Sunday, November 6, 2011

0 comments No, Do Not Trade Tim Lincecum

Jon Paul Morosi is thinking outside-the-box on how to improve the San Francisco Giants. I normally like out-of-the-box thinking, but I'm not sure about this one. See, they didn't win the World Series this year so it is time to break them up. His solution? Trade Tim Lincecum. I really do appreciate out-of-the-box thinking, but trading an ace and then spending the money on high priced hitters just doesn't seem like best move to me.

At this time last year, the baseball industry was raving about the San Francisco rotation. After going more than a half-century between titles, the Giants had the pitching to win multiple championships.

And the Giants didn't win the championship this year. Time to tear them down and rebuild!

But young starters are rarely as perfect as they seem. They get older. They get more expensive.

Very, very good young starters turn into very, very good older starters who still have value though. Granted, they get more expensive. That's just part of having a good starter on the roster, the idea you will have to pay that starter more money on an annual basis in the future. Lincecum doesn't appear to be declining, and while I do understand the idea that he will get more and more expensive to keep around, I just don't know if trading Lincecum for prospects helps the Giants win more championships now while the other Giants starters are still young as well.

Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Ryan Vogelsong are on pace to become free agents after the 2012 season; Lincecum is up the year after that. Meanwhile, an offense that scored the fewest runs in the National League is in need of major upgrades.

I absolutely agree with this. Why not trade Ryan Vogelsong or Matt Cain? I just think Tim Lincecum is an elite pitcher, not that Cain isn't close to this level, but improvements can be made to the offense by acquiring a hitter in return for Vogelsong or Cain and the Giants can keep Lincecum.

So if the Giants wish to maximize their odds of returning to the World Series, they have two choices.

These are two, and only two, choices.

1. Spend big for Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes or at the very least Carlos Beltran.

Here is my biggest problem with this plan. Much of the money that would normally go to Tim Lincecum are going to one of four free agents who have real question marks about them and are also going to require large contracts.

Prince Fielder: He is a great hitter now, but if you give him a 6 year contract how will he look in years 5 and 6 of the deal? He isn't going to get skinnier and more agile as he grows older.

Albert Pujols: Would be a great signing for the Giants, other than they have Brandon Belt to play first base, and the Giants appear to have other positions of greater need. So while Pujols would be a great signing, he would eat up a lot of the money saved by trading Linecum as well.

Jose Reyes: Injury issues. Why trade an elite starter for a shortstop who gets injured every single year? I realize Reyes is an elite leadoff hitter, but I don't see using Lincecum as a way to free up any money for Reyes as a good solution. I can get behind the Giants signing Reyes, just not at the expense of Lincecum being traded.

Carlos Beltran: Injury issues and how much money will he want? Beltran isn't getting any younger. Plus, if the Giants want an impact bat, I am not sure Beltran is exactly in the class of Fielder or Pujols.

So I don't think it is a bad idea for the Giants to spend money on a big name free agent. I just wouldn't trade Tim Lincecum to facilitate this.

2. Trade one of those prized starters for impact bats, because the day is fast approaching when the Giants won’t be able to afford them all.

This just seems like a short-term solution to me. I know this postseason taught us all that teams don't need good pitching to win the World Series (which isn't really true if you ask me), but what impact bat is available? I don't know specifically what impact bat Morosi wants the Giants to go after. Another item to consider is at some point this impact bat will have to be paid a lot of money, just like Lincecum will get paid. This is unless the impact bat under a long-term contract right now, which makes me wonder why a team would trade that player.

(I could get behind a Lincecum-Teixeira trade and then the Yankees sign Fielder...though this trade would never happen)

And if the Giants blanch at the going rates in free agency, the most practical move might be to trade Mr. Two-Time Cy Young Award Winner himself.

But why?

Sanchez has minimal value, coming off an erratic, injury-plagued season in which he barely threw 100 innings and set a new career high with nearly six walks per nine innings.

So this is definitely the guy to keep and move up in the rotation. He'll look a hell of a lot better as a third starter than a fourth starter. We all know how easy it is to find good pitching, so it shouldn't be a problem to move an erratic starter up in the rotation and replace Lincecum.

Vogelsong is a strong candidate to sign an extension with the Giants this winter. He earned less than $500,000 this year. Because of his nomadic career — he spent three seasons in Japan — Vogelsong likely would be compelled by the security of a long-term contract.

So Vogelsong will be affordable. That's why the Giants should keep him. Wouldn't this make him more attractive on the trade market though? If a team acquiring Vogelsong knew they could get a decent starter who was likely to sign with them?

Cain is highly regarded because of his reliability. He has led the staff in innings during each of the past two seasons and is coming off his best year in the majors, judging by ERA (2.88) and WHIP (1.08). Cain previously signed a three-year contract with the team and will earn $15 million in 2012 — a sturdy platform from which to begin discussions about a Jered Weaver-style extension.

I see Cain and Lincecum as being somewhat in the same position. Both are young and are going to want more money soon. At this point, based on what Morosi said, Cain looks like he would have a lot of trade value. The difference is Cain sounds like he would sign a long-term deal, which I think would give him more trade value.

Lincecum (13-14, 2.74, 220 Ks) is coming off a two-year, $23 million deal that was signed amid expectations he would set a new record in salary arbitration. He’s probably going to earn $17 million next year and upwards of $20 million in ’13, assuming his performance remains constant. At those numbers, Lincecum will achieve great wealth before reaching free agency. So he has little incentive to sign a long-term extension.

And again, as compared to Matt Cain, wouldn't this cause a team trading for Lincecum to worry a little bit? If Lincecum has little incentive to sign a long-term extension, why would a team want to trade for him as somewhat of a rental? It seems Lincecum would have more value to the Giants in this case than on the trade market.

“It’s just easier for me mentally not to have to put that kind of pressure on yourself,” Lincecum said in September. “Not that you don’t want to succeed, but when you’re signed to a long-term deal, it’s like saying, ‘I’m going to live up to every expectation.’ That’s why I like going year to year, so I can improve on it and not sit on what I’ve done.”

Lincecum will be with the Giants for two more seasons. I don't think this offseason is the time to trade Lincecum, especially if they want to win now. Lincecum doesn't seem inclined to sign a long-term deal, which I think could impact his trade value.

There is no evidence that Lincecum is available on the trade market. And he shouldn’t be — yet. General manager Brian Sabean must see where the market goes for Fielder, Reyes, et al. If he can afford them, there’s no reason to shop Lincecum.

Ever. Ok, maybe not ever, but not this offseason.

But if Sabean can’t squeeze either into a payroll of roughly $120 million, he could move Lincecum for multiple players and the flexibility that would allow him to afford Fielder or Reyes.

I'm interested at how much Morosi thinks this impact bat is going to cost the Giants. Reyes/Fielder/Pujols/Beltran will cost a lot of money as well. If the Giants are going to trade Lincecum for multiple players, the odds of them getting an impact bat aren't quite as high in this trade, so that seems like much of the reason to trade Lincecum would disappear.

In that sense, the trade would be Lincecum for prospects and Fielder — which should sound a little better to Giants fans.

So now we are talking prospects for Lincecum, not an impact bat. This brings up a whole other issue. If the Giants trade Lincecum for prospects aren't they essentially taking a step back by reducing the strength of their rotation and not necessarily improving the offense immediately? So if the Giants traded Lincecum for prospects I don't see it as a forward-thinking move. I like the idea of an impact bat better for Lincecum, though I still question whether this trade would still save an extraordinary amount of money over the next few seasons.

And for those who doubt whether a championship-caliber team would trade an ace pitcher … I suggest you ask Cliff Lee.

Yes, but the Phillies traded Cliff Lee so they could get Roy Halladay. There is a difference in trading Cliff Lee to get Roy Halladay as compared to trading Tim Lincecum to get a free agent like Fielder/Reyes it seems the Giants can afford anyway. If the Giants were getting a quality pitcher in return for Lincecum, I could understand the move a little better, but the Phillies improved their rotation by trading an ace pitcher.

I'm not sure the Giants could improve their team by trading Lincecum. If they traded him for an impact bat, this would essentially be reallocating resources from the pitching staff to the offense, and if they traded him for prospects this wouldn't help the Giants win while the other young pitchers are still affordable.