Mariners Aware Of Tim Lincecum
A lot of people were upset when the Mariners passed on Tim Lincecum in the draft, because the fit seemed so natural and obvious. It could be that the Mariners simply preferred Brandon Morrow, or alternatively it could be that they just didn’t know Lincecum existed. Forgot to scout their own area and everything. Happens. But the Mariners definitely know about Lincecum now. For one thing, they faced him last season. For another, there’s a report out the Mariners have been scouting Lincecum in advance of his free agency. The Mariners have been looking at Tim Lincecum on purpose, meaning the Mariners have at least thought about trying to get him signed to a contract a few months from now.
And, yeah, that much was easy to see coming. The Mariners are going to have money, and they’re going to need pitchers, and Lincecum is a local product who might feel strongly about a chance to go home. He’s not so good he’ll be priced out of the Mariners’ range. The Mariners would be justified if they passed on Lincecum again, but they’d have to explain — he’s still a guy people want to see in this uniform. He might not be the prom king anymore, but he’s got his life all in order, and he still has the pictures.
Fans have talked so much about Lincecum that it’s really difficult to separate the reality from the reputation. Absolutely, a Lincecum acquisition would get people excited — excited about the Mariners! — but that isn’t reason enough to charge ahead. The Mariners need to figure out what Lincecum is, now. And good luck to them, because he’s a damned mystery.
Part of the argument for signing Lincecum is that he’s local. The much bigger rest of the argument is this: he has Cliff Lee’s strikeout rate. His rate of contact allowed this year falls between Matt Harvey’s rate and Stephen Strasburg’s rate. Tim Lincecum remains very difficult to hit. His contact rate is as low as it’s ever been. Even with his diminished repertoire, Lincecum still misses a ton of bats, and if there’s one thing you most want in a pitcher, it’s the ability to make hitters miss. That’s the most important and reliable skill.
But, you know, there’s everything else. The last couple years, Lincecum’s given up a lot of runs, in the National League, pitching half the time in a pitcher-friendly environment. He walks people a lot, and his stuff is slower, and plenty of people think he’ll be a reliever soon. Plenty of people prefer him as a reliever right now. Over the last two years, despite working in San Francisco, Lincecum has allowed one of the league’s higher home-run rates. It’s easy to ignore that in one season. Two’s enough to make you nervous.
On the other hand, a few numbers. I looked at the top ten worst HR/FB rates for starters between 2011-2012. The average was 13.7%. The average for the same pitchers in 2013 is 10.2%, actually a little better than the league. But Ricky Romero’s 2013 was excluded, because he hasn’t pitched. And this is a little sample. And what might be a rule generally isn’t always a rule specifically. The matter with Lincecum presumably goes beyond a splash of bad luck. He’s allowed too many runs, and the Giants haven’t gotten him fixed, even if he has been a little better this time than last time.
Lincecum misses bats like an ace, but he’s probably a back-of-the-rotation starter with a bit of upside and a real chance of just going kablooey. Because of his name and because of his talent, he’s still going to get paid, and because of his name and because of their financial flexibility, I expect the Mariners to be deeply involved. I can’t speak to the wisdom. With Lincecum, I just have to throw up my hands and accept that I’ll know the future truth when the future truth is revealed.
Lincecum’s going to be extended a qualifying offer, and I imagine he’s going to turn that down, so a signing team would forfeit a draft pick. As we learned last offseason, the Mariners highly value their first-round draft picks. But we also know from their Hamilton pursuit that they’re not completely committed to keeping them, so we can’t say anything for sure. Right now, the Mariners stand to have their first-round pick protected, since they’re one of baseball’s ten worst teams. That would make it easier to stomach the loss of a pick, but the Mariners aren’t far from 11th and a lot could change between now and the end.
Given that Lincecum is so mysterious, it seems potentially unwise to sacrifice both money and a high pick. If the Mariners don’t have their first-round pick protected, there’ll be a legitimate argument that they shouldn’t give up that pick and its corresponding flexibility for such an obvious risk. How good could Lincecum possibly be? Isn’t drafting this organization’s alleged strength? But for one thing, the pick could be protected yet. And for another, I’d look for the Mariners to be hot after Jacoby Ellsbury, too. Ellsbury will turn down a qualifying offer, and he’s really good, and if the Mariners were to hypothetically land both Ellsbury and Lincecum, you could think of the higher pick being given up for the better player, and the lower pick being given up for the risk. Ellsbury’s a player worth the loss of a mid-first-rounder, and then the second round is far less important.
Naturally, lots of teams would want Ellsbury and Lincecum, and we can’t just assume anything. All we know is that the Mariners will have holes and money to spend. For those two players, there’s a local tie. This front office never says anything, but so much money is coming off the books, and it sure seems like their preferred course is predictable. Spending on those names would attract attention from an area spending more and more time thinking about other diversions. Not that you make front-office decisions just to make fans happier, but both Ellsbury and Lincecum seem like agreeable fits, and the Mariners could be in position to over-spend.
Ellsbury’ll cost a fortune. Lincecum, I don’t know, but maybe three years and $35-40 million. I don’t know what the qualifying offer is going to do to his market value. We know the Mariners have the money, and by scouting Lincecum recently, they’ve at least indicated their interest in making a splash. That’s as much as we can say today. If I knew what the front office was thinking, I wouldn’t be writing this, because I’d either be working for the front office or the government.
It’s a coincidence that I wrote the first word of this post at 4:20. But the Mariners are aware of Tim Lincecum, and he’ll be a free agent pretty soon. Get ready for that, and for everything that’s going to come with it. This is going to be an offseason experience.