Let's imagine a world in which the Giants didn't re-sign Tim Lincecum before the start of the offseason. We know what happened, who signed with whom, so we at least have a reasonable idea of what could have happened. My guesses:
- The Giants extend the qualifying offer
- Lincecum refuses
- The pre-Tanaka market plays out slow, delaying a potential deal
- The Giants find a cheaper replacement
- Lincecum signs with the Royals at the end of February
From a baseball perspective -- from a cold, analytical perch, looking down at us silly sentimentalists -- that almost seems like a collection of good things. The Giants have more money to spend in this alternate reality, and they would have an extra first-round pick. I'm not sure exactly whom the Giants would have signed, but the odds are excellent that pitcher wouldn't have been below replacement level in each of the last two seasons.
More money, more draft picks, and a pitcher with more success over the last two seasons. That's the alternate history.
And it sends shivers up my spine. It's chilling, right? Lincecum in a Royals uniform? Or what about the Dodgers? They were looking for a starting pitcher, and Ned Colletti has the same affection for familiarity we all do. Lincecum in Los Angeles would have made more sense than about 25 other places.
This is the strangest deal of the offseason. Heck, it's the strangest deal of the last decade. No, wait, the strangest deal for Giants fans since the free-spending days of Rennie Stennett. This is a deal that makes pundits and outsiders chortle. The Giants paid a premium for a pitcher who wasn't very good in each of the last two seasons. He's the 33rd-highest-paid player in baseball, and there aren't a lot of people who are expecting good things.
But it's the strangest deal also because there are a lot of Giants fans who were and are okay with it. The treacly part of baseball is stuck to the bottom of our feet, and we can't get it off. What if Lincecum returns to form? What if he isn't a more decorated Dontrelle Willis? What if he had his big comeback season with another team? That was completely unpalatable, so it was/is okay for the Giants to give it one more expensive shot.
Now we're here. Games are about to start. The runs allowed and scored will actually make a difference. And there's Lincecum, getting loose, hoping he won't stink for the third year in a row. It's kind of terrifying. The sentimental part doesn't seem quite as relevant the closer we get to Opening Day.
There is good news, of course. Even though Lincecum's strikeout rate didn't improve (23 percent of the batters he faced in both 2012 and 2013), it's still a mighty fine rate. All of the statistical models that eliminate luck, like SIERA, FIP, and xFIP, have nice things to say about Lincecum. The league hit .248/.322/.389 against him, which isn't great, but not bad. Yet for the second straight season, Lincecum's LOB% was one of the highest in the league. That seems like it could be poor luck, right?
Maybe. But the part of our brains that's addicted to anecdotal evidence saw all of the walks, all of the hanging curves. We saw the velocity start at 92 in the first and drop to 89 by the second. What did we do? What hath Sabean wrought? Oh, no, ctrl-z ctrl-z ctrl-z ctrl-z, help, hellllp!
Nah. I'm optimistic. Because it's February. And because I'm a fool. And because I have faith in those fancy statistics, at least when they whisper nice things in my ear. ZiPS doesn't hate Lincecum's chances; neither does PECOTA, Oliver, or Steamer. The ability to miss bats should still have some relevance, dang it.
I'm bullish. Then I think about how sad this bullishness is compared to the Cy Young days. Then I think about Lincecum mowing through the Reds at exactly the right time. Then I think about Jake and the Neverland Pirates because, please, make it stop, don't you want to watch something else? Why don't you watch Wild Kratts anymore? Then I think about the 2014 season, and I'm bullish on Lincecum again. Relatively so.
I'll take it. Bonds help us all, I'll take it.