Tim Lincecum Should Stay Far Away from AL East, Camden Yards in Comeback

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Tim Lincecum Should Stay Far Away from AL East, Camden Yards in Comeback
Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

Tim Lincecum has spent the duration of his big league career in an orange and black uniform. So there would be a certain poetry if he ditched the San Francisco Giants and flew to the Baltimore Orioles as he attempts to come back from an extended decline and recent surgery.

Uniform colors, however, aren't enough. A move to the Orioles—and the American League East in general—would be a potential disaster as Lincecum looks to rebuild his value and resurrect his career.

As Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun recently reported, the O's have "expressed interest" in Lincecum along with several other clubs. Lincecum, Encina added, has yet to hold a long-promised showcase but was set to begin throwing off a mound.

Until we see what he can do with a baseball in his hand, it's all guesswork and conjecture. But it makes sense the Orioles would be interested after losing Wei-Yin Chen to free agency and failing to sign any of the market's impact starting pitchers so far.

Assuming Lincecum shows enough to warrant a job somewhere, however, he should cast his gaze beyond Camden Yards.

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
Lincecum is looking to rebound from September hip surgery and years of decline.

Why? Well, for starters, it was the third-most hitter-friendly stadium in baseball last season, according to ESPN.com's Park Factors statistic.

And the AL East in general is brutal. Boston's Fenway Park checked in as the fourth-best hitters' yard, and Yankee Stadium came in at No. 10. That's not even mentioning the Toronto Blue Jays, MLB's highest-scoring squad last season.

Lincecum has never pitched at Camden and has limited experience against all AL East teams. But he hasn't fared well against AL opponents in his career, as he owns a 4.10 ERA in 171.1 interleague innings. 

That's not to say a move to the Junior Circuit would spell automatic doom for the slender, 31-year-old right-hander. But if he's hoping to optimize his chances of success and a bounce-back payday next winter, he needs to pick the right destination.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, The Freak was the most feared pitcher in the game, a two-time National League Cy Young Award winner who surpassed 200 strikeouts and 200 innings in every season between 2008 and 2011.

With his tightly coiled mechanics and slight build, there was always a question of how long he would last. The answer came beginning in 2012, as his velocity cratered and his ERA climbed.

He showed flashes of his old self, tossing no-hitters against the San Diego Padres in 2013 and 2014 and making memorable appearances out of the bullpen during the Giants' 2012 World Series run.

But the overall trajectory was downward with momentum, culminating in a season-ending September hip procedure.

Lincecum's father, Chris, who engineered his son's unique delivery and has been his longtime coach and confidant, said Tim met with his surgeon, Dr. Marc Philippon, and was told his hip looks "perfect," per Rael Enteen of KNBR.com.

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If that's true, and especially if Lincecum can regain some command and zip on his fastball, it's still possible he can be an above-average pitcher. At the very least, he's worth a flier for someone.

Which brings us back to Baltimore. Sure, if the Orioles are willing to dazzle Lincecum with gobs of guaranteed cash, he should consider pouncing.

But his goal next season is to serve notice to the rest of the league that he's back and deserving of a multiyear commitment. To do that, he should go to a pitchers' paradise if possible.

Like, say, AT&T Park? Yes, the Giants rotation appears full with Madison Bumgarner, free-agent additions Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, veteran Jake Peavy and Matt Cain, Lincecum's former co-ace. Second-year hurler Chris Heston may be in the mix as well.

Chris Carlson/Associated Press
Lincecum hasn't fared well against the Junior Circuit, and the AL East is a hitters' division overall.

But general manager Bobby Evans said San Francisco "will be watching" Lincecum's showcase, per Enteen. And while a relief assignment might not be Lincecum's first choice, Peavy and Cain both missed time with injuries last season. A rotation slot could open up at some point on the only club Lincecum has ever known.

Then again, as McCovey Chronicles' Grant Brisbee pointed out:

It's the Tim Lincecum paradox. If he pitches well enough for the Giants to consider altering their plans substantially, there will be other teams who can offer more money or more guarantees about playing time. If he pitches about as well as we're used to, the Giants wouldn't have an obvious roster spot for him anyway. 

If he doesn't go back to the Bay Area, Lincecum should consider a club like the San Diego Padres or his hometown Seattle Mariners. Anywhere but the cauldron of clout that is the AL East, where ERAs go to balloon.

If he's desperate, fine. But if the surgery really did renew Lincecum's game and thus offer him a choice of destinations, he should opt for one where his talents will play the strongest—uniform colors be damned.

 

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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