Tim Lincecum might not be the best pitcher on the San Francisco Giants right now, and he certainly will not be for much longer. Madison Bumgarner had a sterling season in 2011; Matt Cain quietly had his best, too.
Lincecum is getting expensive, and very soon, it might be in San Francisco's best interest to deal its most marketable star of the post-Barry Bonds era in order to bolster an organization with some gaping holes.
That might sound sacrilegious to Giants fans, but it makes sound baseball sense. The Giants could easily get enough in return for Lincecum to justify a trade, especially if they know his ultimate asking price for a long-term contract and are unwilling to pay it.
Lincecum isn't the only hurler in that boat. Teams are starting to wise up a bit: Burning out an elite pitcher in his late 20s only hurts if you're the one holding the bag. Trades of hard-worked young pitchers Jake Peavy, Dan Haren, Ubaldo Jimenez, Gio Gonzalez and Mat Latos in recent years prove GMs with the luxury of time to build a winner are now more willing than ever to trade top-tier pitchers at the peak of their value.
Here are five guys, including Lincecum, who could be next in that line.
To this point, when whispers have floated about Lincecum and the Yankees, the consensus has been that New York insists upon assembling a package for Lincecum without dealing more than one of Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances. With due respect to the rest of the Yankee farmhands, putting together such a package would be like making a BLT without bacon or tomato.
The Giants, on the other hand, seem to want all three of those players, plus another MLB-ready Yankee role player. Eduardo Nunez is most commonly brought up. That seems a bit extravagant.
Suppose, though, that the Giants dropped that demand, and simply stood firm on receiving the three best prospects in the Yankee system. That would actually be a pretty fair deal, and if it ever lands on the table, Brian Cashman would be a fool not to pull the trigger.
If Cashman is honest and objective about his expectations for Banuelos and Betances (especially the latter), he can afford to give up the entire trio for Lincecum. What he can ill-afford to do is waste another season traipsing into October with the starting rotation he has right now. That's a bit like taking a half a BLT to a gunfight, to mix similes.
The Mariners don't seem terribly interested in dealing Felix Hernandez, but if they ever made that choice, it would be less painful to lose him now than it would have been but two years ago. Adding Danny Hultzen and James Paxton, getting revelatory MLB performance from Michael Pineda last year and having extremely high upside in Taijuan Walker in the low minors all have eased the potential risk of trading away one of MLB's top five pitchers at a young age.
If Hernandez ever were available, you can be the highest bidders for his services would be the Boston Red Sox. They simply love Hernandez, with good reason of course, and a fair deal might be struck along these lines:
- Anthony Ranaudo
- Xander Bogaerts
- Ryan Lavarnway
- Bryce Brentz
RED SOX GET:
- Felix Hernandez
Obviously, both Lincecum and Kershaw can't happen. The Yankees, though, could feasibly begin a ping-pong game up and down the West Coast, trying to coax the lowest possible cost out of the Dodgers or Giants.
With both clubs in play (and each could be, since the Dodgers signed a long-term extension with Matt Kemp and are unlikely to have the funds to do the same for their Cy Young winner), it's certainly possible that New York could keep Betances in a deal and send a lesser prospect instead.
One of the key drivers of what turned out to be remarkable trade value for Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Mat Latos was service time, or more precisely, years of control. Each of those guys are bound to their teams for the next four seasons, which made many GMs happy to hand over an extra player in those deals.
That premium probably should not exist. For teams looking to compete in the short term, it doesn't make sense to give up an extra prospect just to have control of an asset for a long time. If it were about the next five years, rather than the next year or two, why would that team not simply hold onto its prospect to begin with?
Instead of ponying up Wil Myers in a deal for Gonzalez or Latos, the Royals have wisely lain poised in the weeds. They can reasonably hold onto some of its elite farm talent and still add an elite pitcher, and this is the blueprint. Cain is but a year from free agency, so though he is an exceptional talent, he would net only Cheslor Cuthbert as the headliner in a deal, not Myers.
The Cubs and Tigers are hurdling toward completion of a trade involving Matt Garza, according to David Kaplan of CSN Chicago. If this deal comes to fruition (and the reasons it ought not to are scant), it should certainly include top Tigers pitching prospect Jacob Turner.
That's the known entity. The unknown quantity there is what else the Cubs would receive. Turner alone is insufficient return for Garza, according to the market as it has set itself this winter. The Cubs could still call such a deal a victory, but they're unlikely to do it because they can simply do better. The two sides need to find common ground on a second (and maybe third) piece in order to make this trade real.