Tim Lincecum is, once again, a free agent.
Depending on how your internal home bar is stocked with optimism, pessimism, reality, hope, sentimentality, and opportunity, that news will leave you with a cocktail that contains some, or all, of the following ingredients: sadness, excitement, dread, eagerness, and concern.
Lincecum was released by the Texas Rangers after using up his available rehab time in the minors. The Rangers had to either add him to the 25-man roster, or let him go; they opted for the latter. And, for now, the blister sustained in training camp has derailed Lincecum’s dream of returning to the big leagues.
As evidenced by his release, Lincecum’s rehab stint with AAA Round Rock Express was bumpy. In 10 relief appearances, his ERA bounced to 5.68, with an FIP of 6.65. Understandably, those weren’t good enough numbers from a reclamation project to warrant a spot on the active roster.
There’s not much to be said. Everyone knows Lincecum’s story, and everyone has their opinions about what he can or cannot be at this point in his career. So I won’t waste time with any of that.
But, we also all know what comes next: the question of whether or not the San Francisco Giants should offer Lincecum a reunion, which would surely come in the form of a Minor League deal. There’s no denying that this discussion will be had, both by fans, and by those inside the team’s front office.
So we might as well address the reasons for, and against, even if we’re all at different stages of accepting that one of the most popular and dynamic players in the franchise’s history will likely never be a quality baseball player anymore. After all, the Giants were rumored to be interested in signing Lincecum to a minor league contract this spring, so their interest isn’t exactly fabricated.
The argument for
The Giants are, at their very core, a business. Lincecum, regardless of performance, is good for business. Can you imagine the marketing opportunities for the Sacramento River Cats, as they become the official provider of Lincecum’s journey back to the bigs?
Of course, if Lincecum manages to pitch his way into the Bay Area, the marketing options explode; it’s a PR department’s wildest dream. Even if he struggles in the Minors, there’s a non-zero chance that the Giants are playing meaningless games in September, in which case he can be called up for one final hurrah, before retiring as a Giant. That sure would be nice.
If you’re looking for a more statistical reason to sign him, you’ll have to squint. After struggling at the start of his stint with Round Rock, Lincecum settled down near the end of his rehab time. In his final three outings he pitched 4.0 innings, and allowed just one hit and no earned runs. He did walk three while only striking out two, but . . . well, I said you needed to squint.
A four inning sample size isn’t anything to work with, but then again, neither is the 13-inning sample size we have for his entire body of work in the last year and a half.
And, of course, it goes without saying that every team in the Majors constantly signs previously good players to minor league contracts, with the hope that one of them might turn things around. There’s negligible risk involved, especially since the Sacramento bullpen is already full of arms that don’t appear fit for the Majors. Lincecum would hardly be blocking anyone.
Remember Guillermo Moscoso, the 34-year old whose last MLB stint came five years ago with the Giants, when he had an ERA of 5.10? He’s currently playing for the Dodgers’ AAA squad. So, while a Lincecum reunion would surely be fueled in large part by sentimentality, let’s not pretend the Giants are some morons who roll the dice on mediocre players when no one else will.
The argument against
While signing Lincecum would be mostly risk free, it wouldn’t entirely be. There’s the emotional risk, of course; it’s hard to imagine the team signing him if they truly believe he’ll depressingly wither away and be cut. And there’s the risk that Bruce Bochy, Bobby Evans, and Brian Sabean - three men whose adoration with veterans and former Giants is well documented - insist on giving him a chance in San Francisco, even if he doesn’t deserve it. And while Timmy wouldn’t exactly be blocking any hot prospects in Sacramento, those innings would have to come from somewhere.
Lincecum, of course, hasn’t been good in a long while. And even with the sentimentality, marketing, and feel-goodness of it all, the team isn’t going to get involved if they don’t have at least a shred a optimism that he can pitch well again.
During Wednesday’s bizarre Facebook feed of the Giants delightful comeback win, Mike Krukow was put on the spot with a game of “Love it or Leave it”. He was asked about Lincecum reuniting with his former team. With sadness in his voice, the broadcaster chose the latter option: leave it.
That’s the same Krukow who, when Nick Hundley was mired in an 0-for-infinity slump to start the season, pointed out that the backup catcher was swinging the ball brilliantly. The same Krukow who said that Hunter Pence was barrelling the ball when he had one extra-base hit after three weeks.
It’s becoming apparent with every proclamation from the broadcasters that their statements are not always a reflection of their own optimism and pessimism; they’re often advertising what they know the front office is selling. Or, perhaps in this case, closing the team’s door before the people rush in.
Maybe Krukow was speaking purely with his own subjectivity, but it seems more than likely that he knows the team’s stance, and is here to relay it to the fans as best as he can.
For better and certainly for worse, it’s not likely that we see Lincecum in the black and orange again.
But if we do . . . damn will I be cheering.