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.