Look, I get it. The price of doing business these days in the MLB is ridiculously high. However, that doesn’t mean a team should give out nearly $20 million annually to be pitcher that is above average, but far from the dominant pitcher he once was. But that is exactly what the San Francisco Giants have done.
Tim Lincecum was once one of the best pitchers in baseball. For whatever reason, though, the Giants don’t seem to realize that he hasn’t been one of the best pitchers in baseball since 2009. In ’09, Lincecum pitched to a 2.48 ERA and an even better 2.34 FIP. He pitched 225.1 innings that season, and had an incredible 10.42 K/9. Even with his lights-out stuff, the great thing about him is that he wasn’t wild. In that same season that he had 10.42 K/9, he also had a 2.72 BB/9, which is very good for someone who can strike out that many hitters.
In 2012, Lincecum had a 5.18 ERA and a 4.18 FIP in 186 innings pitched. In 2013, he had a 4.37 ERA with a respectable 3.74 FIP. His strikeouts have gradually gone down since his best season, 2009. In 2013, his 8.79 K/9 was still great, but not on a 2008-09 Lincecum level. Not even close. His walks have also gone way up. Last season, Lincecum had a 3.46 BB/9 and a 4.35 BB/9 in 2012. His fastball has lost velocity, making his changeup much less devastating.
The Giants have reportedly given Lincecum a two-year, $35 million deal. He will make $17 million next season and $18 million in 2015. The Giants also gave him full no-trade protection. Are they insane?
An average annual value of $17.5 million is for pitchers that aren’t necessarily elite, but are very close to it. If this is the price of doing business, specifically for signing free agent starting pitchers, then I truly fear for the smaller market teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates, Oakland Athletics and Houston Astros. Seeing someone like Lincecum get this type of annual value just shows how important it is for small market teams to have deep, talented farm systems.