The Freak is likely to be in the Giants rotation next season.
That should be the end of the story, right? Well, not exactly. The fact is that Sabean wasn't going to publicly admit the Giants would consider shopping Lincecum while the team was in the middle of a title run that required Lincecum's services.
Also, admitting that they would consider shopping Lincecum potentially reduces their leverage in future trade talks. If the Giants appear eager to move him, other teams may assume the Giants know something that they don't, making it less palatable to trade for him.
What other teams do know about Lincecum is that he was one of the best pitchers on the planet from 2008 to 2011.
During that span, he went 62-36 with a 2.81 ERA while averaging 10 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9), winning two Cy Young awards and a World Series title as the ace of the Giants' staff. Only Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia were more valuable than Lincecum during that time frame.
Then, in 2012, he fell off a cliff. He went 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA while setting career worsts in walk rate (4.4 BB/9), home run rate (1.1 HR/9), strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.11 K/BB) and OPS allowed (.767).
He had the fourth-worst ERA, the fifth-highest walk total and the second-lowest quality start percentage among all qualified pitchers last season. One of the elite aces in all of baseball was suddenly not even good enough to make his own team's postseason rotation.
He's going to turn 29 years old next June in the last year of his contract, which pays him $22 million. If he was coming off his 2011 season, $22 million would be a bargain for Lincecum, and teams would be lined up to try to acquire him.
However, now that Lincecum's coming off the worst season of his career, that's become a lot of money for a pitcher who is also getting older and losing velocity.
Lincecum's fastball velocity, which was around an average of 94 MPH when he first entered the big leagues and over 92 MPH in 2011, was all the way down to an average of 90.4 MPH last season. He can still pitch effectively at that speed, but the concern is that he no longer has any more velocity to lose.
There's no guarantee Lincecum can maintain his current pitching speed because of the downward trajectory of his velocity throughout his career.
Given that Lincecum is a short pitcher coming off a disastrous season making a huge chunk of change next season, I just don't see a robust trade market developing for him.
Why would a general manager of another team send top talent off his major league roster or top prospects from his farm system to the Giants for one season of an expensive, declining pitcher who couldn't even beat out Barry Zito for a postseason rotation spot?
The Giants may indeed explore a trade for Lincecum, but I think that they are going to hold on to him in the end because they aren't going to get an offer with enough value to warrant pulling the trigger. Trading Lincecum now would be selling at the lowest point possible, and that's just bad business.
The Giants have won two championships in the last three years while selling out AT&T Park consistently, so there shouldn't be any need to make a deal for the sake of trimming payroll. Unless a team is so convinced that it can fix Lincecum that it'd be willing to send the Giants elite talent in return, Giants fans will have at least one more year of The Freak.
Sabean believes that a better delivery can lead to a new and improved version of The Freak next year (via John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle):
This is more of a function of willing to accept the delivery he’s going to use to be a successful pitcher. He’s going to have to pitch more to contact. No matter what his strikeout ratio is, he’s not going to miss as many at-bats. ...
A lot of it is the delivery. The better the delivery, the better the arm action, the better the ability to make quality pitches with pitch to pitch control.
If Lincecum can maintain his current velocity while improving his control and command within the strike zone next season, the Giants will have been wise to have hung on to him this winter.