Charting what Tim Lincecum means to the Giants, and what lies ahead as he readies himself for a showcase


HomeHome / Blog / Charting what Tim Lincecum means to the Giants, and what lies ahead as he readies himself for a showcase

May 26, 2023

Charting what Tim Lincecum means to the Giants, and what lies ahead as he readies himself for a showcase

SAN FRANCISCO – This is a bit inane, but bear with me. Tom Anderson, the

SAN FRANCISCO – This is a bit inane, but bear with me.

Tom Anderson, the multimillionaire creator of Myspace, wants the Giants to re-sign Tim Lincecum. So does turn-of-the-millennium punk-pop band Smash Mouth.

Anderson even joked that he would front the cost, writing on his Twitter account, "Can we keep @timLincecum if I pay for it? #6manrotation." A day later, in wonderfully random fashion, Smash Mouth chimed in its approval: "Let's do it!!! #TimmyForLife."

Myspace isn't coming back into popular use. Smash Mouth probably won't go platinum again. And hey now, Lincecum likely won't be an All-Star in 2016 following major hip surgery (bah-dum-psssh).

He likely won't be a Giant, either – not for a lack of money (belonging either to the Giants or semi-retired web impresarios) but a lack of opportunity, with the club's five-man rotation already filled. But as the two-time Cy Young Award winner and Bay Area cult hero readies himself for a throwing showcase in early February, it is understandably hard for his fans to envision him in another uniform. Just because an artist no longer tops the charts doesn't mean you can't feel satisfaction in replaying the hits.

The passage of time, though, does strange things.

An example for me the other day: Listening to NPR and hearing "Electric Feel" blithely used out of a commercial break.

How quickly rave music becomes bump music.

"Electric Feel" has a special meaning to Giants fans, of course. Was it really that long ago that Lincecum took the mound to that song by MGMT? Its plush chords and poppy beat and slightly psychedelic vibe would fill up AT&T Park, drumming up anticipation for what the crowd knew it was about to see: a full-fledged baseball phenomenon, using his lithe frame and exploding off the mound to overmatch hitters who outweighed him by 100 pounds. He wasn't just good. He was dynamically, joyfully, impossibly good. Lincecum was the first burst of stimulation for Giants fans since Barry Bonds and his manufactured march to Hank Aaron two years earlier. This time, they could cheer a hero with no conflicted feelings. Lincecum was pure. He was pure electricity. "Electric Feel" was his perfect soundtrack – as fitting an entrance song as a player has ever had. And his popularity was a crescendo even before dominating Atlanta in Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS, or shutting down Texas in a World Series clincher that slaked a five-decade thirst, or overwhelming hitters as a blurry-armed reliever over three wild comeback rounds en route to another parade in 2012. Lincecum guaranteed he would be a franchise legend long before he slipped on any of those three rings (and probably absent-mindedly left them in the back seat of his car, stashed along with one of his Cy Young Awards and … well, his stash.)

Lincecum stopped using "Electric Feel" after his first few seasons because, like most artists, he sought to reinvent himself. In his case, his motivation wasn't to expand his horizons or seek new creative forms of expression. His motivation was survival. He was a pitcher, and a competitor, and he didn't have the same stuff. His body wasn't as pliable and explosive as it used to be. He had to change, had to adjust to hitters who finally had adjusted to him.

One spring, after he showed a little more interest in an offseason workout regimen, he decided to use "You Get What You Give" by the New Radicals as his anthem. The kid who could roll out of bed cold and dominate was gone. Lincecum told me that the song acknowledged his new reality: he had to put more into his craft, and he was determined to do so.

His success came in spurts, and there were enough of those moments to give the Giants front office sufficient hope he still had some upside left. They gave him another contract that paid him $34 million over two years. He returned a 4.54 ERA and an average of 116 innings per season.

Since 2012, Lincecum hasn't been consistent at all. And in baseball, consistency is everything.

So is health. Anyone who watched Lincecum cut off his delivery and swing violently over his front leg in recent years could see that he didn't have the same flexibility in his lower half. He wasn't bouncing back as well after a long inning, and he had a lot of those because he couldn't repeat his mechanics. His fastball velocity receded from the upper 90s to the upper 80s and hitters no longer felt on the defensive.

As you probably know, he had season-ending hip surgery in September to repair an impingement and a torn labrum – issues he later acknowledged he had been battling through for a long time.

He is a free agent, and the Giants cannot be expected to give him another courtesy contract with a big league guarantee – even if an Angel investor offers to pay for it.

Lincecum has done so much for the franchise that the Giants couldn't make him a low-ball offer in good conscience. But the problem isn't money. It's opportunity. Lincecum wants to establish himself as a starting pitcher again, and the Giants, after signing Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto, and still in the midst of Matt Cain's $112 million extension, already have a full five-man rotation. As much as a six-man rotation might be a heartwarming thought, you don't outlay $220 million to pitchers like Cueto and Samardzija and then seek to cut back their contribution from 33 starts to 27. (You generally want Madison Bumgarner to take the ball as often as possible, too.)

That's why the Giants won't be in position to offer Lincecum a major league contract. So if he has an impressive showcase and receives those kinds of offers from other clubs, particularly ones with potential openings in their rotation, then he will be wearing another uniform in 2016. It's that simple. Any predictions that anyone makes prior to that showcase is just pure speculation. We won't know until teams see him throw.

The Padres and Marlins have expressed interest, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network. (No wonder…the Padres are probably tired of getting no-hit by him. If they sign him, they’ll have to make sure he doesn't pitch in any intrasquad games.) The Yankees have been linked him as well. He is from Seattle, and was the Pacific 10 Conference pitcher of the year at Washington, so you know the Mariners will be interested on some level. Fact is, as unnatural as this will seem to his legions of fans in the Bay Area, Lincecum probably has a better opportunity with the Dodgers than he does with the Giants.

Agent Rick Thurman told John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle that 20 clubs have requested medical information. I heard this from several club executives at the winter meetings in Nashville: With the astronomical price of starting pitching, small-revenue teams are looking for bargains in bounce-back candidates. Scott Kazmir and Bartolo Colon are the poster boys. Lincecum and maybe Cliff Lee could represent the next wave. The mere possibility, anyway, will be fully vetted by clubs.

Lincecum was supposed to hold his throwing showcase for clubs in late January. That showcase is being pushed back to the first two weeks of February, although I wouldn't be too quick to assume that the delay is a reflection on Lincecum's health or readiness. There are still quite a few options on the free-agent pitching market (Yovani Gallardo, Doug Fister, I guess I’ll humor Mat Latos). My sense is that Lincecum wants to have the clearest possible picture on where teams are with their starting pitching inventory so he can give himself the best chance to start again.

The market for his services, as fun as it might be to gauge right now, will be entirely dependent on how he throws, how he looks, how hard his fastball pops and whether he can repeat his delivery – all persistent problems for him over the previous three seasons.

I still believe that Lincecum could transition to a successful career as a short reliever, even though his struggles had been especially acute in the first innings of starts. His arm always did bounce back so quickly, even in college. His arm never was the issue. That's because the rest of his body did all the work in his gymnastic delivery.

But he wants to start, and that's understandable. He doesn't want to give up on fully reestablishing himself. That's where he had success. That's how he can become whole again.

Lincecum wasn't around much in the final month of last season, mostly because of the surgery in Colorado and the fact he went to Arizona to rehab. But he made a point to travel back to San Francisco for the next-to-last homestand, still on crutches, so he could visit with teammates and check in with trainers. A few weeks earlier, he had bought $1000 custom hoverboards for every player on the roster.

He said he wanted an opportunity to thank Giants fans, whose support over the years he viewed as a selfless act of kindness. But even as he said it, you could tell he didn't expect it to happen. For one, nobody knew if it would really be goodbye. For another, it took Lincecum awhile to adjust his eyes to the spotlight. His first impulse remained to recoil from it.

He did not return for the final three-game homestand and the moment with fans never came. On his way out the door, though, he was telling friends that he hoped to return, he wanted to return and he believed there was a good chance he would return to the Giants.

It might be more complicated now.

Whatever happens next, at some point you can bet the Giants will assemble that video board montage. You can bet that Giants fans will get that tip of the cap and wave to the stands and a chance to salute the right-handed pitcher with star-dusted stuff who captivated a sport, rescued a baseball town following four losing seasons and remade his image so often – long hair, short hair, studious glasses, junior high mustache, scraggly chin beard, ‘do rag under the cap – that he became the Giants’ own David Bowie.

Come to think of it, "Rebel Rebel" or "Heroes" would’ve fit Lincecum pretty well, too.