Tim Lincecum won’t be wearing a different uniform for the next two years. I’m sure you’re already aware of the 2-year, $35 million contract Lincecum signed with the Giants yesterday. There are numerous reactions and perspectives to Timmy’s new deal that you can find all over the internet, and I’m sure most are more insightful than mine. But this wouldn’t be a San Francisco Giants blog if we didn’t discuss a new contract of one of the most influential players in franchise history. So, here’s my take, for what it’s worth.
I found out about the Lincecum deal by way of Twitter yesterday afternoon, and I’d be lying if I told you it didn’t catch me completely off guard. For the second time in a week, reports on CSN Bay Area had us believing one thing, while in reality something entirely different was going on behind the scenes. I love the coverage their website provides (I don’t get the local CSNBA channel anymore, so I’m strictly an online follower), but between the misleading reports about the Jose Abreu sweepstakes, the Lincecum contract talks, and all of the recent posts tied to the Dodgers, they’re beginning to lose a little respect in my eyes. Baggs and the crew over there need to take a breather and let things play out a bit before they start making conclusions. Lately, I feel like I get a more realistic outlook on the Giants in the blog scene than I do with Comcast.
Let’s not get off track here. The point is, as of a couple days ago, the CSN report had me believing that Lincecum’s days in orange and black were all but done. Supposedly, he’d rejected their two year offer and wanted to see what he could get on the open market (most likely from Seattle). That, however, is quite the opposite from what Bobby Evans explained on KNBR yesterday. What I took from Evans was the Giants and Timmy had a tentative deal in place for a while, but were finalizing the numbers for a while. Either way, the reports of Timmy spitting on the Giants offer and heading for greener pastures don’t seem to have much backing now.
Along with being surprised that Lincecum had re-signed with the Giants before hitting the market, one of my first reactions to the terms of the deal was that it was a significant win for Lincecum and a drastic overpay by the organization. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to react that way, but I sure was blasted by a few people on Twitter for making my feelings known. After two very un-Timmy-like seasons, he’s essentially taking a measly $2.5 million pay cut to stay with the team. For a guy with diminishing velocity and plenty of hiccups throughout his last two-year contract, that’s highway robbery in my book…
My initial reaction to the Lincecum deal was very negative, as is often the case for me. But over the years, I have learned to step back and try to look at the bigger picture, instead of griping about money that isn’t even mine. Instead of running to the blog and criticizing the Giants for something I clearly hadn’t allowed myself ample time to process, I decided to read as much about the topic as I could. And I read a lot, including Shankbone’s take at “You Gotta Like These Kids”, DrB’s at “When the Giants Come to Town”, and OGC’s at “Obsessive Giants Compulsive.” Those blogs are run by some of the most dedicated and intelligent fans in Giants Nation, and I admire them highly. I also read the beat writers’ takes, from Baggs to Pavlovic to Kawakami and even Ratto, that eternal pessimist… and all had their own unique take on the Freak’s new contract. And I’ll tell you what, they sure helped me put things into perspective.
Here’s what I know about the Giants and the way they do business in the modern era: They are a players-first organization. If a player comes in (via the farm system, free agency or trade) and has success, generally Larry Baer, Brian Sabean and company reward that player for his contributions with a nice, shiny contract. This is especially true for the guys who gain admiration from the fan base – the Cain’s, the Posey’s, the Romo’s, etc. The Giants value players who buy into the team mentality, and they have a squad full of those type of players right now. Think about it: it’s pretty hard to have a beef with anyone on the team… maybe Pablo for his lack of conditioning, but even he’s an upbeat person who contributes to the clubhouse camaraderie.
In my opinion, the biggest reason the Giants didn’t offer Carlos Beltran a contract in 2011 was the way the fans perceived him. Beltran had pretty good numbers in his short time with the club, but the fans didn’t think of him as a team player. It turned out the Giants might have been able to bring him back at a reasonable cost, but they sent him packing anyway. In the end, he didn’t fit the “Giants way.” Really, about the only recent case I can think of where a fan favorite type of player wasn’t offered a contract was Cody Ross. Even Ross was a little different to me, though, in that he wasn’t ever really seen as a full-time player. He didn’t even take over an everyday position in 2010 until the playoffs started, and platooned for the most part in 2011. Still, it was a little surprising when the Giants let him walk after the 2011 season, after the adoration he’d earned in those 2010 playoffs.
My point here is this: Nobody embodies the modern day San Francisco Giants as much as Tim Lincecum. They call him the Franchise for a reason, and his emergence as a young ace was the catalyst in changing the course of history for the organization. And he’s still a fan favorite, six years later. As his fastball velocity and strikeout rates have diminished, his leadership and maturity have grown substantially. The general word around the organization is that Timmy is a very hard-working player, and one who is well respected by his teammates. All of those things have made him a very valuable commodity to the Giants, even if his in-game performance isn’t what it was three years ago (and probably never will be).
I want to be clear about something: I don’t think a player with Lincecum’s numbers over the past two seasons deserves to be paid anything close to $17.5 million. So, in that regard, I do feel the Giants are overpaying for his services. But baseball is a very wealthy sport, and that’s how business is done in this era. Really, that’s a completely different issue, and one which I’m not prepared to tackle at the moment. In regards to the Giants and Lincecum, I can now clearly understand (after my initial frustration) why the Giants made the offer they did, even if Timmy’s performance last year doesn’t reflect the offer.
Lincecum wanted a short-term contract. He always has, and in this case the shorter deal benefits the Giants. Their crop of talented arms in the minors should be near MLB-ready in 2016, and you really don’t know what you’re going to get when #55 takes the hill anymore. You always hope for good Timmy, but it’s been bad Timmy showing quite often recently. Just look at his two starts which separated the first and second half of the season. Final start of the first half, he puts on one of the most dominant performances in Giants’ history (and one nobody was expecting) by no-hitting the Padres, striking out 13 and throwing 148 pitches in the process. His first start of the second half? How about 8 ER and 3 HR allowed in 3.2 IP against Cincinnati. The same guy who used to be one of the most dominant pitchers in the game now has the ability to get absolutely obliterated when his stuff isn’t on.
Back to my point about the contract offer. The Giants had already made it clear that they were going to give Lincecum the qualifying offer, which would have been a one-year, $14 million contract, which he would have reportedly declined. So, with that in mind, Sabean really had no leverage in offering his former ace anything lower than $14 million per year. With Timmy’s previous contract earning him $40.5 million over two seasons, it seems pretty clear now that the two sides had to meet in the middle to get a deal done. $17M for next season, $18M in 2015. Full no-trade clause. The Freak may be a northwest kid, but he likes playing in San Francisco (and why not, for that kind of money?).
Sabean said re-signing Lincecum was one of his offseason priorities. He wasn’t lying. Like the Pence deal, he got Timmy locked up rather quickly. Now it’s on to Javier Lopez, who should be getting a two-year offer this week, I’d expect. The Giants like their guys – they’re a players-first franchise, like I said. But here’s the biggest question I have in regards to the Sabean offseason plan? Are the Giants going to be a better team when they step on the field next spring, as a result of these moves? With Pence, I’d say that’s a resounding yes. But what about Lincecum? Does an inconsistent mid-rotation starter who’s still figuring out how to make it as a finesse guy really make you that much stronger? If this were 2015 and Kyle Crick, Edwin Escobar or any combination of the Giants’ top young arms were ready to step into the rotation, I would say the team could afford to let Lincecum go. But with only Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner’s spots guaranteed heading into the winter, the Giants needed another sure bet in the rotation. And make no mistake, Timmy is as much of a sure bet to take the ball every 5 days as anyone in baseball. In his 6 full seasons in the bigs, he’s made at least 32 starts every year. That’s consistency, and it’s something the Giants need… even if he can’t give you top of the line production anymore. So, at this point, after some serious consideration, I will say that bringing Lincecum back does make the Giants a stronger team – or at least more stable.
So, Timmy’s coming back to the Giants for a couple more years, for a bit more money than some of us would like. Can he improve? Of course he can. Will we see him as the leader of the staff again? I think that’s unlikely, but I guess you never can be sure. He’s only 29, so he could potentially still have some quite a few seasons left in him. He’s a former Cy Young, and a fan favorite. For the sake of putting butts in the seats, Sabean had to make this deal. For the sake of being a competitive ball club, I hope Sabean continues to shop for starting pitchers. He has said that is a priority area for the team, and they simply have too many holes right now to stand pat. But for now, I’d say it’s been a pretty productive postseason for the organization. Hopefully they’re doing a little less negotiating and a lot more competing by this time next year, though.