We had to talk about it at some point. The Mariners and Tim Lincecum have connected forever, thanks to the endless and immortal "coming home" narrative. Lincecum is, after all, a local guy, UW graduate, and a freshly minted free agent. Cooked up trade offers for Lincecum have cascaded across the comments of Mariner blogs and forums for years, and now the Mariners can take a realistic shot at bringing him home, if they actually want to.
CSN Bay Area reported today that the Mariners had a scout at Lincecum's final starts, so it isn't unreasonable to think the the Mariners have some interest, but it's still a leap to assume that means they'll be heavily involved in the free agent bidding.
The Giants are still planning on making Lincecum a qualifying offer, and while the Mariners have their first round pick protected, they'd still be paying a premium to get Lincecum. If he's going to be lured away from San Francisco, it's going to take a sizable contract, enough to clearly trump the 1 year, $14.1 million offer he's about to be presented with. Is it really worth it for a pitcher who hasn't been close to the ace he once was in two years?
Lincecum posted 0.9 fWAR in 2012 and followed it up with 1.6 in 2013. His xFIP, FIP, and SIERA all ranged between 3.56 and 3.74 in 2013, and he can still miss bats, striking out 8.8 batters every 9 innings. His control hasn't been particularly sharp, and he's lost a couple ticks off of his fastball velocity, which now sits at an average of 90 instead of 92.
Lincecum just gets hit harder now. His LD% has shot up to 23% over the past few years after hanging around 19-20% during his peak. His ground balls are down, and his HR/FB ratio has shot up as well. Teams have been teeing off on Lincecum's fourseamer, slugging .482 against it over the past two seasons.
While Lincecum is the type of buy-low candidate I would usually endorse signing at a bargain, he isn't going to come at one. The qualifying offer guarantees that he won't be cheap, and the market for veteran starting pitching is ripe. If Jeremy Guthrie can get 3 years, $25 million last offseason, what will Lincecum command? Lincecum improved in the baseline results (4.37 ERA) enough to at least tease that he could keep inching back towards improvement. In order for a team to wrestle him away from San Francisco, it seems like that it's going to take somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 years, $35 million - or more.
I'll pass. Lincecum would need to continue showing improvement to be worth that kind of money, and wishing for a return to form isn't realistic, giving the drop in velocity, home run problems, and loss of effectiveness with his fastball. He simply isn't the same pitcher he once was, and while the hometown narrative will likely be pushed a lot, any hope for a cheap, $2/20 deal really isn't realistic if the Giants do extend that qualifying offer.
That being said, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Mariners were involved. There's some urgency to make some splashes, and Lincecum is a big name, even if the performance has been lagging. He isn't going to completely break the bank, and even though I'm not convinced that he can right the ship, a contract of $12 million/year probably wouldn't be a massive overpay, even though it would still be too rich for my blood.
Expect a whole bunch of Lincecum rumors this offseason if this news about him testing the free agent market holds true. There's always special attention paid to those free agents who could "return home" and for Lincecum, it probably means a lot more than the loose connections that Jason Bay had or Jacoby Ellsbury. Lincecum is actually born and raised here, went to college here - this is where his friends and family are. Not 300 miles away. I actually genuinely believe that Lincecum would like to return back home, but there's not a lot of evidence to suggest he would take a pay cut to do it. One way or another, get ready for a shitload of narratives about coming home.