This article was originally published on Golden Gate Sports.
After one of the worst seasons of his career, statistically, in 2012, Tim Lincecum is once again struggling this season to pitch as dominantly as he used to. Lincecum finished 2012 with a 5.18 ERA. As a reliever during the postseason in 2012, he had a 2.55 ERA though. Many fans hoped that his dominance as a relief pitcher during the postseason might translate into a successful 2013 season. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case as Lincecum has been inconsistent this season and currently has a 4.75 ERA. Lincecum will be a free agent at the end of this season and his inconsistent pitching the past couple seasons has led to several questions about if he has a future with the San Francisco Giants.
The Giants must be cautious about re-signing Lincecum in the offseason due to his production the past couple seasons. In addition, they had offered him a long-term deal, reportedly five years, $100 million, after the 2011 season, but Lincecum turned it down. Given Lincecum’s reluctance to sign with the Giants long-term, the Giants might be wary to commit to him in the future.
“…it’s hard for me personally to just commit years of my life ahead of time,” Lincecum said. “What I’m focusing on is what I want to do now. I just don’t want to get ahead of myself.”
Even though he didn’t commit to the Giants after the 2011 season, Lincecum said that doesn’t mean he won’t re-sign with the Giants, despite some rumors that he’d like to go to Seattle and play for the Mariners after this season.
“It doesn’t mean I don’t want to be a Giant any less or anything like that,” Lincecum said about turning down the contract extension. “I just like to see where I am at the end of the year.”
It’s likely that Lincecum will want to sign a long-term deal though, which doesn’t seem like a viable option for the Giants given the uncertainty of Lincecum’s production in the future. The Giants wouldn’t be able to commit to a large, long-term deal anyway given that they have committed a significant amount of money to Matt Cain and Buster Posey. The Giants have made it clear that Cain and Posey are the new faces of the franchise, so Lincecum might feel like the odd man out in this situation.
There’s also the possibility that Lincecum could be traded mid-season. If the Giants decided to try to trade Lincecum, some starting pitchers that they might be able to acquire via trade are Scott Feldman of the Cubs, Matt Garza of the Cubs, Shaun Marcum of the Mets, or Bud Norris of the Astros. There was also speculation that the Giants could try to trade for a starting pitcher like Cliff Lee, but that would certainly be a long shot for the Giants.
In order to acquire one of these starting pitchers though, the Giants would most likely have to trade some intriguing pitching prospects in A or AA like Chris Stratton, Clayton Blackburn, or Kyle Crick. They could potentially package some non-pitching prospects into a trade too like second baseman Joe Panik, outfielder Gary Brown, catcher Johnny Monell, second baseman Ryan Cavan, or utility man Juan Perez. In addition, because of Lincecum’s poor season so far, it’s not clear if the Giants could get much in return. Lincecum is a two-time Cy Young award winner though, so there would be some interest. After his spectacular performances in the 2012 postseason, teams interested in acquiring him might try to convert him to a relief pitcher as well.
It certainly makes sense why Lincecum was successful as a reliever. Before he was drafted, many scouts thought he would be ultimately become a reliever, because his size and unorthodox delivery might lead him to fatigue more quickly than other starting pitchers. They didn’t think he could consistently pitch 200-plus innings in a MLB season. These factors could be the main reasons why Lincecum has struggled these past two seasons. His potential fatigue could explain the lower velocity on his fastball, which could also lead to worse command. Lincecum has been stuck in somewhat of a vicious cycle, so he might need to transition into a reliever in order to re-sign with the Giants or just stay relevant in MLB.
“If my career takes that turn [pitching out of the bullpen] I’m definitely open to changes, especially if it’s beneficial to the team I’m playing for,” Lincecum said. It’s interesting that Lincecum chose to use the phrase “the team I’m playing for” and not specifically saying the Giants.
According to a club source, the Giants would convert Lincecum into a late-inning reliever “in a heartbeat,” but now with Vogelsong out a couple months with his right pinky injury, the Giants can’t afford to do that just yet. The Giants organization would also feel more comfortable making that transition if they had more starting pitching depth in Fresno, their AAA affiliate.
If the Giants wanted to use Lincecum as a reliever in the future (assuming Vogelsong is also healthy and back in the starting rotation), they will have to consider what options they have for a fifth starter if they can’t trade for one. One realistic option for the Giants is Mike Kickham, who Giants fans saw make his major league debut against the A’s on May 28th. Despite his rough outing, Kickham definitely showed some promise.
“He’ll be back up here at some point,” Bruce Bochy said. “I thought the kid showed great stuff.”
Chad Gaudin had a fantastic first start for the Giants, and he gave up only two runs in six innings. Gaudin was efficient in his innings and finished with just 79 pitches, and he consistently hit 94 MPH. Despite his fantastic performance, it’s not clear if he’d be able to stay in the starting rotation and maintain a high load of innings over the course of a season.
Yusmeiro Petit is an option, but he has struggled mightily this season in Fresno. He has a 6.69 ERA in seven starts. Eric Surkamp, another candidate, had Tommy John surgery last summer and should be close to fully healthy around the end of July. The Giants will see if the young left-hander can fully recover from such a serious surgery.
Lincecum had one of his best outings of the season last night against the Blue Jays. He pitched seven innings, gave up three hits, had one earned run, walked one, and struck out six. Despite this dominant performance, it still remains unclear what his future will be with the Giants. He could potentially be traded midseason for another starting pitcher, but it’d be difficult to pull off and doesn’t seem likely. When Lincecum becomes a free agent at the end of this season, it’s not clear if the Giants will be able to or will want to re-sign him. They could re-sign him to pitch as a reliever, but they don’t know if he’s ready to make that change. He could also just sign with another team and continue to start. The future is unclear, but Giants fans definitely want to see Lincecum re-sign with the Giants in the offseason.