Saturday, October 26, 2013

Implications of the Lincecum deal

After two Cy Young seasons, two World Series titles
and a no-hitter, Tim Lincecum is a fan favorite
in San Francisco — and he's staying put.
The San Francisco Giants this week reached agreement with Tim Lincecum to a two-year, $35 million contract. This raised a number of eyebrows, as Lincecum has had two consecutive subpar seasons — and displayed decreasing velocity in the process.

He'll turn 30 next June, and he's not the pitcher who won consecutive Cy Young Awards at age 24 and 25. But the Giants were still willing to give him $17.5 million each of the next two seasons in hopes that he'll either recapture his old dominance or find a way to succeed with his new normal.

Good luck with that.

To be sure, this contract isn't going to cripple the Giants any more than the Barry Zito contract (seven years, $126 million) did. The Giants won two World Series during that period, with Zito not even on the postseason roster for one of them.

The Lincecum signing may be unique, just as Lincecum himself has been a unique pitcher. Or it may be a harbinger of a grossly inflated market for free agent starters, fueled by a fresh wave of national television money (each team gets an addition $30 million to $40 million a year under the new deal).

The Twins have at least $40 million in payroll space to play with. The problem for Terry Ryan and Co. is pursuing free-agent pitching isn't having money to offer; it's finding good pitchers (by which I mean they can be more than Kevin Correia) who will take the Twins' money.

This is the list of pending free agents as compiled by Baseball Prospectus. (I note that the list includes Lincecum, so it is not necessarily up-to-date). There are a lot of pitchers on that list, but very few one would feel comfortable throwing an eight-figure salary at. I don't see anybody who fits Baseball America's precise definition of a "No. 1 starter," or Keith Law's definition of an "ace."

Roy Halladay and Johan Santana? A few years ago, yes; today, no. Jon Lester? Rest assured, the Red Sox will pick up his option; he won't hit the market. Tim Hudson? Coming off an injury himself, and at age 38 he's unlikely to sign on to a rebuilding process. Matt Garza? Been there, done that.

There are some interesting, and more plausible, names on that list, to be sure: Jorge De La Rosa, Jason Hammel, Josh Johnson, Phil Hughes ... They all come with serious question marks, questions of health and ability.

As Ryan has said, there are 25 teams likely to be chasing free agent pitchers, and the Twins won't be the only ones with money burning a hole in their pockets. Lincecum figures to be just the first pitcher this offseason pulling in a free agent deal that seems bafflingly large.

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