Did Weak Free Agent Class Force the Giants to Overpay Tim Lincecum?

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Did Weak Free Agent Class Force the Giants to Overpay Tim Lincecum?

The San Francisco Giants have overpaid once again. This time, Tim Lincecum is the benefactor of the Giants' generosity.

The Giants signed Lincecum to a two-year, $35 million contract Tuesday, according to Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News. It's a move that is being questioned by ESPN's Buster Olney:

For a player that has a 4.76 ERA over the last two years and only 28 quality starts out of 65, $17.5 million per year seems like too much, especially considering the qualifying offer would have been around $14 million.

Keeping that in mind, what made the Giants give that much to Lincecum? Was it the fact that they have a history of overpaying guys (see Marco Scutaro)? Was it the lack of depth on the free-agent market or do they genuinely believe he will regain the form of a Cy Young winner?

Let's dig into this further.

 

Giants' Generosity with Marco Scutaro

We could bring up Barry Zito's seven-year, $126 million deal the Giants gave him in 2007, but that would be too easy. For that money, the Giants got 63 wins and a 4.62 ERA. And not once did he have an ERA below 4.00.

Jeremy Affeldt would be another easy target, considering he was given closer-type pay with a three-year, $18 million deal. This season, Affeldt was good for 39 appearances and a 3.74 ERA.

Instead, let's look at Scutaro's circumstances.

Scutaro was a playoff hero in 2012, batting .500 in the NLCS (earning MVP honors) and lining a single that broke a tie in the do-or-die Game 4 against the Tigers. He also excelled in 62 games with the Giants after being traded from the Rockies, batting .362 with three home runs and 44 RBI.

For that, the Giants rewarded him with a three-year, $20 million deal.

However, Scutaro was in the midst of his best statistical season, having never hit above .300 in his career before. He had shown bits of power with 23 home runs between 2009-10, but none of his stats jump off the page.

So, what did the Giants get in return for $6.67 million this year? A .297 average with two home runs and 31 RBI.

Instead, they could have signed someone like Ryan Raburn, who hit .272 with 16 home runs and 55 RBI, and was on a minor-league contract with the Indians. Granted, Rayburn had an injury-plagued 2012, but he historically had produced at the plate (45 home runs, 156 RBI) between 2009-11.

Now, it's hard to predict what a player will do in a given season, but isn't that what a scouting department is for? Somebody had to think Scutaro might not have been the best option, despite having a career year in 2012.

 

Bad Free-Agent Pitching Market

Another argument could be that there isn't much value on the free-agent pitching market. With only a few big names out there this offseason, did the Giants figure it there was no alternative but to go ahead and keep Lincecum?

Matt Garza is the only true ace-caliber pitcher on the market this offseason, although an argument can be made for Tim Hudson because he has averaged almost 14 wins a season over a 15-year career.

Here's how Lincecum's numbers compare to other top free-agent pitchers over the last three years:

Comparing Tim Lincecum to Other Free Agents
Player Record QS% ERA WHIP SO
Tim Lincecum 33-43 52 4.03 1.324 603
Matt Garza 25-23 58 3.62 1.232 429
Ricky Nolasco 35-36 51 4.29 1.325 438
Ervin Santana 29-35 62 3.85 1.208 472
Tim Hudson 40-24 62 3.55 1.174 355

Baseball-Reference.com

When you look at those numbers, there's nothing to get overly excited about. It's not like last year, when Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez headlined the class.

Whether it's the injuries over the last few years to Garza and Hudson, or Ricky Nolasco and Ervin Santana having never shown the ability to be consistent in back-to-back seasons, each pitcher has question marks.

 

Return to Cy Young Form

It's also possible that the Giants believe Lincecum will return to his old Cy Young self, giving the team a real bargain with this contract.

Here's what Lincecum has done year-by-year over the last six years:

Tim Lincecum by the Numbers
Year Record ERA Strikeouts WHIP QS%
2008 18-5 2.62 265 1.172 79
2009 15-7 2.48 261 1.047 81
2010 16-10 3.43 231 1.272 67
2011 13-14 2.74 220 1.207 70
2012 10-15 5.18 190 1.468 39
2013 10-14 4.37 193 1.315 47

Baseball-Reference.com

With only Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and (possibly) Ryan Vogelsong ($6.5 million team option) guaranteed to come back in 2014, the Giants have some obvious needs in the starting-pitching department.

Did the Giants overpay for Tim Lincecum?

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Maybe they're hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. After all, it's not like any other pitcher on the market is guaranteed to make a difference in 2014.

 

Verdict

So, did the Giants overpay? Absolutely.

They could have just made him a qualifying offer and dealt with him for one more year (if he signed the offer). If he performed well, then they could have worked out another deal covering 2015 and beyond. But there's no guarantee Lincecum would have accepted that qualifying offer, either.

However, the fact remains that this market is one of the weakest in recent memory and the available players stand to benefit. With such a weak market, subpar pitchers are going to get more money from the teams that are desperate to fill a void.

The Giants signed a familiar face at a price they were comfortable with. 

At least they have a fairly good idea what they're getting in Lincecum, whereas they wouldn't know exactly what to expect if they were to go after someone like Nolasco.

In the end, it's all about what suits the franchise best, and Lincecum is a known commodity whom the Giants believe will offer a return on investment through 2015.

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