Could the Giants Trade Tim Lincecum?

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This is the second straight year that Tim Lincecum hasn’t just been a disappointment, but he’s been outright bad. His old-school numbers—wins/losses and ERA—are terrible and have been so for the last two seasons. His peripherals are not as bad as all that. His ground ball rates, strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed have been consistent throughout his whole career, but the sum of the parts does not bode well for the future. His velocity is down from what it was when he was winning Cy Young Awards, but it’s in the same vicinity it’s been for the past four seasons, two of which he was still a top pitcher. His breaking stuff isn’t as sharp and he’s had to rely on his fastball and changeup. What is concerning however is that his line drive percentage is up and the hitters are squaring up on him with greater consistency and appear to have figured him out in a way that they couldn’t from 2007 to 2011. It’s becoming clear that Lincecum is nowhere near what he once was and that pitcher isn’t going to return anytime soon with a mechanical tweak, greater intensity, a “get it back” fitness program, or the realization that he’s going to be a free agent at the end of the season and has cost himself about $100 million with his results in 2012-2013.

In short, he’s lost his specialness that allowed him to get away with being a hands-off entity for the Giants coaching staff who was only allowed to have his mechanics fiddled with by his father. The questions surrounding him when he was drafted—his size, unique mechanics and training regimens—are no longer seen as wink and nod quirky as a point of salesmanship and charm. Now he’s just a short, skinny pitcher who’s not that good anymore.

As we approach the summer, the question may not be, “How can the Giants fix Lincecum?” It might evolve into, “Will the Giants trade Lincecum?”

If you think it’s crazy, it’s not.

The Giants have built up a tremendous amount of capital with their two World Series wins in three years and could get away with trading a personality like Lincecum as long as he’s not performing. With the titles, they’re still not a huge market club that can afford to spend gobs of money to maintain the championship template. Lincecum is a free agent at the end of the season and at this point the Giants are unlikely to either offer him arbitration because he’d probably take it or give him a long-term contract paying him for past accomplishments which will presumably be what he expects. As with any player, there was a dual-sided risk to Lincecum shunning the Giants attempts to sign him to a long-term contract at below-market value: he might not continue performing the way he did when it seemed like a sure thing to sign him for 5-7 years and $90+ million years before he hit free agency. And he hasn’t.

At the end of the season, the Giants have Lincecum, Barry Zito, Hunter Pence and Javier Lopez coming off the books. They’ll have money to spend and it certainly doesn’t appear as if they’re going to spend it on a declining Lincecum. The hottest name bandied about as a trade candidate has been Cliff Lee. The Phillies are going to eventually have to start rebuilding their farm system and get their payroll down. The best way to do that is to get a bounty for Lee if they come to the conclusion that they’re out of it by mid-July. Maybe the Giants would have interest in Lee in exchange for Lincecum and prospects or the clubs could find another team interested in coming to a three-way deal that would send Lee to the Giants. The Yankees would love to ship pending free agent Phil Hughes out of town, he’d benefit from the friendly pitchers parks in the NL West in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, is from the West Coast, and he’d cost a fraction of what Lincecum will as a free agent. Lincecum would certainly be better than Hughes as a Yankee, he’d fill the park, and the change of scenery might wake him up for the rest of the season.

There are options that would help the Giants now and in the future. Given Lincecum’s struggles and that this is increasingly looking like his last year in San Francisco, they have to explore them.

Like the child actor who loses his appeal when he hits puberty, “Whatchoo tawkin’ ‘bout Willis?!?” goes from funny to disturbing and Lincecum’s uniqueness goes from part of his charm to a significant series of performance issues that no one seems to be able to fix. He’s hit puberty as a pitcher and it’s not cute anymore. It might be time that the Freakshow in San Francisco gets canceled before the end of the summer season.

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Lincecum’s Mechanics Are Off (Video)

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Tim Lincecum’s mechanics are off.

That’s the problem that is causing his lack of control and probably his diminished velocity as well. Why the Giants, Dave Righetti, Bruce Bochy or Lincecum’s increasingly irritable and defensive father Chris (Yahoo Story) haven’t taken steps to correct what he’s doing wrong is a mystery to me. I’d be stunned if they haven’t studied the video of when Lincecum was at his best and what he is now.

If you look at the video clip below from the 2010 World Series, there are subtle differences between what he was doing then and what he’s doing now.

Back then, he went into his simplified motion, kicked his leg and hesitated for a split second giving his hand time to get the ball out of his glove and hang down in the dangled position before launching himself toward the hitter with a posture and release point befitting someone who was 3 or so inches taller than Lincecum’s listed (and questionable) height of 5’11”.

He’s compact and his glove is leading the way toward the plate so his entire focus and direction is heading in that direction. He’s turning his back to the hitter in a much more pronounced fashion than he is now and his leg is tighter in relation to his body.

Now look at the video from this season.

Lincecum is not hesitating as much. He’s rushing. His arm is dragging behind and he’s getting too low in what looks like an old David Cone-style drop-and-drive when Lincecum—in spite of his long stride that was indicative of an automatic drop-and-drive style pitcher—was a pitcher who stood up straight and tall.

He’s flying off toward first base rather than going straight toward the plate.

His release point is technically the same, but since his body is lower, he’s lower and he’s too open in his leg lift so he’ll be too open when he releases the ball. Hitters might be getting a better view of it coming out of his hand. His ball is flattening out, he no longer has his control and as a result of these mechanical flaws, he’s losing confidence and there’s been talk of skipped starts, demotions to the bullpen and even sending him down to the minor leagues.

These are correctable issues and Lincecum’s muscle memory would speed up the process. I’m not sure why they haven’t fixed what he’s doing wrong. It’s not hard to see.

At least it shouldn’t be for the professional pitching coach, manager who’s a former catcher and the dad who honed and perfected his son’s unique motion.

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Just In Time For Father’s Day

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It’s ironic that two players—one legitimate star and one would-be star—whose fathers are inextricably attached to their sons’ careers had opposite results on father’s day.

Colby Rasmus’s father Tony was portrayed as an unrepentant meddler in his son’s career. So much so that there was open verbal warfare between former Cardinals’ manager Tony LaRussa and Tony Rasmus that led to Colby Rasmus asking to be traded and being publicly chastised by Albert Pujols. Eventually Colby was traded to the Blue Jays in a deal that was widely credited with galvanizing the Cardinals’ clubhouse and bringing in pieces—Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski—that helped them rally to win the World Series.

Of course it’s simplistic to hold Colby responsible for the Cardinals’ woes up until the trading deadline, but for both parties it was best in the long and short-term to get him out of St. Louis.

Colby had a big day on Sunday—father’s day—going 3 for 4 with a double and homer in the Blue Jays’ win.

Tony Rasmus is still cryptically sniping at the Cardinals and LaRussa in interviews while simultaneously removing himself from the equation—link. He’s a stage father who’s gotten the blame for his son’s struggles. If that’s the case, shouldn’t he get the credit for when his son does well?

Is it fair? Is it accurate? Did Tony Rasmus’s involvement sabotage the Cardinals’ handling of his son? And did that same involvement create the player that was drafted in the 1st round?

Before you answer, think about this: across cross the continent in San Francisco another player whose father was an integral part in his career is slumping horribly.

Tim Lincecum started yesterday and again got shelled. The 2-time National League Cy Young Award winner allowed 5 earned runs and 2 homers in a loss. His record is now 2-8. His ERA is 6.19. He’s walking 4.8 batters per 9 innings whereas last season it was 3.6 and in his best season of 2007 it was 2.7. He’s pitched in some bad luck with a .336 BAbip, but that doesn’t assuage the worries about his lost velocity, control and command.

His once intractable confidence appears shot; no one is saying definitively what may be wrong with him; and the Giants hands-off approach with Lincecum is backfiring because he’s pitching badly.

It was a badge of honor for Lincecum and his dad Chris that the pitcher’s mechanics were honed and perfected by his father’s innovative techniques; that the team that drafted him was told in no uncertain terms that his motion was not to be tweaked; that he wasn’t babied with pitch counts and innings limits. These orders and his diminutive size scared off a great many clubs from selecting him, but the Giants took him 10th in the 2006 draft and were rewarded with a cult hero and superstar whose style and stamina belied the fears that permeated his story.

He didn’t ice his arm; the Giants’ coaches (including respected big league pitching coach Dave Righetti) weren’t permitted to alter him; he did things his way.

And his dad’s way.

Now what?

The critics were waiting for this and using the Lincecum rules as validation that what the Giants did was wrong; that Lincecum’s red flags are now glowing brightly.

Can Righetti and manager Bruce Bochy make suggestions to Lincecum or is it still hands off? Is Chris Lincecum trying to make adjustments to fix what ails his son? Is Tim hurt and they’re not saying so?

Are there any answers?

Amid all the chortling about Colby Rasmus and how the Blue Jays and their fans are pleased that he didn’t work out in St. Louis for reasons on-field and off, it’s ignored that his numbers are eerily similar to those that he posted with the Cardinals even when he was playing well. He has a slash line of .255/.312/.464 and 10 homers. He’s been good defensively in centerfield. He’s a 1.8 WAR player. It’s not bad, but it’s not great. He’s a cog, not the key. That’s better than being a pawn in the ongoing war between LaRussa, Tony Rasmus and the “draft guru” who had usurped much of LaRussa’s power with the Cardinals, Jeff Luhnow, before LaRussa won the turf war.

With the Cardinals, it was impossible to judge Colby on his merits.

That’s not the case in Toronto. He’s in a town where the fans are cheering for him; his teammates aren’t hounding him; the press isn’t baiting him; and the Blue Jays are going to need him to perform to take the next step into contention as a team. There’s not the historical expectation of winning nor the short-tempered, impatient manager with sway that there was with the Cardinals.

In San Francisco what was once viewed as a positive is now a negative and Lincecum is in limbo with rampant questions about hidden injuries and a possible shift to the bullpen.

In Toronto a father’s involvement isn’t taken as interloping, in part, because the Blue Jays have so much riding on Colby Rasmus’s success.

Whatever works.

But what works? And what doesn’t?

A father’s influence is judged based on whether it’s working or it’s not; whether it’s a positive or negative in results and perception.

Lincecum is a mess. Rasmus is what he is.

Fathers and sons were celebrated yesterday. It’s a fabric in baseball.

Sometimes that’s good.

Sometimes it’s not.

And sometimes we don’t know.

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