Boston receives: RHP Tim Lincecum
SF receives: RHP Anthony Ranaudo, 2B Oscar Tejeda, and any two of: RF Bryce Brentz, C Ryan Lavarnway, 3B Will Middlebrooks.
SF perspective: Quite frankly the Giants have their nuts in a vise. They have no chance of winning the NL West, as Arizona was already a superior team and got better by trading for Trevor Cahill. They have an equally bleak chance at a wild-card even under the new CBA, considering that competition for the 2 slots (Braves/Marlins in the East, Reds/Brewers in the Central) all upgraded significantly over this offseason, or were already better teams last year. The Giants' crippling flaw remains offense. The 2011 Giants scored the 2nd-least runs in MLB, barely surpassing the Mariners by 14 runs. Whatever boost they do get next year from a healthy Buster Posey and full year of Brandon Belt will be stunted by the loss of Carlos Beltran and the continued decline of Aubrey Huff and Andres Torres. If all that wasn't enough, San Francisco also faces an imminent crisis with the one thing keeping their heads above water: starting pitching. Dumping their top SP prospect for a 2 month Beltran rental and trading Jonathan Sanchez didn't help. Matt Cain is eligible for FA after 2012, with his extension likely requiring a 4-6 year commitment at 60-85M. The elephant in the room, of course, is the spiraling cost of Tim Lincecum, the face of their franchise. After being paid $14M in 2011, Lincecum has two more years of arb remaining. If a new contract is not negotiated, it is quite conceivable that Lincecum could receive $20M+ through arbitration, kneecapping the Giants' budget.
Faced with these depressing facts, the Giants decide their best shot at future contention is to trade Lincecum for young position players with offensive upside, including at least one MLB-ready player. Their framework for what to seek in return is slightly less than the Zack Greinke trade, the best comparable I could think of. Greinke was an elite young RHP of similar age and was traded with 2 years of team control remaining, although Greinke was 1 year younger and with a considerably cheaper team-friendly contract. Milwaukee surrendered 2 of their top-10 prospects to acquire him in pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress, along with an MLB-ready shortstop and former #1 prospect in Alcides Escobar and a toolsy OF'er with potential upside in Lorenzo Cain.
The Boston prospects going to SF reflect the Giants' desperate need for young, cost-controlled offensive contributors. The Giants have reportedly considered moving Buster Posey to 1B and Pablo Sandoval (all 242
pounds of him) behind the plate. With lingering questions on whether Posey can remain a catcher, and Aubrey Huff's corpse currently "playing" 1B, Ryan Lavarnway appeals strongly to the Giants as an MLB-ready player with 20-25+ HR upside who can allow them to keep Posey at 1B and Sandoval at his natural position. Alternatively, they can keep Posey at C and shift Sandoval to 1B, which his body will likely require anyway, and install Middlebrooks at 3B. Ranaudo's ceiling is likely more that of a #3 starter than an ace, but San Francisco's cavernous park and pitching in the NL will still make him a useful piece. Brentz projects as the prototypical high-power, mediocre-discipline league-average RF'er with 20+ HR power, while Tejeda is a raw high-ceiling lottery ticket who may be an infield asset if he pans out. The Giants could of course take both Lavarnway and Middlebrooks, but this would create a massive roster headache with five players (Lavarnway, Middlebrooks, Posey, Sandoval, Huff) and only 3 spots (3B, 1B, C) available. The smart thing to do of course would be to take both then flip some for other players, but I don't think Brian Sabean is quite that clever.
Overall, this package admittedly reflects quantity over quality as there are no true blue-chip prospects unless Middlebrooks is included, but given the Giants' situation and the fact that Lincecum will remain extremely expensive for the acquiring team, San Francisco should not give up the opportunity to acquire young controllable offensive talent. They also risk the same dilemma faced by the Twins in trading Johan Santana. As salary issues mean only a large market team can afford to keep Lincecum to begin with, the potential trade market is already decreased. As time goes on and their leverage decreases, the talent they can expect in return will diminish. With this Boston proposal they acquire 3 top-10 prospects and a lottery ticket, all of which address their organizational needs.
Boston perspective: Using the wonders of hypotheticals, I'll handwave the onerous issue of Lincecum's enormous
salary and assume that Cherington is able to work out a contract extension that satisfies all parties, buying out Lincecum's last 2 arb years and some FA years, as well as assuming that the Boston front office exhaustively reviews him medically and has no immediate concerns. Lincecum will turn 28 in the 2012 season. A
Lester-Lincecum-Beckett-Buchholz rotation immediately becomes the most fearsome (and alliterative) front four
foreseeable for fans from Framingham to Foxboro. The Freak's upside is certainly undeniable, as his 2008-2009
Cy Young seasons and 2010 postseason dominance illustrated. His most fitting comparison in recent Red Sox
history, in my view, is Pedro Martinez himself. Like Pedro, Lincecum is an alarmingly skinny righthander with a flair for the dramatic, who combines a somewhat eccentric public persona with utter domination on the mound. Like Pedro, Lincecum has faced repeated questions on his long-term durability and whether he can sustain mid-
90's velocity. And like Pedro, Lincecum's trademark pitch is an utterly devastating changeup that he essentially throws at will. Lincecum also throws a slider and curve, both of which are effective, and recently has begun incorporating a 2-seam fastball with decreased velocity but increased movement from his 4-seam.
The two immediate questions surrounding Lincecum are: his performance moving from the NL West and San
Francisco, and the implications of his declining strikeout rate which has ticked down from 10.51 in 2008 to 9.12 last year. Firstly, the league switch. The available information is promising. His career home/road peripherals and FIP/xFIP are essentially identical: 2.86/3.18 home, 3.00/3.22 away. In 14 interleague starts Lincecum has a 3.23 ERA with a 10.4 K/9 and 3.03 K/BB while giving up only 4 home runs. In his career against teams with a winning percentage equal or greater to .500, he has a 3.19 ERA over 510 innings with a 9.6 K/9 and 3.02 K/BB. In short: his stuff plays anywhere.
The more worrisome indicator at first glance is his strikeout rate, which has declined every year since 2008. However, upon examining more data, I don't think this is as concerning as it looks. The first factor is Lincecum's declining overall fastball velocity, which correlated with the K rate. From what I've read, Lincecum increased his use of a 2-seam in recent years to reduce the need to throw his 4-seam in the mid-90s, while still maintaining the ability to do so if he needs it. He averaged 94 MPH on that 4-seam in the 2008 Cy Young season. This makes sense to me. Physics-defying mechanics or not, a 165-pound guy is not going to sit 94-95 over a 200 inning season without his arm flying off sooner or later. Whether Lincecum did this to preserve his long-term health or simply to stay stronger during the year, it was likely the right move, especially considering he has several other plus pitches at his disposal. Secondly, despite putting up the lowest K/9 of his career in 2011, his contact indicators strangely were unchanged. According to Pitch FX data, his swinging strike rate was identical to his 2009 Cy Young season and in line with his career averages. Overall contact rate was exactly in line with career averages. Lincecum actually posted the second-LOWEST zone contact rate of his career. With that freakish changeup and two other offspeed pitches, Lincecum has clearly shown he can be effective even sitting 91-92 with the fastball instead of the mid-90s. Lastly, unlike Matt Cain, Lincecum has always been a strong groundball pitcher (1.39 GB/FB career) and has no glaring FIP/xFIP discrepancy.
As far as the prospects surrendered, Tejeda and Brentz are unlikely to be missed. Ranaudo's loss will hurt
more, although Matt Barnes' presence in the system lessens it. Lavarnway was blocked at DH by David Ortiz or Kevin Youkilis, and at C by Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The acquisition of Kelly Shoppach to hit lefties, despite the presence of the righthanded Lavarnway, essentially solidified that Lavarnway would at best be riding the Pawtucket shuttle in 2012. Losing Middlebrooks would be the greatest impact, especially with Youkilis's age; however, as 3B is currently a strong point for Red Sox minor league depth, I'm willing to part with him.