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And Now For A Tim Lincecum Update

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I started writing this post late last night, figuring I had plenty of time. For fun, here's how far I got:
The Giants want to keep Tim Lincecum. The Giants' fans want to keep Tim Lincecum. But Tim Lincecum wants to taste freedom, in the baseball sense, and probably in the sittin'-round-the-campfire sense.

Dig? I've been having a blog-free October -- because blogging is what the Man expects me to do during the playoffs, man -- but I can't help but dip in for a Lincecum update, especially after reading this.

In sum, there's little difference between Tim Lincecum and Dan Haren. In fact, taking the three previous seasons into account, Haren looks like the better pitcher. So why would any team spend $30 or $40 million over two or three years -- and perhaps lose a top draft pick, to boot -- when Haren will likely be available for another one-year deal in the $10 million range?

The unasked question in that piece, which Sullivan's commenters raise rather rudely, is how much Tim Lincecum's entertainment value is worth. That's kind of a dumb question for 29 teams. People in LA or Seattle or Chicago don't care about The Freaky Freak and Happy Lincecum Day if he's getting shelled like a peanut and showering before the end of the fifth. But for the Giants, the question is entirely valid.
Which brings us, dear readers, to today's news. Tim Lincecum has re-signed with the Giants for two years and $35 million. This, frankly, is crazy, tempered only by the relative shortness of the contract. Tim Lincecum has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball the past two years. Don't let the 148-pitch no-hitter and second-half "comeback" fool you. He might have started to figure out how to be great with 90-MPH velocity, but the Giants just bid against themselves and themselves and themselves and themselves, fun-house mirror style, for the dubious right to find out what happens.

orson lady12.jpgOne of two things must be playing out here, or perhaps a combination of both. Thing one: The Giants are confident Timmy's about to get the mojo back. Perhaps not Cy Young mojo, but three-WAR-a-year mojo that would come close to making the contract worthwhile. He certainly said all the right things publicly in the second half last year, that he's more mature, that he's at peace with the lower velocity, that he's learned how to game-plan better with Buster Posey. Will that translate into $35 million worth of pitching performance the next two years? Most people doubt it, which brings us to....

Thing two: This is about fan-base economics, the part of the equation Dave Sullivan didn't broach in his Fangraphs post. Overpaying for Timmy now means more season tickets sold or renewed before 2013 (and guess what, prices are going up again). Paying the extra $10 million -- let's pretend they might have been able to bring him back for 2 years/$25 M after he shopped his wares around -- is an easy call compared to the revenues they figure to bring in. How they'd be able to tell, I have no idea. There's gotta be an equation somewhere:

((("55 Lincecum" jerseys + commemorative no-hitter mugs)/HR allowed) X Giant wins in Timmy starts) + ((Happy Timmy Day walk-up ticket sales X (1/games in which Lincecum doesn't go 5 innings))

Perhaps the Giants are privately hoping to get 2-fWAR from Lincecum each year, which would be a slight improvement over 2013, and happy to have one of their rotation question marks resolved before free agency starts. Problem is, they've just upped the market for other targets. How much is Dan Haren going to ask for now?

There's a third thing, not quite as overarching as things one and two, perhaps at play here: there aren't many other options. The Giants tanked badly down the stretch, meaning they didn't really tank at all. Their first-round draft pick is therefore not protected, and I'm guessing the Giants really want it. That probably scratches a few starting pitchers off the wish list, guys like Hiroki Kuroda, AJ Burnett, Ervin Santana, all of whom will probably receive a qualifying offer from their current teams. Could there be enough non-QO'ed starters on the market for the Giants to have boosted their rotation without the profligate Lincecum contract? That's a parallel universe well beyond my powers of X-ray vision.

There was always the question whether Lincecum could soon enter his Eckersley Phase and become a super-weapon out of the bullpen. I think this contract answers that question. No one wants to pay $17 million for a relief experiment, even if it worked for a few games in the 2012 post-season. Barring injury, I think we'll be seeing Timmy in the rotation for two more years. I hope we all get our money's worth.

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