.
Nor will they forget his 148-pitch no-hitter in 2013, potentially risking his contract-year arm in the name of greatness, of course.
Here’s the thing: while these short-sample accomplishments shouldn’t really have much of an effect on how his overall numbers are looked at when it comes time to talk about a new deal, the fact is that they do when it’s San Francisco looking at them. An obvious part of the consideration for long-term contracts are past accomplishments, and well … let’s just say that what Timmy has done means more to the Giants than it does other teams.
Yes, it’s a rather vague way to go about it, and perhaps not the most cost-efficient, but it’s not the first time Brian Sabean would have made a gut call like it, yes?
Of the numerous tough decisions that the Giants GM has to make, deciding whether or not to bring Lincecum back may be the hardest. A qualifying offer estimated at $14 million is almost certainly not going to get it done, even if there’s no way that the right-hander is going to get a multi-year deal worth the $22 million yearly salary he made in 2013.
They could let him go in another not-so-amicable parting of ways a la Brian Wilson, but how will the fans react to seeing another one of the faces of the team being gone? Imagine if for some reason (it’s unlikely, but just go with me here), Lincecum signed a three-year, $45 million deal with the (gasp) divisional rival Los Angeles Dodgers — and helped them to yet another NL West title and postseason run next season?
After having to watch Wilson do just this in 2013 and taking his Fear the Beard motto with him … well, let’s just say the timing wouldn’t be great. It might be hard to quantify, that kind of unsavory scenario would almost certainly have a negative impact on the franchise as a whole, even if it comes down to something simple like merchandising.
So, aside from the fact that the team really does need some help in the starting pitching department, there is more worth to re-signing Lincecum than just what his numbers would warrant. A two-year deal around $30-35 million may be ideal, but given the weak FA class in starting pitchers, you’d have to think that Lincecum would be looking for at three years (if not four), and that another team will be willing to entertain his wishes.
Could this turn into a Barry Zito-lite situation for the Giants if they went to the four-year mark at around $60-70 million (or three plus an option)? Of course. Should they take the risk anyway? Probably.