The Giants didn’t scare you when they walked off the bus. Their ace was too pale and skinny, their third baseman was too plump, and their closer was a 28-year-old eccentric with too much awesome on his feet and too much lumberjack on his face.
But this had become San Francisco’s band of misfits. And a new chant began to echo through Willie Mays Plaza.
Fan Favorite Lincecum Stays Part of the Giants Rotation
BY ANDREW BAGGARLY
He contributed to two World Series championships, one as a starter and one as the greatest bullpen weapon in baseball history. He won two Cy Young Awards, breaking a five-decade dry spell for Giants pitchers. He’s a four-time All-Star with the popularity of a rock star, and you could argue that he accomplished more in six-plus seasons than any other pitcher in Giants history.
But Tim Lincecum sees plenty of unfinished business. "I’d like every year to be a good year, and when your last two are a collective 4.50 ERA, that’s not the way you want to go out,“ he says, explaining why he agreed to a two-year, $34 million contract just days before he could have become a free agent. "That’s the kind of guy I am. I looked at [coming back] as an opportunity to do something big in the same uniform.”
It was too rich an opportunity to turn down. Rather than risk letting Lincecum become involved in the uncertainty of free agency, the Giants paid a premium to wrap him up ahead of time. Although the contract was decried as an overpay in October, it turned out that the Giants had a good read on the market value for free-agent pitchers. Lincecum’s deal didn’t appear so far out of context after the Minnesota Twins spent $73 million on rotation fillers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes.
The Giants strongly believe that the progress Lincecum made last season, along with his consistently strong strikeout totals, should allow him to continue on an upward path following two rough seasons.
Lincecum says that it wasn’t the size of the deal that convinced him to forgo free agency. But, he adds, “when they made that push they made, it was hard not to respond. And we find ourselves sitting here with 2 and 35, and I’m really, really happy about it.”
Money aside, Lincecum reiterates what he has said since last Spring: Familiarity is a huge factor, and the Giants are the only organization he has known. "There are a lot of things here that I like,“ the 29-year-old says. "And there are a lot of things in other places that I might not have a connection with. I’m not sure if I’m necessarily ready for that on a professional level. It gives me that freedom to know that I’ve done it with this group before, and we can do it again.”
The Giants certainly believe that Lincecum can be a top-tier starter again, based on the adjustments that he made last season after dropping his ERA to 4.37 from 5.18 (the highest among National League starters) in 2012. If they had let him go, they wouldn’t have just lost one of the most popular players in franchise history - they would also have been tasked with identifying three starting pitchers, not just two, behind Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. Getting Lincecum in the fold early allowed them to focus on adding their top-free-agent target, right-hander Tim Hudson, whom they succeeded in acquiring. Hudson, 38, leads all active Major League pitchers with 205 wins (tied with C.C. Sabathia), and he’s expected to be fully recovered from the ankle fracture that ended his season in July.
The Giants are betting biggest on Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong, though. They’re returning four-fifths of a rotation that ranked 13th out of 15 NL clubs in ERA last year. So although Lincecum’s popularity was a factor, Giants chief executive Larry Baer insists that it wasn’t the top one. "This was targeted as a baseball signing,“ Baer says. "Everybody on our baseball side evaluating it said that this was the right thing for the Giants to keep the rotation strong and the team’s chances of winning strong. Timmy is a popular guy, but I don’t want it misinterpreted that this was done because he’s popular. It was done because he can excel and get us to where we want to be in the future.”
Giants Vice President Bobby Evans calls Lincecum’s no-hitter on July 13 in San Diego the “icing on the cake.” "It showed,“ he says, "that Timmy is coming into his own, just maybe with different equipment than he had in the past.”
Lincecum began to be more diligent about studying scouting reports, he got on a better track with catcher Buster Posey, and he learned to shape his pitches to exploit a hitter’s weaknesses. He ranked 11th in the NL with 8.79 strikeouts per nine innings and his season finished much stronger than it began.
And what does Lincecum say to his fans in Seattle, or even his friends and family members, about not letting his hometown Mariners take a shot at signing him? "I did [think about it],“ he says. ”But home is always going to be home to me. Maybe I’ll look at that route later on in life, as a professional opportunity, but I wasn’t ready for that kind of jump.Right now I’m focused on being as good as I can be, and I’m at the age when I have to make those decisions and act on them.“
Lincecum says that his main goal is to improve and contribute, wherever that ends up happening. ”Every year is a springboard, but it’s also a reset button,“ he says. "With everything I’ve learned, it gives me the confidence to know things can be easier. I know what I need to do. I’m definitely excited about this year’s prospects.”