Monday, May 14, 2012

Should the Giants trade Tim Lincecum?

Just a few months ago, even suggesting that would be sacrilegious.
The Franchise.
The Freak.
The man who delivered a World Series title to San Francisco.

A man who I thought even back in 2009 could become the most popular sports figure San Francisco had ever seen since Joe Montana.

And here I sit on May 14, 2012 and wonder if he should be on the trade market.

This isn't simply a knee jerk response to his poor start.
Sure it looks odd that the ONLY Giants pitcher not worth a damn this year has been Lincecum. That The Franchise is teetering while Barry Zito has been effective and giving the Giants quality innings.

But this is more than a panic move.
It could be preventing future panic.

Lincecum will be done with his contract when he is 29 years old at the end of next year. And let me tell you something, dear readers. Pitchers entering their 30s is a very dangerous territory. Even for multiple Cy Young Award winning World Series heroes.

When Bret Saberhagen was 25, he was a 2 time Cy Young Award winner and the hero of the 1985 World Series Champion Kansas City Royals.

After age 29, he had a grand total of 2 noteworthy seasons.

By 25, Fernando Valenzuela was a perennial Cy Young contender (and winner in 1981) and a World Series hero.

After 25 he fought injuries and was a fair pitcher but no longer dominant.

More recently Brandon Webb won a Cy Young at age 27 and nearly won a second one in 2008 at age 29. Since 2008, he has thrown 4 innings in the bigs and none since 2009.

Jake Peavy was a young Cy Young winner and after three years of injuries is just now regaining his All Star form.

Josh Beckett was the hero on two World Series winners before he turned 28 but since then has been agonizingly inconsistent.

Need more examples? Ramon Martinez, Steve Avery, Jack McDowell, Frank Viola...

Each looked like difference making studs whose career dipped and did so pretty quickly.

And I didn't bring up Viola's name randomly.

In 1987, Frank Viola won the clinching Game 7 of the 1987 World Series. Like Lincecum, he pitched 8 masterful innings to win the title.

Like the 2010 Giants, it was the teams first World Series title in their city despite a rich and talent filled history there.

In 1988, Viola won the American League Cy Young Award, beating out Dennis Eckersley, Dave Stewart, Roger Clemens, Bruce Hurst and Mark Gubicza.

He was THE stud of the Minnesota staff.

In 1989, the Twins traded the 29 year old Viola to the Mets in the middle of the season.

The reigning Cy Young winner was the prize of the trade market and the Mets, in need of a positive jolt, plunked in the Hempstead native into the rotation.

It was a dream come true. And to be fair, at age 30 he did have an excellent season in Flushing.
But that was it. He was a not bad but nothing worth remembering pitcher from 1991 to 1993. And save for a cameo here or there, his career was over after that.

Meanwhile the Twins, who traded away Viola when his value was at its peak, brought in 5 pitchers to their system. One, Rick Aguilera, became the bullpen ace and another, Kevin Tapani, became a solid starter for many years. A third, David West, was a key lefty out of the bullpen and all three contributed to the Twins World Championship in 1991.

The Twins have won two World Series since the Mets last title.

In 1989, that same year, the Mariners flipped their 29 year old left handed stud, Mark Langston, to Montreal and got three pitchers. Langston would up having 2 or 3 good seasons in his 30s but lost a One Game playoff to his former team in 1995, his last good year in the majors. The symbolism was ripe as the pitcher he lost to, Randy Johnson, was acquired in the Langston deal.

My point is this.

Lincecum has been amazing. But pitchers, especially with his slender built and violent motion, can break down faster than you can say Dontrelle Willis.

If what we are seeing is the beginning of that decline, realize that you will never get a better deal than right now.

Not everyone is Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine or even Mike Mussina.
Not everyone has the decades long career.

If the next great Giants team can be built partially from the loot that Lincecum would bring, it is at least worth thinking about.

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  1. Anonymous1:21 AM

    We all love Timmy here in SF but the reality is that he's done so much for SF in his short time here that anything marginally less would be construed as failure. You can tell his recent troubles (fixable on any other team, but glaring on the Giants)are throwing off his mental game. He needs a change of scenery where he can take his arm somewhere where they've not seen it much and he has to be the underdog.

    The reality of a pitcher like Lincecum is that he's just not built to be the Clemens/Johnson/Schilling type of pitching monster who can go out there and physically intimidate batters with their size and speeed. While he might be the ace starter on the Giants, I don't see him in that role on teams like the Phillies or Rangers.

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