SAN FRANCISCO – On the final day of the regular season, Tim Lincecum told Giants officials that his preference was to remain in the city where he won two Cy Young Awards, celebrated two World Series titles and captured the enduring affection of fans.
Timmy wanted to come back.
So although negotiations had the typical push and pull, especially in the last week, the Giants did not waver in their belief they would reach a satisfying resolution with Lincecum. Sure enough, they agreed to terms Tuesday on a contract that will pay him $35 million over two seasons.
Lincecum gets $17 million next year and $18 million in 2015, along with a full no-trade provision. It’s the third consecutive two-year deal that the 29-year-old right-hander signed with the club; this one came just a couple weeks before he would have hit the open market for the first time.
The deal is pending a physical and is expected to be made official on Friday, with a subsequent news conference.
He’ll rejoin Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner in a rotation that still needs to be augmented from the outside world after ranking 13th out of 15 NL teams with a 4.37 ERA.
Lincecum’s ERA last year, by the way? Also 4.37. And that’s after his 5.18 ERA in 2012 ranked worst among all qualified starting pitchers in the league.
Are the Giants overpaying for a pitcher whose production has markedly declined, whose velocity and arm speed have fallen off from his peak in 2009, and whose market value would’ve been shackled by the draft pick that another team would have had to punt to sign him?
Well, sure. But that’s also a matter of perspective.
[RATTO: Was Lincecum's new deal a baseball or marketing decision?]
Look at it this way: If Lincecum’s contract keeps the Giants from having the resources to address other issues, then yes, they overpaid. If Gregor Blanco is the starting left fielder on Opening Day, then yes. If they dumpster-dive to find one more starting pitcher to round out their rotation, then yes. If they cry poor while turning down Ryan Vogelsong’s option or let Javier Lopez walk, then yes.
We’ve got a few months till pitchers and catchers report, and the hot stove has a way of piping in unexpected ways. But does anyone really think all of the above will come to pass?
No. The Giants aren’t tapped out because of Timmy.
Besides, you knew the Giants would not lowball Lincecum. They have a history of paying their stars well. Remember how they bid against themselves to re-sign Barry Bonds when he was a toxic commodity with an all-time home run record within his sights?
The Lincecum situation is entirely different, of course. But the Giants couldn’t just dramatically slash his salary from the $22 million he made this past season.
Although they are sure to be ridiculed for guaranteeing Lincecum far more than his recent production would suggest he is worth, their own evaluations were more positive. They look at the improvement in his walk rate from 2012. They look at a strikeout rate that remains nearly one per inning. Many of the other secondary stats show that Lincecum last season wasn’t far off the numbers he put up in 2010, when he was still considered one of the game’s elite pitchers.
Giants officials also noted that Lincecum had rotten luck when it came to inherited runners this past season. According to the Chronicle’s Henry Schulman, Lincecum left 20 runners and 13 scored, or 65 percent. The league average is 28 percent. (If the bullpen had been on par with the league average, Lincecum’s ERA would’ve been 4.00.)
Mostly though, they look at a pitcher who is still under 30, has been mostly healthy his entire career aside from a blister issue or two, and has shown a newfound dedication to studying hitters and learning to make his tamer stuff lethal again.
Lincecum wasn’t out to squeeze every dollar, but he needed to be convinced that he wouldn’t find anything moderately close on the open market. The Giants upped their two-year offer in the past week to make that happen. It’s clear his hometown Seattle Mariners wouldn’t give $17.5 million per year to a pitcher who would round out their rotation.
The Dodgers loomed as an interesting possibility, and according to sources, GM Ned Colletti would’ve been happy to poach one more former Giant. But Lincecum is not Brian Wilson. He does plucky hero well enough, but bootblack wrestling heel isn’t really in his repertoire.
Lincecum didn’t want to shock anyone. He wanted familiarity, and in his professional life, San Francisco is the only home he’s known.
So Timmy’s coming back.