It's no secret: the Twins are going to be in the market for starting pitching this offseason. In the Offseason Handbook
, you'll find a comprehensive list of free agents at the position, along with brief writeups and contract estimates. Here on Twins Daily, we'll take five members of the FA pitching crop that may be of particular interest to the Twins and dive in with a little more depth. Today we start the series with Tim Lincecum.
Also known as The Freak, Lincecum came up with the Giants in 2007 and almost immediately emerged as one of the best pitchers in baseball. In 2008, his second MLB season, he won the NL Cy Young by going 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA and league-leading 265 strikeouts. He followed up with another Cy Young in 2009, when he went 15-7 with a 2.48 ERA and once again led the league in strikeouts.
His initial success enabled Lincecum to rapidly reach big paydays. In his third season, he qualified for arbitration as a Super 2 and earned $9 million. His salary continued to escalate over the next three years and this season he made $22 million. However, while his income rose, his performance declined. In 2012 Lincecum posted a 5.18 ERA and led the NL in losses with 15. This year he rebounded to some extent but was still well below average, going 10-14 with a 4.37 ERA while his K/9 rate dropped to a career-low 8.8.
Lincecum's name still looms large, but he has experienced worrisome decline as he's aged into his late 20s, with his average fastball velocity dropping from 94 MPH in 2008 to 90 MPH in 2013.
Why Does He Fit?
Even though his results weren't great this year, Lincecum still piled up strikeouts at a solid rate, averaging nearly one per inning and fanning eight or more hitters on 10 occasions (a feat that, of course, no Twins starter managed all season long). If the Twins are serious about reversing their severe Vitamin K deficiency, Lincecum would be a natural target.
Adding to Lincecum's appeal is his relatively low stock. Acquiring a former Cy Young winner under the age of 30 would normally require a massive long-term deal, but the right-hander's regression in the past two seasons will likely scare many suitors away from taking a huge plunge. For his part, Lincecum may be inclined to settle into Target Field for a year or two with the hopes of reestablishing his value. For what it's worth, his xFIP marks in the past two seasons have been 3.82 and 3.56, so the underlying peripherals suggest that -- while he's not the same guy he once was -- he's a better pitcher than his recent results show.
Why Doesn't He Fit?
It's difficult to trust a guy who has posted a 4.76 ERA over the past two seasons while his velocity and strikeout rates have continued to drop. Lincecum exhibits many signs of a guy who isn't fully functional. Has his arm simply worn down after being put through more than 1,000 innings of work in his first five seasons?
That doesn't sound like the kind of player you want to be making a sizable investment in; then again, Lincecum has been incredibly durable up to this point, making 32-plus starts in each of the past six seasons. That's something the Twins value highly.
What Will He Cost?
Lincecum is a tough one to figure out. In the Handbook, we project that the righty will require four years and $64 million to lock up, but it's not hard to see the cost being significantly higher or lower.
It all comes down to a couple key questions. Will general managers around the league focus more on his track record and age, or his declining performance and velocity? Will Lincecum himself be shopping around for the biggest possible offer, or will he opt instead for a short-term deal with the hopes of rebounding and boosting his marketability?
Whatever the case, given that Lincecum leads all major-league pitchers in strikeouts since his first full season in 2008 and doesn't figure to be exorbitantly expensive, he should certainly draw some interest from the game's most K-starved franchise.