Belated thoughts on the Tim Lincecum signing

I was just reading Only Baseball Matters, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite baseball blogs, when I came across a February 12 post about Tim Lincecum.  I have been meaning to write something here since the San Francisco Giants resigned their two-time Cy Young award-winning pitcher to a two-year, $23 million contract last week.  Something has not sat right with me about that deal since it was announced.  What I read on OBM resonated:

First, this deal is a bargain, easily the best contract on the team. Second, it makes me wonder why the team didn’t pursue a four or five year deal in an effort to lock him up through his prime. At the end of this contract, he’ll be 28 years old, and if he performs anywhere as well as he has to this point, the Giants almost certainly won’t be able to afford him.

I have a hard time seeing how anyone benefits here.  The Giants have basically put off the debate about whether they can afford to sign Lincecum to a long-term deal for exactly one year, maybe less; expect said debate to be incessant for all of the 2011 season as Lincecum approaches free agency, assuming he plays out this new contract.  It seems it definitely would have been to San Francisco’s advantage to negotiate more years, even if it was just three instead of two.  Lincecum’s price even a year from now could jump to $20 million per season, as opposed to less than $12 million now.

While I doubt the Giants won’t be able to afford Lincecum ultimately — whatever the cost — it definitely seems like going the Costco approach and buying in bulk would have saved them money.  Then again, if said money would simply have been used on aging, crappy free agents, then maybe it’s good the Giants are taking this approach.  Perhaps they can do the same with Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey and that Ishikawa guy, if that’s what it takes to prevent the second coming of Dave Roberts.

All this being said, I think Lincecum could also have benefited by opting for a longer deal.   I think he took a smaller, shorter contract than he deserved, a paltry deal that does little to insure him if he gets injured in the next two years.  Given his unconventional, hard-throwing delivery, I wouldn’t be hugely surprised if that were to happen– particularly if San Francisco finds itself in a pennant race and relying on its ace more than ever.

People may act like Lincecum is infallible, but really, much as I admire the guy and look forward to his starts, I just see another young flamethrower when all is said and done.  Baseball’s got a track record for this kind of thing, and it’s not great.  Pitching coaches can put their kids to bed at night with cautionary tales about guys like Gary Nolan, Mark Prior and even Sandy Koufax.

From my vantage point, it seems like both the Giants and Lincecum have a lot riding on this deal.  It will be interesting to see who comes out better.

My favorite baseball player, 2009

As a child, my favorite baseball player was Will Clark.  No question.  In fact, if asked who my favorite player is these days, I might still say Clark (Rickey Henderson and Pete Rose also merit consideration, with their similar, throwback style.)  There aren’t a whole lot of players in the current baseball landscape that stroke my imagination, not as Clark did anyhow.  I don’t know if it was his sweet swing, the eye black smeared on his face, or simply the fact that I was in Little League and Clark played for my favorite team, the San Francisco Giants.  Whatever the reason, the first baseman nicknamed Will the Thrill was it for me from ages six to nine.

Following the 1993 season, the Giants chose not to resign a declining Clark and he left to join the Texas Rangers.  By this point, I had already shifted my loyalties to the superstar outfielder the Giants signed the year before, Barry Bonds.  When it comes time to determine whether Bonds gets into the Hall of Fame, I wonder if it will be considered that there are multiple versions of Bonds, just as there are for someone like Michael Jackson. When I think of Jackson, I want to remember the hip, young guy who recorded Thriller, moonwalked and made Pepsi commercials, not the sad, frightened creature shown in the mug shot from his 2003 arrest (look up deer in headlights in the dictionary and that photo of Jackson is there.)  The same holds true for Bonds.  I fondly remember the five-tool athlete who played like the second-coming of his Godfather, Willie Mays.  I liked the Bonds who looked like Arsenio Hall, not the one who in later years resembled the Michelin Man.

If I had to choose a favorite current player, it’s probably Tim Lincecum, though it’s a lukewarm choice.   Sure, Lincecum has won back-to-back Cy Young awards, is the best player, hands down, on my favorite baseball team, and I’ll probably pay to see him pitch at some point.  It’s an experience that probably should be had for anyone who claims to be a baseball fan.  Still, I don’t feel as strongly about Lincecum as I did about Clark or Bonds.

Then again, to echo a theme I bring up commonly here, maybe I’m just getting older.

Tim Lincecum: Will he stay or will he go?

I had my second job interview of the day this afternoon and sure enough, for the second time today, baseball came up in conversation with a prospective employer.  As my interview was wrapping up with the general manager and human resources representative for an organic food company in San Mateo, our talk reached the stage for final questions.  I had exhausted all of my queries, but the HR rep had one, based on me talking about this site: She wanted to know if I thought the San Francisco Giants would be able to keep Tim Lincecum.  I’ll repeat now what, in essence, I told my interviewers.

I think Tim Lincecum will stay.  I think it will cost the Giants a small fortune (my guess is $22 million a season) but I think he’ll stay.  The thought of him in Yankee pinstripes a few years from now seems compelling, maybe even plausible, but something about it doesn’t feel right.  Lincecum is the Giants’ biggest draw since Barry Bonds and their best homegrown talent since Will Clark, arguably even Willie Mays.  They’d be foolish not to do what it takes to keep him around, even if a slight risk exists of Lincecum getting injured with his unorthodox and hard-throwing delivery.  (For his part, Lincecum would be foolish, as well, to go to the Yankees.  The Bronx is the place where pitchers go to die, and Lincecum’s quirkiness probably wouldn’t go over too well with the organization either.  Consider the case of Jason Giambi.)

As a disclaimer, I say all this as someone who argued passionately two years ago that the Giants should trade Lincecum to the Toronto Blue Jays for Alex Rios. San Francisco still needs just short of an airlift to fix its moribund offense, even with the additions of Ryan Garko and Freddy Sanchez this past season.  Nevertheless, I think any deal from 2007 involving Lincecum would probably have come out worse than Andrew Bynum for Jason Kidd.

I didn’t get the job, but it’s always a pleasure to talk baseball, especially in an interview.  As an aside, this blog is helping tremendously in my job search.  I’ve been unemployed for a few weeks now, hitting Craig’s List and putting my name out there.  This site is the first thing that comes up in a Google search of my name, and I’ve even added the URL to my resume.  I feel fortunate to get to write here and thank everyone who reads, as well as everyone else who makes this possible.