Two More Years for Timmy

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…

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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.

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Giant Pride

Even in last place, a win against the Dodgers feels good. Friday night, Madison Bumgarner topped Clayton Kershaw. The Giants never beat Kershaw. Last night, the Giants obliterated Ricky Nolasco. The Giants never beat Nolasco. 19 runs on 22 hits from a last-place team, on the road against its first-place archrivals? We’ll take that any day.

I’m not writing this to try and stir anything up with the Dodgers. The records are what they are, and LA will be the ones playing in October this year. The Giants are simply trying to move out of the cellar in the season’s final weeks. But I’ll tell you this: when your last-place rival comes into your house, prevents you from clinching the division, and sets a stadium-record for runs scored while beating you up and down the diamond, it can’t feel good. And for a season like the one the Giants are having, you take small victories where you can find them.

The Giants were awful in the month of June, and it ruined their season. Most of us know that. But it was their play in July and August that frustrated me even more. After falling out of contention mid-season, there was no way they could’ve played any worse. But in all honesty, they didn’t play a whole lot better either. Think about it; when is the last time the Giants went on a nice winning streak this season? Frankly, they soured me with their lifeless play in July and August more than they did with their terrible defense and pitching in June.

I point all of this out not to frustrate anyone, but to make a point that the Giants are finally playing better baseball in the month of September. Not amazing baseball, but better. They’ve won 5 of their last 7, and they’ve been very competitive in Los Angeles this weekend. Everything came together last night for a Giants’ offense that has been looking better of late as well.

Giants 19, Dodgers 3. The most runs by one team (including the Dodgers) in Dodger Stadium history. A grand slam and career high 7 RBI for Hunter Pence, who should have been locked up in August, and will now likely cost the Giants at least $80 million over 5 years. That’s a lot of money. Pence in the month of September? 54 AB, .407, 7 HR, 22 RBI. He’s a streaky son of a gun, but he can play, and the Giants would be fools to let him enter free agency without signing a deal. Sounds like they’ve begun talks, and Hunter has all the leverage in this one.

Brandon Belt came to the party last night too. 5 hits, a home run, and 6 RBI in a SUPPORTING act from Belt, who’s a .289 hitter with 16 HR for the season. I was frustrated with Belt for quite a while, and I’ll admit I feel very foolish about it now. When a guy hits .352 with 23 HR in his first minor league season, you start envisioning big things. I think big things are coming for Belt, it just took him a little longer to get going than the impatient fans (myself included) expected. With an offseason to rest and a fresh slate heading into 2014, a 1-5 lineup of Pagan, Scutaro, Belt, Posey, and Pence could do some real damage. If Pablo can put together a healthy season and Brian Sabean can find a regular to man LF, that could be a dangerous lineup. But Belt is my 3-hitter going forward, and he’s become a different hitter in the second half. Good for him.

The highlight of the night for me was the late innings, when the Giants’ backups continued to tack on runs. 7 of them in the last 3 frames, to be exact. Ehire Adrianza had his first hit as a big leaguer, as did Johnny Monell. Great to see from a couple of guys who rode the bus for a long time down in the minors. Adrianza looks like he can handle the bat a bit, and we all know he’s got the glove-work. I think Monell’s bat can play a bit too, and he didn’t look awful behind the dish to me, as his scouting reports would lead one to believe.

Heath Hembree continues to look good on the mound in his debut action. Hasn’t given up a run yet, although the plus velocity hasn’t been there yet. Maybe he works 93-94 now? But I was hoping to see some 97’s as well.

Overall, this was a night to feel proud if you’re a Giants fan, and we haven’t had many of those this season. If they can win today and take 3 of 4 from the Dodgers in LA, it’ll feel very, very good.

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Battle of the Letdowns

In a battle between two of the most disappointing clubs this year, the Giants again disappointed in Washington, DC. A long rain delay cut Madison Bumgarner’s night short, and the Giants’ offense managed only 2 runs on 10 hits (9 singles). Joaquin Arias had 4 of those hits himself, but all of them came with nobody on base. The one at bat where he had a chance to drive in runs resulted in a flyout to second.

Andres Torres was back in the leadoff spot while Brandon Crawford was dropped to 8 in the order again. Torres was 0-3 and came out on a late double switch. I’ve said this a few times before: if you’re going to be a last place team, at least see what you’ve got for next season. Playing Torres, and Jeff Francoeur (who’s hitting .207 for the year) for that matter, make no sense to me at this point. Not that anybody else is really contributing at the plate right now, but it makes games very tough to watch these days when you see Torres’ name at the top of the order.

Let’s get something straight. Juan Perez and Francisco Peguero are not superstars waiting in the wings in AAA. They are players with decent tools who are .300 hitters in Fresno, but will certainly need some time to learn how to hit ML pitching. Same goes with Roger Kieschnick. Call up Peguero and Perez, and give them an opportunity to prove themselves. If you want to keep running platoons in CF and LF, that’s fine, but do so with an eye on the future. That’s all we as fans can ask for.

Giants Drop Final Two in Tampa

The Giants lost by a run for the second day in a row in Tampa Bay this afternoon. The Rays took two of three from the Orange and Black, who probably feel like they should’ve had a road sweep against one of the top teams in baseball. If this were any year but 2013, the Giants probably would have swept the Rays. Guillermo Moscoso made his first start since coming over in a trade with the Cubs, and was decent for four innings. His control wasn’t great, he didn’t have amazing stuff, and he served up a monster home run to Wil Myers. But he gave the Giants a chance to win. Ultimately, he didn’t make it out of the 5th, but I’d say he was effective enough. This might have been his only start anyway, as Ryan Vogelsong cruised through another rehab outing in AA Richmond. I haven’t heard anything official yet, but I’d guess we’ll see Vogey back in SF some time next week.

Moscoso wasn’t the reason the Giants lost today. Nor has starting pitching been the reason the Giants have lost six of their last nine. Take a look at what the starting hurlers have done during that span, starting with the Cubs’ series: 

7/26 vs Chc: Cain 7 ip, 1 er, 7 k (ND)

7/27 vs Chc: Bumgarner 8 ip, 0 er, 7 k (ND)

7/28 vs Chc: Lincecum 7 ip, 2 er, 10 k (L)

7/30 at Phi: Zito 3.1 ip, 4 er, 2 k (L)

7/31 at Phi: Gaudin 7 ip, 1 er, 5 k (W)

8/1 at Phi: Cain 8 ip, 1 er, 7 k (W)

8/2 at TB: Bumgarner 7 ip, 1 er, 11 k (W)

8/3 at TB: Lincecum 7 ip, 1 er, 5 k (ND)

8/4 at TB: Moscoso 4.2 ip, 3 er, 3 k (ND)

Total: 9 gs, 59 ip, 14 er (2.13 era) 57 k (3-2)

That’s pretty impressive stuff. Take Zito and Moscoso’s starts out, and you get seven starts that rival even the greatest stretches from 2010 to 2012. The difference; the Giants are 3-6 during is stretch. So, no, starting pitching is not the problem right now. Actually, if Vogelsong can post even average numbers the rest of the way in the #5 spot, the Giants will have a very strong rotation. Essentially, guys like Vogey, Gaudin and Timmy are auditioning for spots on the team next season, so I’d expect them all to be competitive this month and next.

Honestly, the dominance of the Giants rotation right now makes those lousy two months of play sting even worse. Had the team been able to win a few more games against the Marlins, the Mets, the Cubs, or anyone else for that matter, we may be looking at a very exciting last couple months of the year. Instead, it’s 12 games below .500 and an offense that inspires little confidence these days. In a 162-game season, all you have to do is avoid the awful month, because you never know what might happen down the stretch. The Giants couldn’t do that this season.

I read a tweet from Baggs this afternoon that Giants’ leadoff hitters own a .150 average since the All-Star break. Can we please see someone besides Blanco or Torres out there? What’s Francisco Peguero doing these days? How about Juan Perez? If you don’t like those options, maybe you move Scutaro up. Wanna get crazy? How about Javier Herrera in AA? Either way, this offense needs someone to be a rally-starter at the top, and neither Blanco nor Torres is doing that anymore. I think we all understand why the Giants gave Angel Pagan $40 million this offseason. You have to have a good leadoff hitter, and Pagan is ours.

The Giants head back home for four with Milwaukee, which may be a great opportunity to get some momentum going into a tough stretch of games. With the offense still sputtering (aside from an upstart Brandon Crawford), here’s what I would like to see: address the leadoff position – try someone different! Also, no more platoons please. Play the hot hitter. Belt nearly hits for the cycle against Chris Archer, then sits the next day against David Price. Francoeur gets three knocks off of Cy Price, then he sits today. I don’t care if lefties aren’t supposed to hit lefties and righties aren’t supposed to hit righties. If a guy is swinging the bat well, let him hit against whoever is pitching.

Ok, that’s enough ranting for one day. The Giants are at least playing better ball lately, and hopefully they can defend AT&T with a little more authority this time around.

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Brandons, Bumgarner Stun Rays

I’ve made it a personal goal not to use the word “sting” during this series. I’ve got too much self-respect for that, as opposed to most headline-makers out there, who think they’re so clever. I mean, “Cain is able?” Come on, that one ran its course about 8 years ago…

Anyway, the Giants have strung a winning streak together folks, all on the road to boot. We wondered how much they could take. What would be the breaking point? Well, apparently getting swept at home by the Cubs did the trick (although our starting pitching was phenomenal in that series). After taking the final two games in Philly, the Giants opened a weekend series at the Trop with the red-hot Rays in impressive fashion. One game in, and they’re already off to a much better start than the last time they played an AL East team on the road in a dome.

I’ll say this about the Rays: Their pitching staff is ridiculously talented. When Chris Archer is your #3 pitcher, you know you’ve got a talented rotation. This was the first time I’d seen Archer pitch, but had heard all about his recent two-hit shutout over the Yankees. The kid has impressive stuff. Touches 97 with the fastball and spots his slider exactly where he wants it. He’s got to be a top candidate for AL Rookie of the Year, and he was pretty filthy yesterday… which makes it all the more impressive (or shocking?) that the Brandons lit him up.

Brandon Belt was in the lineup after sitting out the entire Philadelphia series. It’s amazing what a little mental rest and extra practice can do for a slumping hitter. While the rest of the Giants’ starting nine were struggling to make solid contact against the young Archer, Belt looked like the second coming of the Babe at the plate. He tattooed a changeup in the 5th, tying the game at 1-1 with a solo shot to right. That was his second hit of the game. In the 7th, Belt and Brandon Crawford put Madison Bumgarner in position for the win. After a base-hit by Hunter Pence, Belt went after a pitch below his knees, ripping toward deep center. The ball bounced off the upper half of the wall, and Belt had a triple – although, again he wasn’t running very hard out of the box. What is his deal?! Crawford followed with a blast to right (his second HR in three games), and the Giants had all the runs they’d need. Belt and Crawford hadn’t exactly been contributing at the plate lately, so yesterday’s offensive output was very, very nice to see. When the Brandons are producing, the Giants are tough to beat.

While Belt and Crawford powered the offense on this stormy night in Tampa, the real story of the game was Bumgarner. As impressive as Archer was for the home team, Bumgarner was downright dominant against one of the better lineups in baseball. Aside from a pitch Wil Myers took to the deepest part of the yard for a long flyout, no Rays hitters even made solid contact against the Giants’ southpaw. In another 7-inning performance, Bumgarner allowed 7 hits, 3 BB and 1 ER. He struck out 11 while winning his 11th game and lowering his ERA to 2.69. Dave Flemming mentioned a couple times how MadBum had pitched at least 7 innings in every start since June 8. That’s 9 consecutive outings folks, and he’s 7-2 during that span.

Bumgarner has undoubtedly become the ace of the staff, and one of the top young lefties in the game. He seems like a wily veteran already, but he’s still only 24 years old. If the Giants can get Matt Cain back to form next year (and it seems he’s picking it up since the All-Star break), and just average performance from the rest of the rotation, they’ll be back in contention again.

So, an impressive night for the Brandons and Bumgarner, and the Giants take game one from Tampa. Tim Lincecum matches up against David Price tonight in a battle of former and current Cy Youngs. These AL East matchups are going to be fun. The Giants may be 10 games out, but you know they’d love nothing more than to play spoiler down the stretch against teams like these Rays. If they can compete like they have the last few days, we should have some pretty great matchups ahead.

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Ouch

What else can you say at this point? The Giants needed to go 7-3 (or better) on this second-half opening homestand… They went 3-7. They needed to pick it up with the bats… They scored three runs in three games against the Cubs. In April and May, the Giants were hitting but not pitching. Then there were the injuries. Then, they weren’t pitching or hitting. Now they’re pitching but not still not hitting. Cain, Bumgarner and Lincecum were amazing against Chicago this weekend. They allowed a combined 3 ER, and the Giants were swept.

The trade deadline is rapidly approaching, and the Giants are now rapidly deflating. I really don’t know what will happen next. At this point, does Brian Sabean even know? I honestly don’t see a flurry of trades coming before Wednesday’s deadline. Maybe they deal Javier Lopez for a marginal prospect. Maybe, just maybe the Rangers beat down the door for Hunter Pence. I don’t quite see it happening, but you never know.

I do know this: Our defending champs have severely wet themselves this season, through injuries and poor play alike. At this point, the front office has a responsibility to put a competitive product on the field. I can think of a few guys in Fresno who deserve a shot on the big stage. Brett Pill is one of them, but there are others. Maybe it’s time for them to get it.

But honestly Giants, ouch.

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Missed Opportunities

The Giants wasted a great opportunity yesterday, mustering up only five hits in a 3-1 loss to Arizona. The loss came at the hands of Madison Bumgarner, who gave his teammates a great chance to pick up the sweep over their division leading rivals with 7 strong innings (1 ER).

When you’re in a position like the Giants currently are, you can’t afford to shoot yourself in the foot…and that’s exactly what happened in this one. The Giants only mounted two rallies all day, and both of them were squandered by poor judgment on the part of players or coaches. Let’s be honest, when the Flan Man sent Posey home on Pablo’s double in the 6th, you knew it wasn’t going to end well. It usually doesn’t when Posey or the Panda are trying to take an extra base. AJ Pollock got the ball in quickly to Pennington, who gunned Buster at the plate. In case you missed it, the Giants made three outs at home in the final two games of the series. The players who made those outs: Sandoval, Pence and Posey.

For the record, I love Flannery. I think he’s one of the best 3rd base coaches in the game. He probably makes the right call nine times out of ten, and my guess is he doesn’t send Posey in this case if the Giants aren’t hitting .143 with RISP during the series. Seriously, when was the last time the Brandon’s drove in a run? Regardless, I still Flannery think has to hold Posey there and trust that his guys can get a run home in that situation. Last note on this topic: It sounds like many people are shredding Flannery after this one. My guess is that most of those people couldn’t successfully coach 3rd base for a little league team, let alone a 2-time World Series champ.

The Giants scratched a run across in the 9th on a fielder’s choice, and Kensuke Tanaka was promptly thrown out trying to take second after an overthrow to first. The Giants needed base runners at that point, and that was not a smart play from a guy who probably doesn’t have a ton of wiggle room.

I’d like to touch on the upcoming 4-gamer with Cincinnati at some point today, as it’s likely one of the biggest series’ of the year. But for now, we’ll leave it here. The Giants took 2 of 3 from the Snakes, but a sweep would have been very big. With the loss, it’s now a 5.5 deficit in the standings. But hey, at least we prevented the Dodgers from taking over first… right?