Follow this link if you want to see a list of starting pitchers with at least 380 innings pitched over the last two years who also struck out more than 380 batters. There are 16 names on that list. Tim Lincecum‘s name is on that list.
Follow this link if you want to see the same list but limited to players under the age of 30. There are just 10 names on that list. Tim Lincecum’s name is on that list, too.
Follow this link if you want to see a list of qualified starting pitchers who make batters swing and miss on at least 11% of all their pitches. There are eight names on this list. Tim Lincecum’s name is on this list.
This could go on all day. As someone who is, cards on the table, searching desperately for silver linings to Tim Lincecum’s two-year, $35 million contract, the amount of conditional context available to soften the edges of his last two seasons would make your head spin. (Starts with a Game Score of 50 or higher this season? 19, as many as Hiroki Kuroda, Justin Masterson, and Francisco Liriano. Compare Lincecum’s rate stats to Gio Gonzalez! Bequeathed runners Giants relievers allowed 12 of 18 runners Timmy left on base to score, more than double his career rate! Correct that and his ERA goes down by more than a quarter of a run!)
These carefully collected stats and data points don’t tell the whole story of Tim Lincecum’s last two seasons, of course. He’s pitched poorly at times. “At times” may or may not include the bulk of the 2012 season and at least a half-dozen different stinkers during 2013. But the rush to pronounce (artist’s rendering), with a sneer and crossed arms of satisfaction, that this deal is a gross overpay by the Giants fails to acknowledge several different realities. Reality being the operative word.
Reality #1 – the Giants are still rich. The Giants are one of the strongest franchises in baseball. They won the World Series twice since 2010 and lord over an incredibly wealthy part of the country. Their TV contract is lucrative and money is not an issue for them going forward. They won’t spend dollar-for-dollar with the Dodgers but there is nothing to suggest Tim Lincecum’s contract is a barrier to further signings.
Reality #2 – the Giants core is in place. For better or worse, the Giants core of players are in place long term. Buster Posey is locked up, Matt Cain is locked up, Madison Bumgarner is locked up, and Hunter Pence is locked up. No one of these deals prevented the others from signing. The Giants aren’t in need of a full roster overhaul, they simply have a few holes to fill around the diamond.
Reality #3 – the deal is only two years long. Two years. That’s it. Two years. The full no-trade protection is a head-scratcher but Giants GM Brian Sabean can probably pay Lincecum to go away in 2015 if he really, really wants to. There are no bad one year deals and there are very few bad two-year deals for 29-year old pitchers with 65 starts over the last two years.
Reality #4 – Tim Lincecum is worth more to the Giants than any other team. People hate this reality. Hardcore fans with basements full of Strat-o-matic games hate the idea of making a sentimental signing. The idea of paying top dollar for past accomplishment. Admittedly, it is no way to run a business. But numbers one and three above sort of cancel out the cold “business concerns” of Tim Lincecum’s marginal surplus value over the next two years.
Reality #5 – Baseball salaries are not what they once were. Your idea and my idea of a bad contract is about to take a significant hit. The economic environment didn’t change overnight but the salaries see now and will continue to see are going to blow your mind. If we, as a baseball consuming public, can’t get our heads around this, then every single contract will look like an overpay. Your $/WAR calculator needs an OS upgrade, bro. Welcome to the New Tomorrow.
There are more realities we could entertain but those are the most pertinent to this discussion. Tim Lincecum’s contract will not sink the Giants back into an endless spiral of mediocrity and torture. Just two months ago, one intrepid baseball journalist suggested Tim Lincecum would sign for “more than you think” which, because only I know how I actually think, believe that applies today. Lincecum did sign for more than most people thought and he did re-sign in San Francisco, which most people also thought would happen.
More than anything, Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco Giants are a good fit. According to Andrew Baggerly of CSN Bay Area, Lincecum always wanted to return to the Giants. The Giants want him back because of his history with the franchise and because of his value – as a man who takes the ball every five days without hesitation and gives 200 innings to his team, a two-time Cy Young award winner and former ace who still strikes out a ton of batters, as a still-young player with a nearly impeccable health record – to their rotation and and to their brand.
He’s Timmy, they’re the Giants – it was never going to be any other way. What’s a few extra million between friends? You don’t think the Dodgers would gladly pony up that extra dough, given the chance? Of course they would, they’re the Dodgers. That’s the way things work now.