In the darkest recesses of my brain, there's a part of me that understands the argument for trading Tim Lincecum. I think it's stored in the same part of the lobe as the full lyrics to "My Posse's on Broadway." When I was in full froth mode after the first Rios rumor, I looked up Rios's similarity scores on Baseball Reference. Aha!, I cried:
1. Tony Gonzalez (964)
2. Rondell White (964)
3. Bernie Williams (963)
4. Mel Hall (960)
5. Roy Weatherly (958)
6. Dan Ford (958)
7. Coco Crisp (957)
8. Harry Lumley (954)
9. Tito Francona (953)
10. Shannon Stewart (953)
With the possible exception of Bernie Williams, it isn't exactly a bunch of Hall-of-Famers. Then I went to the Matt Cain page for my counter-argument (this was still when Cain was believed to be the pitcher in the proposed deal):
1. Moe Drabowsky (984)
2. Mark Lemongello (976)
3. Tommy Hughes (976)
4. Scott Kazmir (976)
5. Mike Witt (974)
6. Jack Fisher (973)
7. Pete Falcone (972)
8. Don Sutton (971) *
9. Bert Cunningham (970)
10. Jerry Walker (969)
Mmm...Lemongello. Lincecum's comps aren't a prettier bunch, either. I know similarity scores aren't a great way to discern a current player's worth, as they're more of a curiosity than a tool for evaluation. And the comps are based on stats like ERA, but it doesn't seem like they're adjusted for league or park, which is why Don Sutton comes up for Cain even though Sutton was merely average through his age-22 season. Still, it's hard not to stare at the names (other than Sutton) with a little fear. Apparently, young pitchers don't always pan out.
Some of the more logical arguments for the Rios/Lincecum swap are based in this fear of young pitching. When I dig back through old STATS, Inc. Minor League Scouting Notebooks, it seems like 50% of the best prospects flame out. For every C.C. Sabathia, there's a Ryan Anderson. For every Roy Oswalt, there's a Jon Rauch (who has carved out a relief niche, but still....) The percentage increases as it moves down the list from the great prospects to the really good. Guys like Kurt Ainsworth and Mario Ramos seem to drop out of sight at a 75% rate, but for the purposes of Lincecum we'll go with the first batch. Note that all of these percentages were pulled directly from my nether regions, which makes this mostly anecdotal.
Rios is good. He could be great. If he develops like the Giants think he will, the Giants would probably sign him to a fat extension and build the team around him, so the service time issue is more fiscal than logistical. It wouldn't be a fair return for Lincecum, but at least the Giants would be getting a good young player back; it isn't as if they're dangling Lincecum for Orlando Cabrera.
My reasoning against almost any Lincecum trade, though, is based on abject fear. Here are two scenarios of failure:
- Scenario 1 - The trade does not go through. Lincecum goes the way of Foppert, and the Giants never get Lincecum to reach his potential.
- Scenario 2 - The trade goes through. Rios doesn't improve, and while he remains a nice player to have, he is certainly isn't a star. Lincecum wins eight Cy Youngs for Toronto, takes them to three World Series, Canadian school children start getting Lincecum's Birthday off as a holiday, and a newly discovered species of moose is named for him.
If the first scenario happens, we shake our tiny fists at the heavens and curse the mischievous god of young pitching. We knew that young pitching was fragile, but we thought it would be different this time....
If the second scenario happens, we all die alone and miserable.
I'm scared of the second scenario. I want to be loved. Therefore, Lincecum stays.