I have seen this idea pop up a few times on several sites and New York newspapers over the past few weeks. Tim Lincecum is leaving the San Francisco Giants and will hit the free agent market. I thought it was a dead story, the idea of having The Freak in the Bronx, but it won’t go away.
So… should the New York Yankees give Lincecum a shot?
It’s quite the conundrum. Lincecum is only 31-years old and he really hasn’t thrown all that many innings. He has definitely thrown quite a few innings, but when you look at a Roy Halladay (1807 innings pitched by the age of 31) or Justin Verlander (1978 IP) or even the Yankees own C.C. Sabathia (2564.1 IP), three pitchers whose arms seemingly fell apart from the amount of innings pitched by the time they were 31, Lincecum isn’t close (1643.2 IP).
Furthermore, Lincecum doesn’t have a history of arm injuries. Yes, he does have that peculiar windup and interesting mechanics, but Lincecum has only struggled from hip injuries in the past, an injury which both he and his agent claim he is fully recovered from. Hey, why would they lie?
We all know the skinny on Lincecum. There was a four year span where he was arguably the best pitcher in baseball. He won consecutive Cy Young Awards in 2008 and 2009, and it seemed like the sky was the limit.
Then the wheels fell off.
It was almost as if it were a big “I told you so.” Despite Lincecum’s quick rise to superstardom, he had many skeptics due to his unique mechanics. His velocity, which was once around 99 on that fastball, dipped to the low-90s. He got a bit more wild, seeing his walk rate climb to new career highs while his strike out rate dropped from 9.19 to 7.07 over the next four years. His ground ball rate declined in those four years (47.9% to 44.3%) while his home runs per fly ball rose to a double-digit percentile (coming in as high as 14.9%). His WAR dropped from a 7.7 at his peak, to 0.3 last year (according to FanGraphs).
It may look bleak, but a lot of it had to do with that faulty hip. Lincecum — even in some of the lowest points of his past few seasons — has still shown flashes of that greatness. I truly believe if Lincecum is in fact healthy, then he still does have some value.
Plus, Lincecum has all of that postseason experience, which is something the Yankees need for this young squad. He was 2-0 as a starter in 2010, posting a 3.29 ERA and a 1.098 WHIP while striking out 13 over 13.2 innings. He then shifted to the bullpen in his final two World Series and hasn’t allowed a run since.
Let’s not forget, there was a point in time when the Red Sox thought Roger Clemens was all done. He was even older than Lincecum.
Now are the Yankees the right fit? If Lincecum would come to Tampa for spring training on a Minor League deal, he is the perfect fit for this team. Sabathia isn’t lasting a whole season. Ivan Nova will likely be traded — although it is appears no one wants him — and Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda both have injury woes.
Lincecum would be a low-risk, high-reward. He would likely start the year out of the bullpen, but would find his way into the starting rotation rather quickly with the Yankees injury history. Wouldn’t you feel a little more comfortable with Lincecum heading into the rotation than Nova?
The problem is that Lincecum probably has too much left in the tank to have to settle for a Minor League deal. Some team will likely dish out a one-year, $1-million deal that Lincecum would jump at, and rightfully so. Should the Yankees actually have to agree to terms off the bat with Lincecum, that risk isn’t as low as a prove-your-worth Minor League deal.
Lincecum definitely has some gas left in that tank. He has experience in the postseason and has shown that he can — and was willing — to operate out of the bullpen when needed. If the Yankees can get him at a low cost, he is well worth spinning the wheels and seeing what he’s got. But if that risk outweighs the reward — no matter how likable The Freak may be — the Yankees should pass.