I think my favorite memory of Tim Lincecum (and this probably goes for a lot of Giants fans, I’m sure) is from Game Five of the 2010 World Series. The Giants held a three-games-to-one lead in the series, and a win in Game Five would, obviously, clinch their first World Championship since the team moved to the West Coast. Lincecum had started Game One and was far from his typical dominant self, but the Giants had won the game anyway by shelling the Rangers’ Cliff Lee. Now it was a rematch between the Game One starters and it pretty much stood to reason that Lee wouldn’t be knocked out of the box quite so easily this time.
Both pitchers were on their game this time. Lincecum and Lee traded zeros until the seventh inning, when Edgar Renteria hit his now legendary (in Giants circles) three-run home run to, in essence, clinch the Championship. Lincecum, meanwhile, was untouchable. He threw eight innings, giving up just three hits and striking out ten. The Rangers mustered just one run on a Nelson Cruz homer. It was vintage Lincecum, the guy who had won Cy Youngs in 2008 and 2009, with his changeup diving out of the strike zone like a pitch crafted by Hell’s most diabolical demons. The Rangers didn’t stand a chance, and once Lee gave up the Renteria home run, they knew it. You could see it in their faces.
The joy of that game wasn’t just watching the Giants win their first World Series in my lifetime. It was watching them do it on the back of a pitcher who had become the iconic face of a team that had dragged itself out of the murky hell that was the post-Bonds era. Lincecum was the star of the new, hip Giants, the collection of pitching stars and ragtag batsmen that had revitalized the franchise after the Bonds steroid mess and all the losing had cast a dark cloud over AT&T Park.
Anyone who remembers (and probably wants to forget) the 2005-2008 years remembers a time riddled with crappy free agent veteran signings surrounded by an aging, bitchy star who had to sit out every third game. It all bottomed out in a truly miserable 2007 season, where the team lost 91 games and were essentially the most unwatchable squad I can ever remember the Giants fielding.
Except from that post-Bonds wreckage there shone a glimmer of light, a potential Face of the Future, one Tim Lincecum, a short, spindly pitcher with bizarre mechanics and a devastating pitching repertoire who provided a tiny speck of hope for a fan base that had grown unaccustomed to losing in the wake of the 1997-2002 Bonds/Kent era.
The rest is history, of course. Lincecum immediately (and I mean, immediately) established himself as one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. He won the National League Cy Young in 2008 and 2009, and led the league in strikeouts from 2008 to 2010. From 2008 to 2011, Lincecum went 62-36 with a 2.81 ERA (good for a 143 ERA+, kids) and 977 strikeouts in 881.2 innings. His name was being mentioned in the same sentence with Juan Marichal in terms of great Giants pitchers. We adored our diminuitive, long-maned star.
After the 2011 season, the Giants offered Lincecum a five-year deal worth, apparently, $100 million. Lincecum turned that offer down, and that’s where the story gets dark. Lincecum settled for a two-year deal for $40.5 million deal, and then inexplicably lost his fastball. In the two years of that deal, 2012 and 2013, Lincecum went 20-29 with a 4.76 ERA, which was good for a hideous 72 ERA+. Most concerning was the dip in strikeouts, as Lincecum’s K rate went from 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings in the 08-11 glory years to 9.0 in the bad years.
No one really gave a crap about Lincecum’s rough 2012 in the end because the Giants won the World Series, but in 2013, fans went from asking “What’s wrong with Lincecum?” to “How much longer do the Giants have to keep paying Lincecum?” Despite moments of brilliance like his July no-hitter, Lincecum suffered through another sub-par year and fans were basically wondering if the team was even going to bother bringing him back.
They got their answer yesterday, as the Giants re-signed Lincecum to a two-year, $35 million contract. Lincecum expressed his desire to stay in San Francisco rather than test the open market, and the Giants obliged with a shorter deal with a much higher per annum dollar amount. It’s incredibly doubtful, after his recent performance, that Lincecum would have netted $17 or $18 million per year from any team but the Giants.
I’m sort of torn by this re-signing…but not really. I basically assumed he’d be gone, and I still think it would have been in the Giants’ best interest to cut ties. I like that Lincecum the icon is still around, but I’m not thrilled that Lincecum the pitcher is going to be back on the mound for that amount of money. The deal is tantamount to a thank you basket of fruit. Thanks for all the good times, and since parting is such sweet sorrow, here’s a shit load of money to stick around.
Let’s not mince words: Lincecum has been horrible in the past two seasons. You know it. I know it. I hate to say it. We all hate to acknowledge it. I understand the emotional component at play here, but that kind of thing is exactly what got us two years of post-championship stink from Aubrey Huff. Lincecum can still miss some bats, but his ability to do so has dwindled rapidly, and his fastball command has been off-and-on and mostly off since the start of 2012. Maybe he’s got some mechanical issues to iron out, although if it were that easy, we wouldn’t be here talking about Lincecum’s poor 2013. Perhaps the Giants are secretly intent on naming him as their closer, which I think would be awesome, but probably just a silly, subversive dream.
The Lincecum deal is short and the Giants aren’t exactly smarting financially, so this contract won’t hurt the team to any great extent, even if Lincecum completely falls apart. It’s just that, taking in his past two years, it seems as though the Giants may have voluntarily thrown $35 million at a fifth starter because of weepy-eyed nostalgia.
That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, and I think it’s generally good that the franchise treats its popular players and Good Giants very well (see J.T. Snow, Rich Aurilia). I just think Lincecum’s history blinded the team and prevented them from seeing the pitcher he truly is now. It reeks of ownership intervention and, all emotion considered, it was probably best for everybody to just part ways.