Freaky Styley: Time for Timmy?
Once upon a time, he was the face of pitching. His long, black hair flowing from underneath the black and orange cap, along with the angular features, sideways glare and “cool” persona made him a noted personality, not just locally, but across the nation. His fastball-sinker-slider-splitter combination netted him TWO Cy Young Awards – back-to-back. He earned a spot as the cover player on the 2K Sports: Major League Baseball 2K9 video game. He has two no-hitters – back-to-back conquerings of the San Diego Padres. He’s 5’11”, 170 pounds of wiry, herky-jerky, slightly-angled-with-his-back-to-you delivery. He is a four-time All-Star, three-time World Series champion, a workhorse with a .565 Winning Percentage who has made just under $100 million in his 8-year career, coming into this, his age 32-year.
He’s “The Freak” Tim Lincecum, and it’s not outside of the realm of possibility that he could be wearing number 55 for your Texas Rangers.
The spectacle surrounding the return of the Washington State native is somewhat bewildering. Coming off of a season where he started only fifteen games before being sidelined with a degenerative hip injury and ultimately succumbing to season-ending surgery, the free agent Lincecum announced early on in the off-season that he would be hosting a showcase in January for prospective teams.
That showcase was delayed all the way up until this fateful May 6th, 2016. Why the delay? Was it a setback? Did he re-injure the hip? Did he injure something else? Was he wrapped up in this sudden P.E.D. hunt? MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, who spoke to The Freak on the phone, had the answer: “My delivery’s not that simple.”
Well, if it took five months to perfect his already quirky delivery, this had better be spectacular, yes? More from Heyman’s Facebook page:
“That means physically — his hip reconstruction by noted specialist Marc Philippon, MD Managing Partner of the Steadman Clinic, has been deemed a success — but also psychologically, as he enters the next chapter of his storied career. As his dad and pitching guru Chris Lincecum has said, they didn’t spend the last 14 weeks in Phoenix preparing for a run-of-the-mill tryout but rather the rest of a wonderful career of a pitching phenom who is only 31.”
All of that equates to what we will see on Friday. Yes, I use “we,” as in you and me, instead of representing the Rangers organization, because, instead of just reports out of Arizona, MLB Network will be in attendance with a film crew, as will ESPN with the intent of taping the piece for later showing, and Comcast wants to have the event narrated by a former Giant. It has all the pomp and circumstance of the NFL Combine, except nobody has to ask questions about what weapon The Freak would use if he was going to murder someone. As far as personality goes, everyone knows what they’re going to get in Tim Lincecum. That’s not what they’re there to see.
They, by the way, are the Texas Rangers and at least twenty (20)(!) other Major League teams, including the Angels, Athletics, Padres, Pirates, Tigers. Lincecum’s preference, as has been noted several times, is to pitch on the West Coast. He loves San Francisco (who will obviously be at the showcase) and is from Washington. But what have we learned attracts most free agents before considering location? A) Money, B) Championships, C) Role. You can switch A and B as you see fit.
Let’s talk about C, quick. The Rangers, who live by the mantra of “You can never have enough starting pitching,” are faced with this little conundrum:
Rangers considering temporary 6 man rotation even before Darvish’s return: https://t.co/XH5JY00T6v
— Evan Grant (@Evan_P_Grant) April 30, 2016
It would appear, on the surface, that there is no space for Lincecum in the Rangers’ rotation. Understand this: with this much attention and this many teams involved, Timmy isn’t settling for either a Minor League contract or a “chance” at a rotation spot. His preference is to start, but Lincecum has had experience from out of the bullpen, albeit with less than desirable results. In eight relief appearances, totaling fifteen innings, The Freak may have a 3-0 record, but sports a 4.80 ERA, 1.400 WHIP, and just 4.8 K/BB. In the 2012 Postseason, however, Lincecum pitched five of six games out of the pen, thirteen innings, and allowed one run, three hits, and two walks while striking out seventeen. That – the Power Long Reliever – is what the majority of teams will be looking for from Lincecum. For the Rangers, that kind of durability, assuming he is, in fact, healthy, could be invaluable.
Thus far, Rangers’ relievers have thrown 80 innings in 28 games. Shouldering the majority of that burden have been of Tony Barnette, Sam Dyson, Tom Wilhelmsen, Jake Diekman, and Shawn Tolleson. On one hand, it’s great that those are the relievers you’re using. It means you’ve had a chance to win a ballgame more often than not. On the other hand, night after night, using at least one of the above in every single game, sometimes on back-to-back nights, that is putting a lot of demand on a bullpen that the organization wanted to demand less from this season. The result? A bullpen with the worst ERA in the American League, 4.95, leading the League in runs allowed, total bases, home runs…you get the picture.
If you go by the previous paragraph plus one sentence alone, you bring in Tim Lincecum. Playing Devil’s Advocate, however, that’s presumably why you brought in Wilhelmsen and Barnette – to lengthen the lineup, so to speak, of the bullpen and give you a ton of options with which to work. In the first month, maybe it hasn’t worked out exactly as Jon Daniels drew it up. What’s one more option?
We can talk about price, quickly. The ownership group, while seemingly stingy, has been known to open up the coffers if the Rangers’ esteemed General Manager can present a convincing case that the player in question is going to be a huge part of a winning lineup. That’s why Ian Desmond is here. That’s why Adrian Beltre got his contract extension. Throw down the “Small Sample Size” card all you want, but I’ll throw down the card that says, “You can’t win the division in April/May, but you can certainly lose it.” Can Tim Lincecum turn those bullpen losses (eight of those, so far, by the way) into wins or at least holds? That’s why you play the games, but doesn’t it stand to reason that The Freak, right now, makes for a more attractive option than The Bartender? Or at least a high-leverage arm to rest The Gunslingers (I made up the nickname, but Diekman and Dyson)? I, personally, believe that Daniels can do a pretty good job persuading the team owners that Lincecum can, indeed, be a winning piece.
At what price, however, will Lincecum begin to pitch in Major League games? What dollar amount is too high? Will he seek a multi-year deal? At this point in the season, can The Freak command a lofty price tag? I was about to write that yes, he could, but Lincecum hasn’t gone through Spring Training yet. His Friday Showcase will not be in a game situation. It’s not as if whatever team signs him will throw him into the pen on Saturday. Realistically, you’re looking at a half-season of Lincecum. Can you land him for $1 million? $2 million? I wouldn’t go higher than $3 million – and that’s as a starter. For the Rangers, I don’t seem them going beyond this year (without a team option or incentive-based structuring) for more than $1.5 million.
Is that enough to bring The Freak into the fold? The Rangers certainly offer a fair shot at winning a championship. They boast one of the best infield defenses in the game and several rising stars both at the Major and Minor League levels. The organization had expressed serious interest back when his showcase was going to be in January. It seems like it would be a decent hook-up.
The pieces are there, the motives are set, but will the Rangers pull the trigger on a pretty savvy baseball player?
They’ll have a ton of teams to fight for his services, but the Rangers, as we’ve seen, can be pretty sneaky.