2013 MLB Trade Deadline: What is Tim Lincecum’s Trade Deadline Fate?

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum
Jul 13 2013 San Diego CA USA San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum 55 throws during the eighth inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park Christopher Hanewinckel USA TODAY Sports

It’s not as if the Giants have given up on Tim Lincecum. By all indications, the team doesn’t appear as if they’re all that interested in dealing him. At a time when starting pitching goes for a premium, strong rumors surrounding the former Cy Young Award winner haven’t surfaced all that much.

Part of that’s because the team is still only 6.5 games out of first place in the National League West despite a 43-51 record, but the other part is surely that dealing an ace (or former ace, depending on how you view The Freak) in what should be his prime can’t be an easy thing to do.

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Over his first five years, Lincecum had the look of one of baseball’s best pitchers. Over that span, he was a four-time All-Star and won two Cy Young Awards. After his rookie year in 2007, he won an average of 15 games a season and was as dominant as ever. Since then, not so much.

Let’s face it – in 2012 and 2013, Lincecum’s been struggling. Not still-good-but-not-great struggling, but Joe Namath strug-g-ling. The starter was a mess in 2012 with a 10-15 record and a ginormous 5.18 ERA. He still managed to strike out batters at his usual pace, but gave up nearly 200 hits and was tagged for a career-high 23 home runs. His WAR, which averaged more than 5.0 during his 2008-2011 seasons was an unsightly -2.0. Plus, despite pitching significantly fewer innings, Lincecum also walked 90 batters – the worst in his career. This is penthouse to poorhouse stuff if you really think about it.

So far this year, things haven’t been much better. On the season, Lincecum is only 5-9 and on pace to again lose 15 games if he remains in the rotation long enough to do so. While his 4.26 ERA is better than last season’s, Lincecum hasn’t resembled the pitcher he was earlier in his mid-twenties when we were all still discussing his quirky throwing mechanics. For much of 2013, Lincecum has looked a lot like he did in 2012.

However, Lincecum proved he’s not yet finished as a quality major leaguer. Last weekend against the San Diego Padres, he showed the brilliance of which he’s capable, tossing a no-hitter, leading the Giants to a 9-0 win. Could that be enough for San Francisco to keep him?

In reality, the no-no was great, but it’s not likely to factor into the Giants’ decision all that much. Lincecum is a free agent after this season and it’s hard to envision San Francisco shelling out the millions of dollars it will cost to re-sign him on a single game.

However, the Giants’ ability and willingness to keep Lincecum will factor into how they treat him come trade deadline time. If San Francisco decides it’s time to part ways, it would make all the sense in the world to trade him. The Giants may still be in the race, but with the inconsistency in Lincecum’s starts this season, the question if they really need him to make the playoffs anyway is an extremely fair one.

Now for the intriguing part – FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi mentioned recently that Lincecum is being sought by other teams … but as a relief pitcher. Lincecum coming out of the pen would be interesting to say the least and without getting too far ahead of ourselves, it’s at least possible to conclude that he could go from struggling starter to dominant closer with the thought of only needing to get three outs a game.

Morosi says several teams are interested but the one he calls out by name is the Detroit Tigers. That’s understandable given that Detroit desperately needs a closer. Jose Valverde recently manned the spot, but he blew three saves in 12 opportunities and had a gaudy 5.59 ERA. Check please. Next up was Joaquin Benoit and while he has done a much better job for the Tigers, the 35-year old has been up and down his entire career.

With such a good chance to reach the postseason, it would be pretty surprising if the Tigers wouldn’t seek a proven closer and instead went after Lincecum. We all know that he can be a dominant pitcher, but it remains to be seen if he would flourish as a closer. This, after all, is the kind of move you experiment with in April, not August. Still, if Detroit (or another playoff team, for that matter) is convinced he’s their best option …

Well, stranger things have happened.

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