To listen to the roar of criticism that followed Tim Lincecum's two-year, $35 million contract extension with the San Francisco Giants, you’d think Brian Sabean had decided to re-sign Aaron Rowand, Barry Zito and Alex Rodriguez in the same stroke.
Cliff Corcoran of SI.com writes, “There is almost no chance that the Giants get their money’s worth from [the contract].“
Grant Brisbee of the McCovey Chronicles agrees. “This deal is two parts warm fuzzies, one part leap of faith."
The overwhelming consensus among Giants fans and media pundits is that this deal is a thank-you card for several excellent years of service.
To be sure, Lincecum has struggled. His combined ERA the last two years is a bloated 4.76, converting to an ERA+ of 72—tied for the worst among qualifying pitchers in that stretch (with Zito, ironically), as per Baseball-Reference.com. His fastball is down from 92.2 mph in 2011 to 90.2 mph in 2013, and his command has faltered as well, as per FanGraphs.
So wouldn’t it be best for the Giants to spend that $35 million elsewhere?
Forget the massive boost in sales of tickets, jerseys and garlic fries that Lincecum provides. We’re talking about a 29-year-old pitcher with two rings and a pair of Cy Young Awards to match.
Lincecum’s lifetime ERA is 3.46, and he has a 9.6 K/9 ratio. Even with the two horrible years (particularly 2012), we’re talking about a franchise player with more upside (by a mile) than any other pitcher currently on the market.
It’s not like the Giants’ system is stacked with pitching prospects, either. Eric Surkamp? Yusmeiro Petit? I’ll take The Freak any day.
Also, Lincecum made significant improvements from 2012 to 2013.
In 2013, he lowered his ERA from 5.18 to a much more respectable 4.37. He also lowered his WHIP from 1.47 to 1.32. That might not be worth $17.5 million, but it’s easy to imagine him continuing his rebound in 2014.
The strikeouts are still there, too. Lincecum has been over 190 punchouts every year since his rookie season.
His main problem has been home runs. His HR/9 ratio last year was 1.0, compared to 0.6 in 2011. If he makes a slight mechanical adjustment to locate his fastball better in the lower half of the zone, he could be back to an All-Star level.
His no-hitter in 2013 proves that his ceiling is as high as anyone.
Now imagine this.
The Giants pass on Lincecum’s contract, instead signing Bronson Arroyo or someone similar. The Los Angeles Dodgers, seeking another righty to bolster an already stacked rotation, snag him for $30 million over 2 years or thereabouts.
Lincecum returns to quality form and helps the Dodgers cruise to an easy NL West victory. Arroyo goes 8-11 with, say, a 4.22 ERA. The Giants finish fourth in the West.
Sabean wasn’t willing to risk that happening, and he made the right call. Giants fans call Lincecum The Freak for a reason—he always surprises us.