According to Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area, San Francisco Giants fan favorite Tim Lincecum will test the free-agent market rather than work towards accepting a two-year deal to remain with the Giants before free agency begins.
Lincecum’s desire to test the free-agent market doesn’t mean that he won’t be back in San Francisco. The Giants hold a key card in this negotiation with the one-year qualifying offer that they will extend to Lincecum. If he declines the offer and signs elsewhere, the Giants will receive a compensatory draft pick after the first round. Additionally, if the signing team finished outside of the bottom 10 in the standings, they will lose their first-round draft choice for signing Lincecum.
The Giants ability to extend Lincecum the qualifying offer gives them leverage because it limits Lincecum’s market. How many teams that finished in the bottom 10 in the standings will be active on the free-agent market? And, how many teams outside of the bottom 10 will be willing to lose their first-round draft choice to sign a pitcher who has posted a combined ERA of 4.76 since the beginning of 2012?
The Giants have signaled their desire to keep Lincecum in the fold. Baggarly previously reported that after re-signing Hunter Pence, the club’s next order of business was to re-sign the fan favorite Lincecum, who is aptly nick-named The Freak in San Francisco.
One suitor who could emerge to steal Lincecum from the Giants is the Seattle Mariners. Lincecum is a Washington native who played his collegiate ball at the University of Washington where he won the Golden Spikes Award before the Giants selected him with the 10th pick of the 2006 draft. Baggarly wrote:
“the Seattle native [Lincecum] might be curious to see what level of interest his hometown Mariners will have in him – especially since they own a protected first-round draft pick and wouldn’t lose it. The Mariners had a scout following Lincecum and the Giants over the club’s last homestand.”
Signing a local, popular figure like Lincecum could boost fan interest for the Mariners, who lost 91 games last year.
Lincecum almost certainly will not revert back to being the dominant ace he was when he won back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2008-09. He was also the ace of the San Francisco staff in 2010 when the Giants won their first championship since moving to San Francisco in 1958.
Lincecum has lost four miles per hour off of his fastball since 2008 and his command hasn’t improved with diminished velocity. He walked 9.1 percent of the hitters he faced in 2008 when he was throwing 94.1 mph on average. In 2013, he walked 9.0 percent of the hitters he faced while throwing a fastball that averaged 90.2 mph.
Even though Lincecum has lost velocity, he still misses bats at an outstanding rate. He finished 21st in strikeout rate and seventh in swinging strike percentage amongst qualified starters in 2013.
If Lincecum can find away to improve his command, his ERA will likely continue to drop. His ERA fell from 5.18 in 2012 to 4.37 in 2013. However, with his unorthodox mechanics that are designed to maximize every ounce of his slight, 5’11″, 170-pound frame, it seems unlikely Lincecum will suddenly develop vastly improved control.
Thus, wherever Lincecum ends up, the signing team will likely be acquiring a mid-rotation starter. Lincecum still has the secondary stuff—including a wipe-out change-up, hammer curve and slider—to miss bats an exceptional rate. However, he doesn’t have the fastball velocity or command necessary to pitch at the top of a rotation anymore.
Lincecum may ultimately re-sign with the Giants, but San Francisco fans should also accept the possibility that they’ve seen the last of The Freak in San Francisco. He’s a free agent with a desire to test the market, and that means all bets are off.
Lincecum already turned down a reported five-year, $100 million extension prior to the 2012 season. If he wasn’t eager to stay in San Francisco long-term at that price, perhaps he has his sights set on pitching the remainder of his career elsewhere.
When it comes to Tim Lincecum, it’s best to always expect the unexpected. They broke the mold when they made this short, slender righty with the violent mechanics. His Giants career has been a tumultuous ride with many more highs than lows including two Cy Young Awards and two championships, but that doesn’t mean it’s meant to last.
Tim Lincecum may return to the Giants, but he may also have thrown his last pitch in the orange and black. As hard as that might be for Giants fans to accept, that’s just the reality of the situation.
All statistics in this article are from FanGraphs.