Weeks of speculation over what kind of interest Tim Lincecum would generate in his first foray into free agency ended with the right-hander not even reaching the market.
The Giants and Lincecum on Tuesday agreed to terms on a two-year deal that will keep one of the team’s most familiar faces in orange and black through the 2015 season. The deal, pending a physical, is for $35 million and includes a full no-trade clause.
Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young Award winner whose numbers have declined the past two years, was due to become a free agent for the first time after playing his first seven major-league seasons in San Francisco. He is 89-70 with a 3.46 ERA in his career.
Still, toward the end of a 2013 season in which Lincecum went 10-14 with a 4.37 ERA, the right-hander indicated his comfort level with the Giants might well factor into his decision of where to play next year. Giants general manager Brian Sabean, meanwhile, made it clear bringing back Lincecum was among the team’s top offseason priorities.
Lincecum’s return lends some added stability to a rotation that figures to undergo changes over the offseason. Only two other starters — Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner — are signed for next season, and Sabean had said that regardless of what happened with Lincecum, the Giants would look for rotation help over the winter. It remains uncertain if the Giants will exercise a $6.5 million option for 2014 on Ryan Vogelsong.
With the pending deal, the Giants have avoided free agency with two of their biggest names. They reached a five-year, $90 million deal just before the end of the regular season with right fielder Hunter Pence, who led the team with 27 home runs and 99 RBIs in 2013.
Lincecum is 20-29 over the past two seasons, leading some to wonder about his future as a starter. The 29-year-old has seen his velocity dip in recent years, but he did lower his ERA by nearly a full run from 2012 — when he was 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA — and threw his first no-hitter in July.
He overhauled his offseason regimen before the season and put more of an emphasis on studying opposing hitters, and said toward the end of the season: “I feel like I’ve got some upside just because I’ve been able to make some changes.”
“I don’t feel like I’m anywhere near where I feel like I should be,” Lincecum said after his final start in September. “But you’ve got to take the positives with it and move on and get ready for next year.”
While it was still unclear at that point whether Lincecum was pitching his final game in a Giants uniform, fans at AT&T Park made their preference known, with some holding signs and posting messages to the center-field scoreboard urging Lincecum to stay.
Lincecum, whose nicknames include “The Freak” and “The Franchise,” has been a part of two World Series championship teams to go with the Cy Young awards and four All-Star selections. He has 1,510 strikeouts in 221 career regular-season games, third-most by any pitcher since 1900 in his first seven seasons behind Tom Seaver and Bert Blyleven.
While Lincecum’s strikeout rate dipped slightly below one per inning in 2013 for the first time in his career (8.8 per nine innings), he also cut down his walk rate from its career-high mark in 2012 and made at least 32 starts for the sixth consecutive year.
Following his last start, Giants manager Bruce Bochy remarked on Lincecum’s career achievements and said that while “we don’t know what’s going to happen, certainly hope that he’s here with us.”
For at least the next two years, he will be.