Oct 27, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum jogs in from the bullpen in the 6th inning during game three of the 2012 World Series against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Could 2013 Be Tim Lincecum's Final Year With the Giants?

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If you want to talk about mysteries, look no further than Tim Lincecum.

His award case may consist of two Cy Young awards, two World Series rings, and probably much, much more. But he hasn’t done much lately – as a starter, that is.

As you probably know very well by now, 2012 wasn’t Lincecum’s year, which is a very modest statement. He posted the worst starters’ ERA in the National League with a 5.18 mark, and his stats across the board either fell into the “career-worst” category, or the “very close to career-worst” category. There wasn’t much of an in-between.

Oct 25, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum (55) on the field prior to game two of the 2012 World Series against the Detroit Tigers at AT

Most notable was his unsettling 4.4 walks per nine innings rate, and 8.9 hits per nine innings rate. In other words, he didn’t strand many runners. His fastball velocity also took a pretty deep dip. In 2011, his the average velocity on his fastball was 92.3 miles per hour (MPH), which was actually an uptick from 2010. In 2012, however, it plunged to 90.4 MPH.

Still, his stuff earned him an 11.3 SwSr percentage, which ranked tenth in baseball. SwSr measures the percentage of strikes opposing hitters swing through.

While most pundits defer to Lincecum’s declining fastball as a target point for his struggles, that’s not really the case at all. The “Freak” still collected his strikeouts, and his off-speed pitches still missed bats at the usual rate. Nothing changed in this regard.

So, 2013 obviously shapes up as a huge year for the two-time Cy Young award winner. And by his own fault, as roughly this time last winter he rejected a five-year, $100 million deal that would’ve given him the long-term security that every pitcher covets. Instead, he took the much shorter two-year, $40.5 million contract, thinking that he could raise his value even more come the offseason of 2013-2014.

Well, that sneaky plan has all but failed a year in. In result, his value will probably never reach the level it was at last offseason.

Now, here’s the real question: As hard as it is to imagine Lincecum is another uniform, could 2013 be the final year he puts on the orange and black?

Well, Giants’ management hasn’t discussed their plans regarding the topic. For one, it’s too soon. The Giants do indeed have a season to play before focusing on the Lincecum drama. Plus, the upcoming regular season could also bring up a world of different scenarios.

However, the way that the 2014 market of starting pitchers looks on the surface, the Giants may have no other choice but to retain Lincecum beyond 2013.

See, there aren’t a ton of options for the Giants if they part ways with Lincecum, or vice versa. The crop of free agents mostly consists of aging veterans who are in the mid to high 30‘s, none of which are very intriguing on the surface. Lincecum, on the other hand, is one of the younger pitchers in the group. Of course there are some exceptions, but none of them have “ace” quality like Lincecum used to vaunt.

For Lincecum, this comes as good news. He’s in a shallow market with little upside to be found. Therefore, he could get the payday he wanted after all. As for the Giants, this could make their decision to keep or part ways with him even harder.

Oct 28, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum runs out to the field to celebrate with his teammates after game four of the 2012 World Series against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. The Giants won 4-3 to sweep the series. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the Giants could work internally to fill some gaps, as they do have a wave of young starters thriving in their farm system. For reference, Kyle Crick, Chris Stratton, and Clayton Blackburn all represent the next wave. This “wave” isn’t likely to break onto the scene in 2014, though. Perhaps 2015 at the earliest, but 2014 is too soon.

So they’re back to the drawing board. And the market for starting pitchers isn’t the only area that lacks depth.

Along with Lincecum, Barry Zito and his extremely high salary is also set to come off the books. In addition, Ryan Vogelsong has a $6.5 million option, which the Giants should be expected to pick up, barring a complete collapse from the righty.

The point here is that San Francisco will lack ready starters in 2014. In a few years, that will no longer be the case because their prospects should be ready. Until then, though, they don’t have many options.

So does that guarantee that 2013 won’t be Lincecum’s final year in San Francisco?

Not by any means. There are still an array of other factors that will emerge as the season progresses. Here’s an example: if the Giants are barely in contention come the trade deadline in July, then Sabean could potentially consider trading Lincecum. But only time can determine the possibility of that happening.

However, given the slim market for starting pitchers next offseason, and a lack of internal alternatives available at Sabean disposal, there is a good chance that the Lincecum will be with the team past 2013.

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Tags: Barry Zito Brian Sabean Ryan Vogelsong San Francisco Giants Tim Lincecum

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