MLB Free Agency 2014: Tim Lincecum and 5 Other Contract-Year Disasters
Barring a complete turnaround in the second half of the season, the value of Tim Lincecum's first free-agent contract will be nowhere near what it would've been after the 2011 season (2.74 ERA, 217 IP, 176 H, 3.6 BB/9, 9.1 K/9 in 33 starts). His 2011 walk and strikeout rates weren't quite as good as the previous three seasons, which included two Cy Young Awards, but his overall numbers were solid, and he was still considered one of the best starting pitchers in the game.
Over his past 45 starts since the start of the 2012 season, though, the rest of Lincecum's peripheral stats have become less impressive across the board. The most alarming number, however, might be his 38 percent quality start (at least 6 IP, 3 ER or less) rate after posting a 73 percent rate in his first 155 big league starts.
The 28-year-old is as inconsistent and unpredictable as any starter in the league, which doesn't bode well for his chances of a team committing multiple years and big money. Recent talk of Lincecum moving to the bullpen is overblown because of the Giants' current lack of options and the likelihood that whichever team signs him this winter will want to at least see if he can be a dominant starter again.
Given his age and resume, Lincecum could still get a decent contract even if he continues with his roller coaster trend of good and bad starts. But a one-year deal would be less risky for a team and would allow Lincecum a chance to rebuild his value if he bounces back. My guess is that he loses out on what could've been an estimated eight-year, $200 million contract and settles on a one-year, $14 million deal for 2014.
Gavin Floyd, SP, Chicago White Sox
After Adam Wainwright agreed to a contract extension with the Cardinals, I had Floyd on my preseason list of five who could be the most coveted starting pitcher on the free-agent market. My expected contract comparison, if he had his typical season, was Edwin Jackson's four-year, $52 million deal he signed with the Cubs.
The 30-year-old made just five starts, however, before his season ended with an elbow injury that required surgery to repair his ulnar collateral ligament (Tommy John surgery) and his flexor tendon muscle. He is expected to miss 14-19 months, which could keep him out of action until the 2015 season.
He'll have to settle for a one-year, incentive-laden deal with a team willing to monitor his rehab in hopes that he can make a quick enough recovery to contribute at some point in the second half.
Jeff Francoeur, OF, Kansas City Royals
Francoeur's several mediocre seasons made him seem like an unlikely candidate to have scored a multi-year, big-money contract this offseason. But he's only two seasons removed from hitting .285 with 20 homers, 47 doubles, 87 runs batted in and 22 stolen bases. Repeating a season like that would've meant a huge contract for a 30-year-old with a good reputation in the clubhouse.
Some players are at their best in their "walk year" and could cash in after career seasons. Francoeur does not appear to be one of those guys. He's no longer playing regularly after struggling terribly over the first two months of the season (.565 OPS in 49 games), and the Royals could be looking for a permanent replacement in the coming weeks as they try to stick around in the playoff race.
Justin Morneau, 1B, Minnesota Twins
While Morneau hasn't been completely useless at the plate (.295 BA, .735 OPS, 34 RBI in 53 games), the former AL MVP has just two home runs. That's not going to pique the interest of teams looking for first base help this offseason.
At 32 years of age, Morneau has already battled several injuries throughout his career and has been on the decline since posting a 1.051 OPS in 81 games during the 2010 season. His season was ended by a concussion, which lingered into the following season.
Although he had a few big months in 2012 (.959 OPS in May, .848 OPS in July, .850 OPS in August), he's yet to get going this season and he'll have to put up those kinds of numbers for the entire second half in order to cash in on anything more than a one-year, $5 million deal for 2014.
Edinson Volquez, SP, San Diego Padres
Getting traded to the Padres as Volquez was two years before reaching free agency is any pitcher's dream, right? Even with the fences moved in, Petco Park is one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in the league.
And while Volquez took full advantage in 2012 (2.95 ERA in 17 starts), his ERA was nearly twice as high on the road (5.60 ERA), and now Petco Park can't even help him in 2013 (5.73 ERA in six starts). The 29-year-old has the ability to pitch like a dominant top-of-the-rotation starter for a few innings only to turn into the complete opposite version who is incapable of throwing strikes or getting out major league hitters.
Only 29, the former 17-game winner had a chance to capitalize on what appeared to be a very good situation in San Diego. Instead, some team will be taking him on as a project with no more than a two-year, $12 million deal.
Chris Young, OF, Oakland Athletics
Getting traded to Oakland, where a crowded outfield meant he wasn't guaranteed regular playing time, wasn't the ideal situation for Young in 2013. He's not necessarily playing for a huge contract, though.
The 29-year-old just needs to play well enough for the A's, or some other team who might trade for him, to pick up his $11 million club option for 2014 when he could be in line for regular playing time and a chance to earn a big-money deal.
At least thus far, it's not happening. Young struggled in April (.668 OPS) before a quad strain landed him on the disabled list for the first 17 days of May. Since returning, he's hitting just .196 (11-for-56) with one homer, no stolen bases, three walks and 14 strikeouts.
If he can't rebound, he'll be headed for free agency coming off of his worst season as a pro. He could end up being a one-year bargain for some team in need of a starting center fielder. But Young will have to accept something in the $6-8 million range as he tries to regain his value.