Tim Lincecum Rumors
For today's installment of MLBTR's Free Agent Faceoff series, we'll look at a couple of former aces, both 29-year-old righties, whose careers have followed a similar trajectory over the last few years: Tim Lincecum and Ubaldo Jimenez.
These guys were once expected to headline this year's free agent class. Over the 2009-10 seasons, Lincecum (11.7 fWAR) and Jimenez (12.1 fWAR) were among the ten most productive pitchers in the game. In 2011, they took a step back but were still solid: looking past their divergent ERA figures (2.74 for Lincecum; 4.68 for Jimenez), both posted fWAR tallies in the mid-3's. Last year, the wheels fell off. The two combined for just one win above replacement.
The 2013 season has seen partial resurrections for both pitchers. Certainly, neither will hit the market as an ace. But both bring high strikeout rates and durability to the table. Since 2008, neither hurler has failed to make at least thirty starts. Of course, that statistic also implies mileage: Lincecum has logged over 1400, and Jimenez just shy of 1300, career innings. But these one-time stars should generate a lot of interest in a pitching market largely bereft of top-level talent. Let's take a closer look:
At first glance, Lincecum's 2013 season looks like a marginal improvement on 2012, and in some ways it is: he is carrying just a 4.44 ERA in 190 2/3 innings, and his strikeouts are down (though so are his walks). On the other hand, Lincecum's year looks much better in the eyes of advanced metrics: his FIP (3.77), xFIP (3.57), and SIERA (3.75) are all better than his 2013 ERA as well as his 2012 marks. Broadly, Lincecum seems to have figured out how to be successful -- albeit not dominant -- with less overwhelming stuff. As Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com writes, Lincecum is a more mature pitcher now.
Though Lincecum's fastball velocity dipped in 2010, it took a more remarkable downturn between 2011 (92.2 MPH) and 2012 (90.4 MPH). Not coincidentally, perhaps, his offspeed offerings (slider, curve, change up) all registered negative pitch values last year. Lincecum's change, in particular, went from being his best pitch to his worst, as he was seemingly unable or unwilling to pound the zone low-and-away with the offering. He has apparently re-learned how to use his slow ball in 2013, to improved results. Though Lincecum no longer looks like a top-tier pitcher, he proved this season that he can still dial it up at times (as in his no-hitter) and, perhaps more importantly, that he should be a reliable rotation piece.
Likewise, Jimenez entered the year with real questions about whether or not he would continue to be a guy that a team felt comfortable trotting out every fifth day. As with Lincecum, he has in large part answered those questions. MLBTR's Steve Adams just profiled Jimenez, who is likely to exercise his right to void the $8MM club option that the Indians hold on him for 2014. As Adams noted, Jimenez has produced excellent results at the right time: he sports a 2.72 ERA and 2.31 K:BB ratio over his last 145 2/3 innings, and has restored his ground-ball rate to his career levels. Though advanced metrics do not quite support his cumulative 3.39 ERA on the year, neither do they undermine his usefulness: Jimenez sports a 3.62 FIP, 3.77 xFIP, and 3.88 SIERA.
Even moreso than Lincecum, Jimenez has dealt with a drastic velocity decline. His fastball, which once sat at 96, dropped to a 93.9 MPH average in 2011 and then fell off a table last year to 92.5 MPH. In reponse to his poor results in 2012, Jimenez made adjustments to his repertoire. He has continued to increase the usage of his change-up ever since his speed started to dip, and now throws it 20.2% of the time. More importantly, perhaps, Jimenez has largely abandoned his curve (3.7%) for his slider (22.3%), a big swing from his previous pitch mix. While I cannot make a full case for causation, the slider has the highest pitch value of any of Jimenez's offerings in 2013. Whatever the reason, Jimenez has restored his ability to generate swings and misses (8.8% SwStr% in 2013 vs. 7.0% in 2012), reduced his home run tendencies (0.85 vs. 1.27 HR/9), and restored his K:BB ratio to his prime levels (2.29 vs. 1.51 K:BB) while carrying a career-best 9.23 K/9.
Lincecum and Jimenez both have approximately the same age and arm mileage, and have posted similar underlying skill metrics in 2013. The Giants star has had greater highs and less-pronounced lows in his career than his counterpart in Cleveland, but in 2013 Jimenez actually increased his strikeout capabilities and outpaced Lincecum in fWAR (2.6 vs. 1.5). So, which one would you prefer your team target?
Famed Giants broadcaster Jon Miller sat down with Howard Megdal of Sports On Earth to discuss the team's disappointing campaign. He says that the team faces a whole new ballgame now that the long-time rival Dodgers are running a massive budget. San Francisco is somewhat hampered by its $20MM+ annual stadium payments, says Miller, who notes that "the cost of a superstar bat, or a superstar pitcher, has to go to the mortgage every year."
- Miller tells Megdal that he expects the Giants will try to bring back both of their top free agents, Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum.
- San Francisco has decided that it will extend qualifying offers to both Pence and Lincecum, reports CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman, with the expectation that neither will accept. Heyman reiterates that, as we learned a week back, San Francisco has decided to prioritize a long-term deal with Pence. That does not mean, he hastens to add, that the team is not interested in exploring a new contract with the popular Lincecum.
- Regarding Pence, Heyman says that the Giants "are believed to have signaled a willingness" to meet the four-year, $56MM that Nick Swisher recently received from the Indians. Heyman notes that Pence's representatives at BHSC could point to the Andre Ethier extension (five years, $85MM) or even the Jayson Werth deal (seven years, $126MM) to justify a higher asking price.
- Left-handed reliever Javier Lopez says he believes he will return to San Francisco, but knows that the team has other more pressing priorities, reports Chris Haft of MLB.com. "The front office and coaching staff are on the same page as far as my wanting to stay here," said the 36-year-old southpaw. "San Francisco is a beautiful place to play, and I love playing there. ... But there are a lot of spots that need to be filled before they get to me." Lopez earned $4.25MM this year, and threw 38 2/3 innings of 1.63 ERA baseball and registering a sturdy 8.1 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9. He has held lefties to a .154/.211/.225 line.
We just looked at the Diamondbacks' pending search for a power bat. Here are some more notes on the D-backs and their NL West rivals:
- As noted in my earlier post, the team's second-best power source this year has come from third baseman Eric Chavez, who has done a nice job on a one-year, $3MM deal. As Zach Buchanan of the Arizona Republic reports, the 35-year-old is interested in returning, and only wants a one-year deal since he isn't sure how long he'll want to keep going. GM Kevin Towers says that "there's still probably a need" for Chavez next year, and that the team could utilize his left-handed bat in a platoon with rookie Matt Davidson.
- Arizona also has some question marks at the back end of its bullpen, writes Steve Gilbert of MLB.com. The team owes $7MM to J.J. Putz and $6MM to Heath Bell (even after the Marlins pick up part of the tab) in 2014, but has used Brad Ziegler at closer of late. Ziegler earned $3.15MM this year, and should get a nice raise in his final year of arbitration after logging another 60+ inning, sub-3.00 ERA season while picking up double-digit saves. Though Arizona might wish to shed some of these obligations, only Ziegler seems like he would draw much interest.
- If Giants starter Tim Lincecum reaches the open market, he could be in a better position than one might expect, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle writes on Sulia. While teams used to worry about how Lincecum would perform when he lost velocity, says a Schulman source, they now know and may feel more comfortable making a long-term commitment. We heard yesterday that the Giants have opened negotiations on an extension with one soon-to-be free agent, Hunter Pence, but have yet to do so with Lincecum.
The Giants are in discussions with outfielder Hunter Pence regarding a contract extension, reports Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. This indicates that the team has real intentions of inking the Beverly Hills Sports Council client before he hits free agency, says Schulman, though he adds (via Twitter) that talks have been "minimal" to date. Meanwhile, the club has yet to begin talks with fellow free agent-to-be and BHSC client Tim Lincecum, Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com reports.
Both Pence and Lincecum were mentioned as trade deadline targets, though the team apparently decided it would be better served by making qualifying offers to the pair of pending free agents. (This year, the qualifying offer is expected to clock in at around $14MM.) At the time, ESPN's Jayson Stark also reported that the Giants were telling other teams that they intended to extend Pence.
Pence figures to earn a raise, over multiple years, on the $13.8MM he received this year, his final season of arbitration eligibility. In a market that features few high-end power bats, the 30-year-old's career .475 slugging percentage and six-year streak of twenty-plus long balls figures to play up. The durable, righty-swinging Pence has a .289/.340/.477 line in 624 plate appearances in 2013, and has also contributed a career-best 21 steals. As Schulman notes, Pence has said he does not intend to give the Giants a hometown discount, though he has expressed interest in sticking around. Of course, San Francisco can exercise additional leverage before the qualifying offer deadline by threatening to make Pence a QO, which would attach draft-pick compensation and lower his market value.
Unlike the short-time Giant Pence, Lincecum has long been a fixture at AT&T Park. Also unlike Pence, Lincecum told Baggarly that his agent recently told him there was nothing new to report on the contract front. The twice former Cy Young winner has been better than he was in 2012, but has yet to restore his former glory (or fastball velocity). If you believe in xFIP, though, things may look different, as Lincecum's 3.53 mark is substantially better than his 4.40 ERA over his 178 innings to date in 2013. He currently ranks sixth among baseball's top 34 free agent starters, per MLBTR's Tim Dierkes.
Giants stars Tim Lincecum, Hunter Pence and Javier Lopez all went on waivers Saturday and were quickly claimed by teams, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. However, someone familiar with the situation told Heyman that "none of them are going anywhere."
While the Giants could still trade any of the players, it appears that either the claiming teams were doing so in order to block trades or the Giants weren't really interested in trading any of the three. The Giants could save close to $8MM by dropping the pending free agents, but there's reason to believe that they were never eager to deal three players who have helped them win World Series titles. With Lincecum and Pence, the Giants have extra incentive to keep them as they plan to extend qualifying offers and collect draft picks if they go elsewhere.
Lincecum owns a 4.55 ERA with 9.4 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 but he is seen as someone who can help teams as a reliever or starter and one rival exec is confident that he's "better than a 4.5 ERA pitcher." The right-hander is owed $4.2MM for the remainder of the year. Pence, who makes about $2.8MM and Lopez, who is owed just $859K until the end, were locks to be claimed. At any rate, it appears that all three men will finish the season in San Francisco.
Let's take a look at the latest from FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal in this week's edition of Full Count:
- The Diamondbacks were the runner-up among teams vying to acquire Bud Norris from the Astros. The Snakes planned to keep Norris in the rotation for the remainder of the season, then shift him to the bullpen through the end of his contract, Rosenthal says, noting the team's wealth of young starting pitching and contracts for relievers Heath Bell and J.J. Putz that will expire after 2014. However, the Orioles were able to offer Houston the superior compensation pick.
- Tim Lincecum is pushing his free agent stock up with his recent run of strong starts, but the Giants haven't initiated contract talks yet with the hurler. An executive cited by Rosenthal pegged a potential deal for Lincecum in the three-year range with a $13MM-14MM annual salary. Though that initially appears high considering the right hander's poor performance last year and at the beginning of this one, the qualifying offer the Giants are likely to extend will probably be in the same $13MM-14MM range.
- Though the White Sox weren't able to find a taker for Alex Rios' contract before the deadline, Nelson Cruz's suspension changed the thinking in the Rangers' front office, according to Rosenthal. Texas was previously asking for significant cash back in any trade, while the Pirates weren't even interested enough to discuss specific names, Rosenthal reports. However, the Sox will likely eventually get infielder Leury Garcia from their deal with the Rangers, which could give them the flexibility to trade either second baseman Gordon Beckham or shortstop Alexei Ramirez.
- The dearth of hitters reaching the open market could have made Chase Utley quite popular in free agency. Rosenthal cites the Dodgers, Athletics and Orioles as potential suitors. The two years and $27MM of guaranteed salary that Utley received from the Phillies is comparable to guarantees that David Ortiz, Torii Hunter and Carlos Beltran got in free agency, Rosenthal notes.
The Giants will definitely move lefty reliever Javier Lopez, reports Joel Sherman of the New York Post. As for fellow impending free agents Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum, as reported yesterday, the Giants intend to make a qualifying offer to both after the season, but are willing to listen to trade offers now. The latest:
- The asking prices on Lopez and the Rockies' Josh Outman are said to be really high, tweets ESPN's Buster Olney.
- The Giants' interest in retaining Pence and Lincecum will clearly affect whether they're traded this summer. Assistant GM Bobby Evans noted to Sherman, "You have to be realistic that if you trade a guy, you are not going to be able to re-sign him. That is what history shows." In a general sense, Evans also said, "We will listen. And things change as the deadline gets closer. But I don’t see anyone overwhelming us to make deals happen."
10:33pm: The Tigers are among the many teams that have spoken to the Giants about Lopez, according to Danny Knobler of CBS Sports (on Twitter). Earlier tonight, Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports reported that the two sides have had trade discussions even after Detroit's acquisition of Jose Veras earlier today.
In a separate tweet, Knobler reports that Pence is available, though the price is very high. The Giants aren't likely to trade Lincecum, according to Knobler.
2:32pm: The Giants plan to make qualifying offers to Pence and Lincecum after the season, writes Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, leading one source to suggest their asking price is "very strong" on the pair.
1:22pm: The Giants have told other teams they'd rather re-sign Pence than trade him, according to ESPN's Jayson Stark.
10:53am: The Giants will entertain trade offers for veterans, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. He says that while the club would ideally like to keep potential free agents Tim Lincecum, Hunter Pence, and Javier Lopez, they feel they must listen to any reasonable proposal.
Lincecum, 29, has a 4.95 ERA in 313 regular season innings since dominating from 2008-11. This year, strikeouts are up and walks down, suggesting he could be a 3.50 ERA pitcher moving forward. With over $7MM remaining, his salary could be prohibitive for some clubs, and his ERA has bounced around in the mid to high-4.00s since May. A qualifying offer, which could cost $14MM, is a question mark at this point for the Giants if he stays, in my opinion.
Pence, 30, is hitting .277/.320/.457 in 440 plate appearances this year. He's hitting .259/.300/.401 since June 1st, and probably doesn't qualify as an impact bat even in a weak market. Rosenthal suggests he would receive a qualifying offer from the Giants after the season, so they'd be looking to top the value of a supplemental draft pick. Of course, the Giants have typically placed a lower value on such picks than most clubs. Pence has around $4.6MM remaining on his contract.
Lopez, 36, would be the easiest of the three to move. About 64% of the batters he's faced have been left-handed hitters, and he's dominated against them. The Braves and Indians seek left-handed relief. The Diamondbacks are in the market as well, though the division rivals haven't matched up on a trade since '05. The Giants would consider re-signing Lopez in the offseason, according to Jack Magruder of FOX Sports Arizona, but "indications are that Lopez would like to play closer to his Virginia home."
Steve Adams contributed to this post.
9:45pm: Lincecum's no-trade clause is likely to be a moot point, as general manager Brian Sabean said today on KNBR radio: "I find it hard to believe we'll see Timmy in another uniform this year" (via Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle on Twitter).
Lincecum told Schulman's colleague, John Shea, that he's not worried about trade talk, especially after Sabean's comments (Twitter link).
7:06pm: Tim Lincecum has a previously unreported limited no-trade clause in his contract that would allow him to block trades to eight teams, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The Red Sox and Tigers aren't on that list, he adds, alluding to a report from earlier in the week that the Tigers have interest in acquiring "The Freak" and converting him to a reliever.
A Tigers acquisition is a "major long shot," and one NL executive called the idea of a team acquiring Lincecum and converting him into a closer "far-fetched." Heyman adds that Lincecum likely wouldn't be happy about the move anyway. He prefers to start, and because he's just over two months away from hitting the open market for the first time, a move to the bullpen may reduce his free agent value.
The 29-year-old Lincecum has a 4.26 ERA with 9.7 K/9, 3.7 BB/9 and a 46.2 percent ground-ball rate in 116 1/3 innings this season. He's in the final season of a two-year, $40.5MM contract he signed with the Giants to avoid arbitration prior to the 2012 campaign. He's lost significant life on his fastball and seen his command worsen in that time, leading to results that look more like a fourth or fifth starter than a two-time Cy Young winner.
Several teams, including the Tigers, have interest in acquiring Tim Lincecum from the Giants but as a relief pitcher instead of a starter, FOX Sports' Jon Paul Morosi reports. Lincecum has only made one regular season relief appearance in his seven-year Major League career, but he allowed just one run over 13 relief innings during the Giants' postseason run last October. Though Lincecum returned to the San Francisco rotation this year, Morosi notes that he may eventually be tabbed for a bullpen role in the future.
The Tigers have been looking for an answer at closer all season, and while Joaquin Benoit has pitched well in the role as of late, Lincecum could be a game-changing addition at the back of the Detroit bullpen (or, Benoit could remain as closer as Lincecum could simply be used for other important relief situations). It would be a somewhat difficult trade to negotiate for the Tigers or any team that wished to use Lincecum out of the pen, given that the Giants would likely still be looking for a return befitting that of a solid starting pitcher.
As Morosi writes, the Giants may want to keep Lincecum given that they're still on the outskirts of the NL West race. The World Series champs might be loath to deal Lincecum given that they're already known to be looking for starting pitching help and recently came up short in a bid to acquire Ricky Nolasco. On the other hand, Lincecum is a free agent this winter and is owed $10.2MM for the remainder of the 2013 season, so if the Giants decided to become sellers, moving Lincecum's salary would be a key move as the club reloads for 2014.
I wrote back in February that Lincecum's upcoming free agency made this a make or break year for the two-time Cy Young Award winner, and to this point, Lincecum has showed signs that his disappointing 2012 campaign may have been an aberration. Lincecum has a posted a 9.71 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9 over 19 starts, the best of which was a no-hitter against the Padres on Saturday. Lincecum has been hurt by some bad luck in the form of a .312 BABIP and 67.4% strand rate --- his advanced metrics (3.34 FIP, 3.25 xFIP, 3.54 SIERA) indicate that his 4.26 ERA should be lower. As I recently noted on MLBTR's sister fantasy site Roto Authority, Lincecum was a good buy-low candidate for your fantasy league, though the no-hitter has likely upped his value.