Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Lincecum’s pending Free Agency; what’s he worth?


What would you pay Lincecum in 2014?  Photo via SD Dirk flickr via wikipedia

What would you pay Lincecum in 2014? Photo via SD Dirk flickr via wikipedia

An interesting question was posed in an ESPN chat a while ago that I made a note on to come back to.

Should the Giants offer Tim Lincecum a qualifying offer, or just cut him loose without any compensation ties this coming off season?  And a better question: if you were a GM looking for pitching this coming off-season, what would you offer him?

First some stats.  Lincecum is in the last year of a 2yr/$40.5M deal signed to avoid his last two years of arbitration.  This is on the heels of a 2yr/$23M deal that took out his first two years of arbitration.  He’s already north of $60M in career earnings before hitting his first pure free agent contract.  But he’s at a cross-roads.

Take a look at the progression of his career stat-wise: 2 straight Cy Youngs before even hitting his first year of arbitration (which, if you remember, was a Super-2 year because the Giants apparently cannot read a calendar; this little snafu cost them probably $20M in salary).  He went from an ERA+ of 171 in 2010 to last year’s bottoming out season, where he posted a 68 ERA+, a 5.18 ERA and was pulled from the rotation in favor of Barry Zito (an insult to end all insults) in the playoffs.

Garrett Hooe at FederalBaseball just posted a great analysis as well, including insight into Lincecum’s breakdown of mechanics, his velocity loss and other things.  His analysis is great; no need to replicate it here.

In 2013 he’s regained some of his performance but not enough; he’s still pitching like a 5th/6th starter.  His month-by-month splits give no help: he was decent to good in April, awful in May, decent to good in June, mediocre in July and so far has been lights out in August.  The offensively-challenged Nats just tagged him for 6 runs in 6 innings en route to his 12th loss of the season.

Overall, his velocity is down, he has weird mechanics, and he’s clearly deviating from those weird mechanics as of late.  What GM out there is willing to give him a shot, given those two parameters?  Probably more than a few frankly, given his pedigree, but at what cost?

The answer to the second question (what is his value on the FA market) drives the answer to the first question (whether to offer him a QO).   I went looking for some comparisons from last year’s FA market to try to estimate what his market may be this coming off season and found the following data points of interest:

  • Freddie Garcia pitched to an 80 ERA+ (matching Lincecum’s in 2013) but had a 5.18 ERA in New York.  He’s also older (35 versus 29).  He signed a combo minor/major league deal that pays him $1.3M this year.
  • Dan Haren had an 89 ERA+, as 12-13 record with a 4.33 ERA last year and signed a one-year, $13M deal with the Nats.    But he was a near Cy Young winner just two years prior and was hurt most of 2012 (that was what we kept telling ourselves when we all talked ourselves into this signing anyway).
  • Jorge de la Rosa, coming off a lost season to injury but a great 2011, signed a 1 year $11M deal.
  • Joe Saunders pitched to a 101 ERA+ between two teams, is slightly older and is almost the definition of a MLB average pitcher (career ERA+: exactly 100.  career ERA: 4.20).  He signed a 1yr $6.5M deal with Seattle.
  • Speaking of MLB average guys; Gavin Floyd also owns a career ERA+ of 100, and had exactly that for the White Sox in 2012.  His contract?  1yr, $9.5M.
  • Jason Marquis was awful last year; 8-11 with a 5.22 ERA and a 72 ERA+.  He got a 1year $3M deal to come back to San Diego and regain value.  Fun fact: Marquis is a career 94 ERA+ pitcher, has a career ERA over 4.50, has a CAREER bWAR of 5.5 (that’s about half of what Mike Trout had in bWAR just last season) and yet has more than $50 million in career earnings.  Wow.  I’m in the wrong business.
  • Joe Blanton was pretty awful for two teams in 2012, going 10-15 with a 4.71 ERA, yet somehow earned a 2yr/$15M contract extension from the Angels.  Blanton, by the way, is 2-13 this year.  I’m not sure how exactly Blanton got anything more than a couple million dollars, to say nothing of a 2 year contract.  I question the sanity of the Angels management.

Ok.  So using these examples from last year’s FA market … uh, I have no idea what Lincucum is worth.  I’d say he’s better than Blanton, so that mean’s he’s better than $7.5M/year.   But that was such an awful contract that I don’t see how you can use it as a benchmark. Meanwhile, if Gavin Floyd’s consistency year over year is  worth $9.5M, then how do you value the possible jeckyl and hyde that you’re going to get from Lincecum?

If I was a GM, looking at his body of work and his last two seasons, I probably would end up somewhere between Floyd’s $9.5M and de la Rosa’s $11M on a one-year deal.  As they say, there are no bad one-year deals, and if it goes south its just money.  1year, $10M on a career-saving flier taken by some NL team out there willing to roll the dice and spend some cash.

Probably not the Nationals though, not after the Haren experience and considering what Taylor Jordan has given the team in a 5th starter role this year.  You’d have to think Mike Rizzo heads into the off-season with his 3 big guns under contract, his 4th guy Ross Detwiler on the mend, with Jordan penciled into the 5th starter and with the likes of Nathan Karns, Taylor Hill, and Caleb Clay providing the first line of reinforcements in AAA.

So I predict the Giants will not offer him a qualifying offer, thus cutting ties with one of their most iconic players in the last 25 years.  It will be a sad time in San Francisco head-shops everywhere.

20 Responses to 'Lincecum’s pending Free Agency; what’s he worth?'

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  1. Agree with no Q.O. he seems like the perfect guy for a $5m base with incentives. That being said, the QO also takes into account some gamesmanship on whether the player would accept it, and I have no idea how to handicap that.

    Maybe think about a team offering a contract with the floor of a quality reliever and incentives in case he produces as a starter?

    That Marquis stat is amazing. He should be waling around constantly in a good mood.


    15 Aug 13 at 2:43 pm

  2. “Maybe think about a team offering a contract with the floor of a quality reliever and incentives in case he produces as a starter?”

    You know, this could be a good idea for the Nats, if he finds his market really down. 2yr, $10m with a ton of incentives for innings pitched, so that if he makes 30 starts, he gets $10-12m? It could be nice potential SP depth hedge, while he should be a lights out guy in the back end as a fallback. Something to think about, but I am guessing that he doesn’t want to play on the east coast.


    15 Aug 13 at 2:46 pm

  3. “Maybe think about a team offering a contract with the floor of a quality reliever and incentives in case he produces as a starter?”

    This could be interesting for us, actually. 2 yr/$10m base, with enough incentives on innings pitched (or maybe GS?) so that if makes 30 starts, he gets paid $12m or so. And if he doesn’t, he should be lights out at the back of the bullpen.

    Probably doesn’t get done unless his market dries up (or there is a comp pick attached).


    15 Aug 13 at 2:49 pm

  4. I think an incentive-laden contract may be what he ends up getting no matter where he goes. I think he gets more than $5M base though (look no further than the Blanton or Floyd contracts).

    Not too many west coast teams to choose from though. SF presumably out (can you sign a guy who declines a Q.O.? that’s an interesting question). Oakland won’t pony up that kind of money, S.D. is cheap, Arizona is in prospect-promotion mode, Colorado is rebuilding. Maybe Seattle, maybe one of the LA teams (god knows the Angels need pitching and have plenty of cash).

    Todd Boss

    15 Aug 13 at 3:57 pm

  5. Don’t forget Roark and Ohlendorf. Both will get opportunities to be the fifth starter for an entire month. And if Haren gets traded, and I feel he will, or the others falter, even Clay can get a shot.

    Karns cannot even dominate AA. He may prove to be the best of the lot, but he has too far to go to open 2014 as #5 and beat out all of the others, except Taylor Hill.

    It’s nice to see that the farm system has matured enough that we no longer have to pick up the likes of Jackson-Haren. Of course, we may also be looking at the bundling of some parts, selling higher, to a team with a Gio-type trade chip.

    Using September to set that up is smart executive work. Lots of candidates fit that bill, from Walters to Moore to Corey Brown to the aforementioned pitchers. Though count me in the Tyler Moore corner. I still believe in Country, just hope he gets his chance.


    16 Aug 13 at 2:38 am

  6. Forensicane- you seem to follow the minors pretty well. What is your take on Billy Burns? Having a good season, but is kind of old. Kind of a Juan Pierre type.

    Any major league potential, or just a 4/5th OF type?


    16 Aug 13 at 9:28 am

  7. My opinion on Ohlendorf is simply this: he’s lucky to have a MLB job right now. His record as a starter speaks for itself; ERA’s of 8.15 and 8.10 in 2011 and 2012 (the 8.10 is his starter only split in 2012). I don’t have any idea why he’s suddenly become a decent swing man in 2013: maybe its the new wind-up.

    Roark is a different story; I’m glad he’s on the big-lead team and so far he’s been great. Small sample size no doubt. But honestly every team needs guys like these; fungible back of the bullpen guys who can throw 1/3 to 6 innings at a moment’s notice.

    I’d love to see Haren get traded (he did pass through waivers) to do exactly as you say; open up a spot so the team can do some experimenting. Caleb Clay is a great story for this team too.

    Todd Boss

    16 Aug 13 at 9:29 am

  8. I am neither a scout nor watch the teams play, and so like many, I am handicapped by stats, which makes my opinion unqualified. I do my research, though, and so I may read things a bit differently.

    So with that said, Burns is the best speed prospect in the Nats system, including Kobernus. Kobernus is having a great year and is versatile and with his path blocked by Lombo and Walters, becomes a real trade chip in a package.

    I am one of those people who does not necessarily value “speed.” What does a person do with that speed? I am big on Burns, though, for lots of reasons.

    1) At some point, a person’s stolen base ability is so disruptive that a walk is as good as a double — or more. And then it affects the game. Of course, one has to be able to get on base, which means take a walk. Burns gets on base a lot. He is not a 40 SB guy; he is a 70 SB guy.

    Eury Perez, young as he is, walks seldom. His stolen base totals have declined steadily. Is he injured? Can’t say. I actually have Eury Perez rated #9 on my Nats list (because of his defense, stolen base potential, and apparent newfound power and at such a young age).

    2) Burns got promoted to AA, which is supposed to be the hardest jump, and he did not miss a beat with his batting average and batting eye. And he is playing on a team with an anemic offense in the middle of a pennant race that is winning. And he is batting leadoff. I am a fan of the prospects of players who carry their improvements (and sustain them once the new league gets a read on them).

    3) The guy came out of a small college and drafted in over the 30th round and is hitting over .300 in AA. He took up switch hitting. He is a guy who obviously will grind away to be successful. How can you not believe in that kind of toughness from a person that small (unless he has less production, and plays only 2B, like Tony Renda, whom I do not rank).

    4) Burns is only two years out of school, and went to a small college. In my estimation, he is still learning the game from better teachers. I don’t care how old he is in that respect; Blake Treinen is another one of those guys whose trajectory will only heighten with his years in learning the fine points.

    So my untrained formula – high level skills, health (particularly important in ranking pitchers), sustainable production as they cross levels, tenacity and the measure of a person’s character (to which we are all dependent upon media features).

    So with that, I have him at #18.

    Burns is not a power bat, as we all know. If he is a 300+ hitter in AAA, where he may be as early as 2014 if he establishes himself this year, he will find a job somewhere, someday, and we all can agree he won;t stop trying.


    16 Aug 13 at 10:13 am

  9. I think these three stats really impress me about Burns.
    1. K/BB ratio; he has more walks than strikeouts, and only strikes out about 10% of the time.
    2. SB/CS ratio: 51 to 5 in high-A? wow.
    3. OBP: career .419 ?

    Honestly I had never really paid much attention to him. I tend to follow the pitchers more than the position players.

    Todd Boss

    16 Aug 13 at 10:23 am

  10. Todd, right-o on Burns.

    And again, this is why (speaking of pitchers), I rate a guy like Richie Mirowski. Bottom of the draft pick, and from a small school. Ever since he got into the system, all he does is strike guys out, and give up few hits, win close games, and have a low ERA. Now he is in AA, doing the same thing (although in A+ he got a bit of homeritis as a closer). SO he’s not a sexy high draft pick. Who cares? He obviously keeps delivering and has something. I never hear any of the Sickels, etc. folks call his name, but the Nats know who he is, because he keeps getting promoted. And I have him at #21.

    As for Burns. with that kind of SB ratio this early in his career before getting the kind of tutelage in the finishing schools the Nats provide for their top of the top? Fuggetabout it. And he is still stealing bases in AA with no protection in the lineup right now.

    If he EVER makes it to the bigs with healthy legs, he’ll put fannies in the seats. People like that are fun to watch, and their teams win.

    And yes, that BB/K ratio shows MATURITY. That’s part of what gets you over the hump. We’ve seen plenty of examples of how superior talent requires maturity. If he already has it….


    16 Aug 13 at 10:41 am

  11. It is so unheard of to see guys drafted after the 10th round to make it, its great to see it when it happens. had a “prime 9” devoted to it and came up with guys like Mark Buehrle, Kenny Rogers, Orlando Hudson and of course Mike Piazza. A guy like Steve Lombardozzi for us right now is a great example. Look at our starting 9 and starting rotation right now:
    – Rotation: 3 #1s and 2 #2 picks (replacing Detwiler for 9th rounder Taylor Jordan)
    – INfield: two #1s, a #2, a #3 and Adam Laroche, drafted i the 29th round (that’s impressive)
    – OUtfield: all three starters #1 round picks.

    Burns may very well find himself in AAA putting up those same numbers and could be talked about as a 4th outfielder for the big club in 2015. Seems like 2014 may be a bit early. He needs to put himself ahead of Perez,Brown and Goodwin in that pecking order.

    Todd Boss

    16 Aug 13 at 1:35 pm

  12. Agreed on the above — though the Corey Brown situation will be resolved by this spring next year. He will either be with the Nats ML or in another organization. I can’t see him going back to AAA in this organization. And I am a fan of his — I think his numbers are lower this year because of injuries. But he is a damn streaky hitter and has to grow out of that.

    As for Eury Perez, Perez is young, but as bad as Bernadina’s bat has been, Perez was never brought up to replace him. That’s because Bernadina has the promise of big pinch hits, has shown power, and Davey will not bring up a young player to sit on the bench.

    I think if the Nats trade Span, it opens up a door for Eury in September (and others later). And I think they should sell Span now while they can, especially with others behind them. They’ll never sign him for 2015, so why wait? Unless they think he’ll hit .330 next year. So if the Nats do not trade Span, Eury may be headed elsewhere, especially if Goodwin is ready for AAA and heads up the ladder with Souza.

    I am a big Steven Souza fan. Call me crazy, but he’s my #3 in the Nats system right now. He hits for power, average, can take a walk, plays great,aggressive defense and can play CF, and has a cannon arm. Five tool threat and when healthy, he dominates games. I have been following him through the writing of the Harrisburg beat writers, which is serious. THAT’s a guy I can’t see Burns passing (unless Burns is 4th OF material).

    As for Goodwin, yes, he’s my #2 in the Nats system, but only because he’s a couple of years younger than Souza. He has not yet proven he’s ready for AAA,even as an AA All-Star.

    So yes, age at level means something to me, but in the reverse — I will rate guys who are younger and producing at higher levels higher prospects. (which is why I would put Robbie Ray #1 and AJ Cole #4.

    Souza appears to be a monster, though late bloomer he is. I’d love to see a Nats OF with him and Werth. Maybe I just dig the long ball.


    16 Aug 13 at 1:52 pm

  13. I think Brown leaves. He’s at least 6th on the depth chart now (Werth, Harper, Span, Bernadina, Moore and Kobernus ahead of him), and he’s just not going to get a shot here. And that wasn’t counting Perez, who probably in a pinch would get called up before Brown.

    I just don’t see a Span trade happening. I view it as wishful thinking. Who is taking him right now? Who wants to take on his salary for what you’re getting offensively ($6.5M next year, 500k buyout on a $9M 2015 option)? PLus there’s this: Trading Span means that Rizzo has to eat a lot of ego. He gave up a lot (our best SP prospect) to get him, he coveted Span for years. Rizzo wants track stars at every position. I just don’t see him moving.

    Souza #3 in the whole system? That’s crazy. He’s going to be a minor league free agent this coming off-season. 7 years in the system. Old for the level. I dunno.

    I think my top 10 goes something like this: Giolito, Karns, Cole, Goodwin, Skole, Ray, Solis, Purke, Johansen and Garcia. Next group probably includes (in no particular order): Hill, Davis, Barrett, Holland, Mooneyham, Walters, Marrero, Ward, Perez, Taylor, Kobernus, Hood, Leon and Solano. And i struggle to put some of those guys in that 2nd group frankly.

    Todd Boss

    16 Aug 13 at 2:27 pm

  14. OK, we’ll make a gentleman’s bet on Souza.

    And a gentleman’s bet on our top 20’s. We could have an Arms Race pool.

    Here is my top 20 (Jordan, Rendon, and Krol graduated and not looking back)

    Robbie Ray A+-AA
    Brian Goodwin AA
    Steven Souza AA
    A.J. Cole A+ – AA
    Tanner Roark AAA-M

    Aaron Barrett AA
    Christian Garcia AAA
    Zach Walters AAA
    Eury Perez AAA
    Drew Ward R

    Caleb Clay AA-AAA
    Jeff Kobernus AAA
    Nathan Karns AA
    Taylor Hill A+-AA-AAA
    Luke Giolito R

    Gilberto Mendez A-
    Corey Brown AAA
    Billy Burns A+-AA
    Adrian Nieto A+
    Blake Schwartz A-A+

    OK, I’m a fool, but this is my opinion, and that’s that.

    I know everyone is breathless over Giolito, but we don’t even know that he is recovered yet. He is pitching rookie league. Same for Purke and Solis. Same for Skole (I still remember Cliff Floyd). Same for Garcia, or he’d be higher.

    Leon, Solano, and Hood are not in my top 50.

    Anyway, so I’m crazy. We’ll see 🙂


    16 Aug 13 at 4:04 pm

  15. I’ll completely admit that prospect lists are a lot of fools gold sometimes. I think by necessity these lists are a combination of two factors:
    – raw talent
    – likelihood of actually contributing at the MLB level.

    So for me, that’s why guys like Garcia and Karns stay high; we’ve seen they can get to the bigs. Garcia when healthy is scary good, but his health clearly is a significant factor. Giolito has just oodles of raw talent. There’s a reason he was being considered for 1-1 in his draft. You just don’t find that many guys who throw 70-75 grade fastballs. So yeah, he’s coming off injury (and trust me, I was not a fan of the pick …thinking that we should have taken a known quantity at the time). but he looks good in an age-appropriate league. Bigger test will be next year in low-A, when he’ll be very young and see if he can hack it.

    Todd Boss

    16 Aug 13 at 4:19 pm

  16. I love Garcia (why I have him so high). But he isn’t even rehabbing. He is just shut down, period.I wonder where his head is (hopefully in starting!)

    As for Giolito and others, let them start dominating and they will move on up.

    That Karns was not the one to advance up the ladder, but Clay and (Hill and) Jordan were, says a bit. Not on potential, but on whee he is now. They are always talking about command with him. He has not shown the sustained dominance he did at A+. With that said, I expect him to be at AAA any day now. Maybe when Treinen comes back.

    I know Hill isn’t sexy, but the guy has pitched at three levels already. That deserves some acknowledgment.

    Also, I know Johanssen was the hgher pick, but look at Voth’s bb/k. He apparently throws with more velocity than expected, too.


    16 Aug 13 at 4:39 pm

  17. So I redid my list tonight, as it looks like Roark is up for good like Jordan, Krol, Rendon.

    Have to add to this discussion that boy are Johansen and Voth impressive at Auburn. The team suck and its defense is awful. But the numbers they are putting up are eye popping. Hopefully either pr both will be promoted, but they belong in the Nats top-20 for now.

    Everyone has a woodie for Giolito, but those two are every bit as worth watching right now.

    Johansen with poor college numbers, had to wonder what the front office fuss was about with him. Well, I guess they were right.

    In that vein, Bret Mooneyham is another such player. His Stanford numbers were never that amazing, but the Nats drafted him twice and then drafted him high. He is finally healthy and putting in work. He is dominating at A in a way that never appeared in college, and hopefully will take his act to Potomac in time to help their playoff run.


    18 Aug 13 at 1:34 am

  18. Boy I just don’t know what to think about Roark right now. 4 innings of one-run ball against a very good offense, in Atlanta last night. Is it possible he just needed this chance, or are we still seeing small sample sizes? One thing is clear; he works the corners, isn’t afraid to go inside, has great command of his pitches. Now if he would just get a haircut 🙂

    I think the reason you have to give Giolito upper-tier prospect credence is exactly because of his draft status. If I made a list of the best 20 or so pitchers in the league, a huge percentage of them were 1st round picks. In fact, I think i did this research once in the past. Yup; March 2011. At the time 12 of the top 20 pitchers in the league were 1st round picks, another 4 were IFAs who may have had just a good of a chance of also being 1st rounders if they were eligible for the rule 4 draft. Of the remaining 4, only one was a true longshot (even Roy Oswalt in the 23rd round has a back story to it; i think he was either injured or the draft rules allowed him to go all the way to the next draft before signing, so it was like a draft-and-follow).

    Mooneyham so far for me is a disappointment. A 2nd round college draftee needs to be further along than he is by this point. He’s too old and too accomplished to take his low-A numbers as any sort of positive.

    Todd Boss

    18 Aug 13 at 12:28 pm

  19. Todd – I’m way late to this, but thank you for the kind words. And very well-written analysis on Lincecum’s value; there are plenty of “unique” things about baseball and baseball happenings each year, but I think Timmy is pretty notable for the reasons you mention.


    7 Sep 13 at 9:18 pm

  20. Its funny how blogging goes sometimes; i was mid-way through writing that post, hit my RSS feed and you had written the same things I was going to research 🙂

    Todd Boss

    8 Sep 13 at 12:20 pm

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