SAN FRANCISCO – You could argue that Tim Lincecum has accomplished more in six-plus seasons than any pitcher in Giants history.
But he sees plenty of unfinished business.
“I’d like every year to be a good year, and when your last two are a collective 4.50 ERA, that’s not the way you want to go out,” Lincecum said. “That’s not the kind of guy I am. I looked at (coming back) as an opportunity to do something big in the same uniform.”
It was too rich an opportunity to turn down. Rather than risk letting him become involved in the uncertainty of free agency, the Giants will pay a premium to wrap up their popular but declining two-time Cy Young Award winner.
The two-year, $35 million contract became official when Lincecum passed a physical on Friday.
Speaking on a conference call before rushing back to Seattle, Lincecum said in one breath that it wasn’t the size of the deal that convinced him to forego free agency. But he followed up by adding, “when they made that push they made, it was hard not to respond. And we find ourselves sitting here with 2 and 35, and I’m really, really happy about it.”
Had the contract not been worked out, the Giants would’ve extended Lincecum a qualifying offer for $14.1 million to tie him to draft-pick compensation. The right-hander would have declined the one-year offer, but the compensatory draft pick would have shackled him on the open market.
Money aside, Lincecum reiterated what he has said since last spring: familiarity is a huge factor, and the Giants are the only organization he’s known.
“There’s a lot of things here that I like,” he said. “And there’s a lot of things in other places I might not have a connection with. I’m not sure if I’m necessarily ready for that on a professional level.
“It gives you that freedom to know I’ve done it with this group before and we can do it again and I feel I can succeed there again,” he said. “I’m with one organization and when you’re plugged into that it’s not hard to see what you’ve done and you can do it again.”
The Giants certainly feel Lincecum can be a top-tier starter again, based on the adjustments he made last season when he dropped his ERA to 4.37 from 5.18 (the highest among NL starters) in 2012.
His $17 million salary isn’t too far above the $14.1 million qualifying offer. And if they had let him go, they wouldn’t just be losing one of the most popular players in franchise history. They’d be tasked with identifying three starting pitchers, not just two, behind Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner.
Although Lincecum’s popularity was a factor, Giants CEO Larry Baer insisted it wasn’t the top one.
“This was targeted as a baseball signing,” Baer said. “Everybody on our baseball side evaluating it said this was the right thing for the Giants to keep the rotation strong and the team’s chances of winning strong.
“Timmy is a very popular guy but I don’t want this misinterprteted that this was done because he was popular. It was done because he can excel and get us to where we want to be in the future.”
Giants vice president Bobby Evans called Lincecum’s no-hitter on July 13 at San Diego the “icing on the cake” and “it showed Timmy is coming into his own, just maybe with different equipment than he had in the past.”
Lincecum studied scouting reports, got on a better track with catcher Buster Posey and learned to shape his pitches better. He ranked 11th in the NL with 8.79 strikeouts per nine innings. Still, it’s hard to envision he’ll ever dominate the way he did in his Cy Young seasons of 2008 and ’09.
And what would Lincecum say to his fans in Seattle, or even his friends and family members, about not letting his hometown Mariners take a shot at signing him?
“I did (think about it),” he said. “But home is always going to be home to me. Maybe I’ll look at that route later on in life, as a professional opportunity, but I wasn’t ready for that kind of jump. That’s for later on in the career. Right now I’m focused on being as good as I can be and I’m at the age where I have to make those decisions and act on them.”
The 29-year-old said his main goal was to improve and contribute, wherever that ended up being.
“Every year is a springboard but it’s also a reset button,” he said. “With everything I’ve learned, it gives me the confidence to know things can be easier. I know what I need to do. They were pointed out in games when I did well. I’m definitely excited for the prospect of this.”
Evans did not leave a confident impression that the Giants will be able to finalize a deal with their other impending free agent, left-hander Javier Lopez, before he hits the open market.
“The clock’s pretty short but we’re open to exploring our options with Javy,” Evans said. “That won’t be easy given the pace of the calendar, but we’ll see.”
Both Baer and Evans said Lincecum’s contract won’t deplete their resources to acquire an everyday left fielder. As for another free-agent starter, they are exploring all aspects of the market, from pitchers looking to sign bounce-back one-year contracts to those that will command multiyear deals.
Some of the names connected to them in one fashion or another: Ervin Santana, Bronson Arroyo, Dan Haren and Ricky Nolasco.