If And When The Giants Should Trade Tim Lincecum

The following sentence was buried at the bottom of Nick Cafardo’s Sunday notes column in the Boston Globe:

Tim Lincecum, RHP, Giants — He will be available in trade, and it will be interesting to see who bites on the two-time Cy Young winner.

Next season will be the last under Lincecum’s current contract with the Giants. Last winter, he signed a 2-year/$40.5 million deal with the team, taking him through the end of his arbitration-eligibility.

Cafardo’s column had no quote from a Giants’ official, off or on the record. No source. Just a declaration that Lincecum “will be available in trade.”  No matter, Cafardo’s comment was picked up by all the trade rumor blogs and then the Twitterverse. All on the eve of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, which had Giants fans in a tizzy about the truth and timing of Cafardo’s comments.

Later in the day, San Francisco Chronicle baseball writer John Shea asked Giants GM Brian Sabean about Lincecum’s future with the team:

Timmy’s going to be a Giant,” said Sabean, reminding that his contract has one year remaining.

On whether he sees Lincecum improving in next year’s rotation. Sabean said, “I think so. He set the bar so high. We set the bar so high with him. He’s got to learn what it’s like to be knocked down. He hasn’t experienced anything like this. College, minor leagues, major leagues. It’ll be interesting how he turns this around. He knows what he has to do.”

Is it a situation similar to 2010 when Lincecum turned around his game from August to September?

“No, this is more of a function of willing to accept the delivery he’s going to use to be a successful pitcher. He’s going to have to pitch more to contact. No matter what his strikeout ratio is, he’s not going to miss as many at-bats.”

So it’s more about mechanics than bulking up?

“A lot of it is the delivery. The better the delivery, the better the arm action, the better the ability to make quality pitches with pitch to pitch control.”

Cafardo didn’t say when Lincecum “would be available in trade” — whether this winter or during the 2013 season. And while Sabean appeared to rule out a trade this upcoming offseason, he certainly left the door open to a midseason trade in 2013. Although he wasn’t asked directly, Sabean said nothing about the Giants’ plan to try and sign Lincecum beyond 2013.

Sabean did, however, have pretty interesting things to say about Lincecum’s need to re-tool his mechanics and his approach before next season. His comments suggest that the Giants understand Lincecum’s trade value is at a low point now, with so many uncertainties about what kind of pitcher Lincecum will be next season and thereafter. They also suggest that the Giants will not negotiate with Lincecum on a long-term deal this winter, like the team did with Matt Cain last winter as Cain approached the end of his contract.

But Sabean’s comments aside, should the Giants look to trade Lincecum this winter?  San Francico’s payroll for 2013 already tops $80 million based on commitments to Lincecum, Cain, Barry Zito, Ryan Vogelsong, Madison Bumgarner, Pablo Sandoval, and Javier Lopez. Buster Posey will be in his first year of arbitration-eligibility and while the Giants are hoping to sign Posey to a long-term deal, nothing is certain.  Brian Wilson will be back and in his last year of arbitration-eligibility; his 2012 salary was $8.5 million. Hunter Pence is also in his last year of eligibility; his 2012 salary was $10.4 million. Those players likely put the payroll near $110 million. Guaranteed minimums for Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and George Kontos push it higher.

And there are the holes to fill. Angel Pagan is a free agent. So is Melky Cabrera. That’s two thirds of the outfield. Gary Brown, the Giants’ highly-touted prospect, doesn’t look ready to take over in center field to start 2013.  Gregor Blanco could be back at less than $1 million but isn’t an every-day left fielder. The bullpen will need new pieces, as well.

The reason to try to trade Lincecum this winter, then, would be to free up payroll for free-agent signings and contracts for arbitration-eligible players. The Giants would also be betting that Lincecum doesn’t turn his mechanics around and is therefore no more valuable in 2013 than he was in 2012. If a team were willing to take on all or most of the twenty-plus million owed to Lincecum in 2013, perhaps a deal is done for a top-tier prospect who is still a few years from the majors.

More likely, the Giants hold on to Lincecum to start 2013, with the hope and expectation that he will re-make himself with new mechanics and become an effective starter again, if not at the same level of greatness he showed from his rookie year through 2011. If Lincecum does turn it around next season, the Giants then have to decide whether to try and sign Lincecum to a new deal, trade him, or let him leave in free agency. Much will depend on whether the Giants are postseason contenders at near the trade deadline, whether a market develops for Lincecum that would net the Giants a premium prospect in return, and whether Lincecum is inclined to test the free-agent market or re-sign in San Francisco. If the Giants are contenders, and Lincecum is pitching more like the old Timmy, a trade hurts the team in the short term, even if it nets a top prospect for the future.

In some ways, then, trading Lincecum after this season makes the most sense, if the Giants can free up close to $20 million in payroll. It would allow the team to replace Lincecum either from within or by free agency, and to go into 2013 without the Lincecum uncertainties clouding the season. Of course, for those same reasons, there might not be a huge demand for his services this winter, and the Giants may end up keeping him whether they want to or not.

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Wendy is also a contributing writer for Sports on Earth. Her writing has appeared on ESPN.com, Baseball Nation, Bay Area Sports Guy, The Score, The Classical and San Francisco Magazine. Wendy practiced law for 18 years before beginning her writing career. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

57 Responses to “If And When The Giants Should Trade Tim Lincecum”

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  1. Jonathan says:

    The important caveat here is that Nick Cafardo is an idiot who wouldn’t contribute a thing to sports reporting if he didn’t have Lucchino in his ear.

    +45 Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Chuck says:

    How low is his value? What kind of return would the Giant expect? How about Lincecum and a couple million for Denard Span? Giants get an upgrade in CF and the Twins get their front-line starter. Lincecum has time to figure out his issues with the no-pressure, last place Twins.

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  3. Timmay says:

    Dan Uggla doe Tim Lincecum. Done.

    -15 Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Shankbone says:

    Timmy’s value is down. Doesn’t make sense from that angle.

    From the Giants payroll, they are free from Zito and Timmy at the same time after 2013 (42MM plus the 7MM buyout). The crunch will be a one year crunch, mitigated by the fact… the Giants are going to the World Series. Riding 6 playoff games with at least 2 more in the pipe. Doesn’t make a ton of sense from that angle.

    From the marketing angle, it makes zero sense. Timmy is a Giant. The Rainy Day Fund crew know their marketing, and will be extremely reluctant to deal a hometown favorite. Now even with the terrible year, Timmy warming up in the pen in game 1 with the Gints down the crowd went crazy.

    Mainly though, Sabean is a stubborn guy. Timmy is his guy. Saved his job. Sabean will be extremely reluctant to give up on Timmy. Like the quote says, “It’ll be interesting to see how he turns it around”.

    Only way I see him dealt is if the Giants crater in July 2013. But I doubt even then it’ll happen.

    +21 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jonathan says:

      This. We’re talking a guy who was a beast a few years ago and has not hit thirty yet.

      Personally, I think it’s his mechanics catching up to him, but he’s gotten to the point this season where a qualifying offer next year is a question mark. Teams aren’t likely to give up more now with the chance he could continue to underperform compared to mid-season if he bounces back.

      The Giants have little motivation to move him other than to save money.

      +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Ian R. says:

      I have to say, I had no idea Zito’s contract was expiring after next year. It seemed like he was going to be a Giant forever.

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  5. Sonia H says:

    Dear Wendy,

    You forgot to mention that Timmy rejected a long term deal with the Giants, so…I dont think he wants any part of the Giants beyond 2013.

    Also, Timmy’s slump, could be caused by the fact that he doesnt want to be in SF anymore. Sorry but Timmy looks kind of fed up with the Giants, and that reflects on his pitching, his lack of motivation, his conflicts with Buster Posey and so on.

    So no, I dont think he is “thrilled” to come back next season with a new mentality, with a new pitching mindset, only to please Brian Sabean. Uh.

    So maybe there is a new theory: Lincecum is pushing for a trade, even if that means taking less salary.

    Since I’m no Giants fan, I could care less what unknown prospect you guys get in return.

    But as a baseball fan, I’m wishing Timmy gets his change of scenary that can ignite his motivation and his recovery.

    Because, damn, I miss him.

    -31 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • channelclemente says:

      He doesn’t need a change of scenery so much as a strike zone dowser.

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    • Jonathan says:

      “You forgot to mention that Timmy rejected a long term deal with the Giants, so…I dont think he wants any part of the Giants beyond 2013.”

      It was widely known when it happened that the reason for this was because he wanted to hit free agency.

      Had he not imploded this year, he’d be a year away from hitting the market as a 29 year old with a career ERA and FIP under 3.

      The idea that he may have intentionally tanked this close to free agency to get a change of scenery is completely ludicrous. He was looking at a record contract for a pitcher next offseason, now he may be lucky to get more than a pillow contract if he doesn’t look like 2008 Lincecum next year. Nobody could be that short-sighted. This year could’ve cost him close to $100MM in future salary.

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      • Sonia H says:

        It was widely known when it happened that the reason for this was because he wanted to hit free agency.

        Translation > he wants no part of the Giants

        And Timmy is not about money, otherwise, he would have already signed that long term deal.

        I’m not saying his implosion was intentional, but there is something bugging him in SF, that doesnt help him at all.

        It’s clear he wants out. I mean look at his face, he looks like he is sucking a lemon all the time.

        Also, he made a mistake with the weight loss thing. He is too skinny, too skinny. He needs to bulk up a little.

        He needs a change of scenary, only to clear his mind.

        -37 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Eminor3rd says:

        Sonia, if you make claims, please use evidence to support them.

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      • Sonia H says:

        Elaborate please.

        TL was offered a long term deal with the Giants, he rejected the offer.

        BTW, everybody is happy now that he rejected the deal, after he had the worst season of his career

        It was not a good idea for Timmy to come out and say that he didnt want to be a Giant, so he said the he didnt like long term deals.

        The conflict with Posey is REAL and Posey is the first catcher. So that is something that bugs him and affects the game, for sure.

        -17 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Scott says:

        Huh? How do you know that he has a conflict with Posey? Do you regularly have conversations with both of them where they both reveal their true feelings about their batterymate? It sounds like you’re going off of random media speculation. Bochy said that Lincecum is hard on catchers, physically, and he was trying to save his MVP catcher as much as possible. Maybe you don’t buy that, but it makes more sense than a pitcher and a catcher hating each other so much that they don’t want to play together. I’m sure there have been plenty of pitchers and catchers who have hated each other, but sucked it up and played because it’s their job.

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      • Rick says:

        @Scott: “Bochy said that Lincecum is hard on catchers, physically, and he was trying to save his MVP catcher as much as possible.”
        I am a reasonable human, ergo I cannot believe this comment to be anything other than complete BS. It’s the playoffs now, and having Posey catch is optimal for your lineup (offensively and defensively). There’s a reason Posey doesn’t catch Lincecum, and it has nothing to do w/that complete BS statement from Bochy obviously.

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    • harperhill says:

      Have you been watching the Giants playoff games? It’s hard to buy into your theory as I watch Timmy hang on the dugout rail, go absolutely bonkers when the Giants score or make great stops, and sprint out of the dugout after wins. Did you see him last night? He was practically dancing in the infield after the last out. Now he may end up leaving for one reason or another but this doesn’t look like a guy that “wants out.”

      +15 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • MikeS says:

      Yeah. Why would he want any part of a team that only makes it to the World Series two times in three years?

      +12 Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. fergie348 says:

    Most guys need a couple of feet on their fastball. Timmy likely needs just a couple of centimeters on his hamstrings..

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  7. Steve says:

    Who would the Dodgers give up?

    Sorry, I just assumed all players must be traded to the Dodgers.

    +13 Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. vivalajeter says:

    “If a team were willing to take on all or most of the twenty-plus million owed to Lincecum in 2013, perhaps a deal is done for a top-tier prospect who is still a few years from the majors.”

    Wendy, I know you’re a die-hard Giants fan but that seems far-fetched to me. If a team was willing to take on that salary AND give up a top-tier lower-minors prospect, they should jump on that deal. I can’t see how any team would come close to that though, considering how bad he was this year. That’s way too much of a gamble for someone who can be awful next year.

    +20 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • quincy0191 says:

      Look at it like this:

      If the Tigers made Verlander available, what would offers for him look like? I’m thinking it takes multiple farm systems – if the Yankees, for example, were to try and get him, they’d have to trade all of their top 15 prospects and take on his whole contract.

      That was about Timmy’s value prior to 2012. Obviously things have gone down a bit. And maybe he doesn’t turn it around and you waste your money and prospect.

      But no one who’s been as good as Tim for as long as Tim obliterates their trade value in one year. He’s owed a lot of money, but you only have to commit for a year, his extension price has dropped in accordance with his performance price. An acquiring team would basically be paying cash – a fungible asset – and one major prospect for the chance to try out Tim Lincecum for a year when his value is probably lower than it will be for the next 8-10 years. If I’m the Red Sox or the Yankees or the Mets or the Tigers or the Angels or the Dodgers or any team with cash and non-spectacular pitching, I’m all over Tim Lincecum if all he costs me is one prospect and money. Plenty of big prospects don’t pan out, and they’re generally riskier than two-time Cy Young winners. If that’s the premium for renting Tim Lincecum there will be a long line of buyers.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Baltar says:

        His value was not as high before the 2012 season as you say it was–not even close in fact.
        At that point, his prior 2 seasons, though still excellent, were way down from the 2 seasons before that, probably due to his steadily declining fastball speed.
        There was also a general consensus among baseball people that his unusual delivery would wear him down, perhaps already had.
        The generally accepted rumour was that the Giants had offered Lincecum a 5/$100M extension starting in 2013 which he declined. Apparently, he preferred to gamble on getting a blockbuster deal after 2013.
        After that, the Giants correctly turned their focus to Cain.
        If the 5/$100 rumour was true, I argued at the time, Lincecum was a fool not to take it. The odds that he would either decline further or get injured in 2012-2013 were far too great to turn down far more money than he could ever reasonably spend.
        Alas for him, he clearly made the wrong decision.
        He would have to revert to the level of his Cy Young years in 2013 to get an offer like that now.
        If I were the God Emperor of the Giants, I would at least shop him in the offseason to see if there’s any interest.
        If not, I would concentrate on trying to get him back to what he was doing before he started his slide instead of again tinkering with his delivery as they have for the last 2 years, let alone trying to change him into an entirely different pitcher.

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      • vivalajeter says:

        quincy, as Baltar says, his value was nowhere near Verlander’s. Verlander won the MVP last year, he could win the Cy Young this year, and he’s regarded as the best pitcher in the game. He’s a workhorse who continues to pitch like an elite pitcher. He’s not showing any signs of slowing down, whereas Lincecum showed plenty of signs before this year. If he put up the worst ERA in the NL right after winning his Cy Young awards, then maybe it would be considered a complete fluke. But the warning signs were already there for Lincecum, and I don’t think any team expects him to pitch like a Cy Young winner next year.

        And if a team is looking for an ace, why spend $20MM and a top prospect on him, when someone like RA Dickey is available? I’m sure Dickey would take 2 top prospects instead of 1, but he’s also $15MM cheaper next year.

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  9. Chris from Bothell says:

    a) Given your understandable glee – just based on Twitter alone – I don’t know how you’re managing to type complete sentences at the moment. Congrats to your Giants.

    b) Realistically: salary relief and a top-tier outfielder prospect? Maybe a team with a history of being crazypants spenders, like the Marlins or Dodgers… or a team with the roster depth, mostly fully functioning ML talent and the money and roster space to experiment, like the Rangers… or a team with nothing to lose plus the money and roster space, like the Cubs or Red Sox.

    I don’t see anyone else doing much unless the Giants are kicking in a lot to help with salary. If the Giants can help with salary then maybe the M’s or A’s could offer up something.

    Or ooh! I know! I know! Bad contract swap! Vernon Wells for Timmay! :)

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Sonia H says:

      Agreed on all points.

      -5 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Kazinski says:

        Maybe Zito for Vernon Wells, but not Timmy. Even that is a stretch, given that Wells is still owed about $50m, and Zito $27m, and neither will be worth more than about 1.0 WAR next season.

        Maybe Wells and Trumbo for Zito, or Wells and Trout for Timmy.

        Or perhaps Wells, Pujols and Trout for Zito. Then the Angels can trade two of their big mistakes and one huge asset for the Giants big mistake.

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      • Paul Thomas says:

        Where do people come up with this idea that Zito is in Vernon Wells territory? He’s a league average pitcher when not hurt (which he rarely is).* That has significant value. Vernon Wells not only isn’t a league average outfielder, he’s not even close, and he’s owed vastly more money.

        *Yes, I know what FIP says. When it comes to Barry Zito, FIP is wrong.

        +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Robert says:


        Are you nuts? I know Wells has a bad deal but why would the Angels include Trout who is coming off an MVP type season in his rookie year in a deal for a possibly washed up pitcher who would only be under team control for one more year? Even if Trout has a sophmore slump that makes less than no sense.

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      • Jason B says:

        “Wells and Trout for Timmy”

        ?!?!?!?! Most nonsensical trade proposal by anyone EVER.

        Of the week.

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    • Paul Thomas says:

      Why in the world would the A’s trade for a starting pitcher? They already have more guys than spots for next season, even when you ignore struggling guys like Tyson Ross and Dallas Braden (who’ll be nontendered, but I expect him to be resigned for a few million unless his arm is truly toast) and speculative prospects like Sonny Gray and Brad Peacock.

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  10. nolan says:

    Timmy isn’t going anywhere. He’s going to play out his contract with the Giants and then hit the FA market. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him return to San Francisco.

    This is pure speculation but I’ve heard that the reason Lincecum didn’t want a long term deal is because he saw the effect that it had on Barry Zito’s career. It was said earlier but he doesn’t really care about the money.

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    • nolan says:

      Well, obviously he cares about getting paid, but it’s not the #1 priority.

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      • joe says:

        disagree. i think he’s had tough negotiations in the past with SF and his father was pi$$ed off at Sabean a few years ago over this iirc. When they say “its not about the money” its usually about the money.

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  11. Abby says:

    I hope Timmy will stay with Giants after 2013, I just can’t imagine him wearing another uniform. I can’t wait for him to be the “Tim Lincecum ” that we knew, ” the Freak”. He’ll be back soon.

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  12. Hurtlockertwo says:

    I noticed during the Giants celebration that Tim has a smoking hot girlfriend. Maybe love has distracted him this year?

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  13. Vince Z says:

    Sf would be crazy to even consider trading Timmy. He want’s to be a Giant always and the fans love him

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  14. zenbitz says:

    How can you trade Lincecum in 2013? You still need 5 starters. You are going to trade him for a worse starter? He clearly has very little trade value, because he comes with a $20M price tag and is a free agent at the end of the year.

    Ironically, this is just Zito redux. 2012 Lincecum isn’t bad – he’s just overpaid. Just ball parking it by FG value minus salary, his 2012 was worth negative $13M or there abouts. Zito was about the same.

    Now if imagine a 2013 Lincecum scouting report / zips you probably see him gaining a big chunk of that back – but no WAY do you offer him more than $12-13M for a 1 year contract. So anyone who “takes” him immediately eats $7-8M. You cannot get value for negative value. All you can get is salary relief and a 40-man spot.

    But even looking at the 2013 Giants and saying… OK we have 3 solid starters just need a back end to hold down the fort – 4th and 5th men in the rotation aren’t free… and they don’t have much in the minors (Yusmerio Petit? Chris Heston?).

    The only way this happens if the team flops early and Lincecum is awesome.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      2012 Lincecum isn’t bad? Really???

      I went to the leaderboard, sorted by NL era, and guess what? Lincecum had the worst era in the national league, and was more than half a run worse than anyone else. He also led the league in walks. Yeah, his K-rate was good and his xFIP was better than his era, but come on now. When you give up half a run more than the 2nd worst pitcher in the league and you have no control all year long, you’re bad. If he wasn’t elite in the past, he would’ve been dropped from the rotation months before the season ended.

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      • Scott says:

        This always bugs me. I don’t care what his peripherals say if we’re talking about current year performance. If his BABIP and home run ratios “should” stabilize, then what you mean to say is that he “shouldn’t” be as bad in the future.

        And if you want to say he was “unlucky” this year, that’s just a partial explanation of WHY he was terrible this year, it doesn’t erase the fact that he was terrible in the first place.

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  15. Timmy’s not going anywhere next year. After next season the giants will make him a qualifying offer and move on when he signs with Seattle.

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  16. Petruchio says:

    My impression from this article was that Tim Lincecum’s declining value and excess price necessitates a trade, rather than the Giants having a need that justifies trading Tim Lincecum. After what Brian Sabean demonstrated this offseason, he has the ability to fill roster holes with competent players, but he can’t be expected to find Ryan Vogelsongs and Travis Blackleys on a consistent basis. Those pitchers are far, far rarer.

    The Giants are competitive now, they don’t need to trade for a prospect who will take years to develop and might end up a bust. They just traded away a top pitching prospect who was certainly going to have a major league career. Without Barry Zito, the team will have a lot of money and rather a potentially crowded infield between Posey, Belt and Sandoval dictates who stays in San Francisco.

    It’s in the Giants best interest to hope for a rebound from Lincecum, because like the Yankees have found out, free agency often leads to an overpay in talent and years that could handcuff a team at critical times. Even if the Giants end up getting nothing from Lincecum, the potential payoff from a rebound far exceeds and modest/uncertain gains they could get through a salary dump/prospect trade, especially since come 2014, money won’t be an object anymore.

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  17. Wat says:

    I don’t know why you included Weezy’s arb eligibility in your payroll. He’s a definite non-tender.

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  18. james wilson says:

    When a pitcher loses both velocity and control that spells shoulder damage. As that happens pitchers subtly alter their mechanics to hump the ball up there in a search for the same result. Then people blame the mechanics. There’s more than a few soft tossers in the Hall. Some even started as flamethrowers. It’s hard to make the transition though (and TL has the talent for it) because everyone likes the high hard on, including chicks.

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  19. Joebrady says:

    I think the question should start with ‘if Lincecum was on waivers, would you claim him?’. Once you conclude that no one would willingly pay him $22M next year, then you know you cannot get anything back but salary relief. Since no one will want him, you probably cannot get fair value. You really need someone that really wants him to get a fair deal.

    Given the publicity and everything, the SFG should probably just gamble on him. There is always the upside of him recovering enough to be worth a $14M qualifying offer after next year.

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  20. Doug B says:

    even if you dillute the problem of 2012 by averaging his last 3 seasons… you are talking about a guy making over $20,000,000 in 2013 who has averaged less than 2 wins above replacement over the last 3 seasons.

    how much value doe that contract have? I’d say almost none. Lincecum for 2 baseballs. Would they find takers? Probably. The risk is fixed. But I can’t imagine there are many teams interested in trading a potential future starter making small coin for that contract.

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  21. Yolo1 says:

    Not trying to sound silly, but I wonder whether the Red Sox would swap Ellsbury straight up for LIncecum. I mean basically, neither team is fixing the long term problem of a Boras negotiation for a player with a lot of question marks, but both would certainly be trading a need for a need. The Red Sox would likely be able to take on Timmy’s salary to boot.

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  22. Ruki Motomiya says:

    I always thought that Lincecum’s struggles started from the fact he lost weight before Training Camp: Dude was already stick thin and he lost 30 pounds, with the pitching coach saying he showed up too small. Then he starts sucking as soon as Spring Training starts. Combined with a heavy workload and his body probably broke down some.

    I think he’ll be fine if he gets his weight back up and that he should be kept. Not a big enough return for him ATM.

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