Why odd? Firstly, Tim Lincecum is phenomenally expensive – which makes sense for a guy who won back-to-back Cy Young awards prior to his first arbitration award. With a 2013 salary of $22 million, he would be owed something like $10 million over the rest of the season.
Secondly, he hasn’t been all that effective over the past 2 seasons, with a 15-24 record and a 4.82 ERA. His xFIP has been much better, but you’re still talking about gambling on seeing a guy bounce back.
Thirdly, he isn’t exactly washed up as a starter: with a 3.16 ERA in 8 starts since the start of June. With a large number of teams desperate for starting pitching, he’s likely to be pursued by teams that want him to start and hence place a higher value on him than on someone like Kevin Gregg.
Fourthly, his team is in 4th place but isn’t actually out of the running at 6.5 games back. The NL West has no great teams and no awful ones, and it’s entirely possible that all 5 teams will be looking to add rather than subtract at the deadline. Lastly, he has limited experience as a reliever. Lincecum has made only one four-inning relief appearance in the regular season and six appearances in the postseason. Obviously he has been effective, with only 2 runs and 9 hits allowed in 17 innings, but that is a small sample.
Jul 13, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum (55) reacts after throwing a no hitter against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. The Giants won 9-0. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
What you’d logically expect is that Lincecum would only be dealt as a salary dump and then only if the Giants were wholly out of competition at the deadline AND if Lincecum didn’t look worth making a qualifying offer to. If he did get dealt, you would figure that if his numbers (or at least his peripherals) were decent – though not qualifying offer good – somebody would be willing to gamble on him as a starter. Only if his numbers were bad could he be a bargain pickup for a team that thought that he might still have some value if used out of the bullpen. That makes it sound like the Lincecum story is either all smoke or already outdated. Perhaps the Tigers, who would remember how relief-Lincecum tore them up in the World Series last year, were pondering a scenario in which on July 31st the Giants found themselves 10 games back and Lincecum found himself with an ERA near 5.00 and facing the likelihood of a $5 million value-recovery contract this offseason.
The Tigers might be willing to pay a lot of money for a good reliever this year, just not next year. They might have figured he might be available for next to nothing, so long as they would take on the whole or nearly the whole salary. Let me be clear that I would have loved to see that scenario play out – he could have been a lot of fun to watch and a very valuable contributor to that bullpen, especially in the postseason when starters tend to get the hook quicker.
They might have had a scout on hand to check out his stuff in his last start against the Padres on the 13th. If they did, they would have seen him throw a no-hitter that rendered it highly unlikely that he would be dealt at all or that the Tigers would be the one to acquire him if he was. With that one game, he looks much more likely to be deserving of a qualifying offer in November. He’s also going to look much more attractive to teams in the market for a starter than he did on July 12th. Now it looks like the more likely scenario in which he would get dealt would be one in which Lincecum looked sharp after the break, but San Francisco went on a losing streak and the gap between them and the D’Backs and Dodgers increased by 5 more games or so. Lincecum would likely go to a team looking for a starter and willing to part with a prospect as valuable as a sandwich pick, the Giants would likely eat a significant portion of his salary. It wouldn’t shock me if that team were the Cleveland Indians.