Before the Giants started their burst of long-term contracts to Matt Cain and Buster Posey, plus a four-year, $40 million contract for Angel Pagan, it would have seemed that Tim Lincecum and Pablo Sandoval were likely to receive long-term contracts. But now, both come with big question marks.
Lincecum is only occasionally the dominating pitcher he was when he won two NL Cy Young awards. Last year seemed like an aberration — until he started off this year with two disjointed efforts, though the Giants won both games. His fastball isn’t what it was, and that was the pitch he used to set up his other pitches. That’s especially true of his change-up. That pitch paralyzed hitters when there was a big difference in speed with his fastball, but the difference is minimized now.
The Giants wanted to sign Lincecum to a contract that took him past his first years in free agency but he wasn’t willing to do that, instead agreeing to a contract that has paid him $20 million a year but will expire after this season. He probably regrets that decision now, but the Giants must feel that they dodged a bullet.
Lincecum pitched very well in relief in the 2012 postseason and his future is probably in that role because of his variety of pitches, but the Giants need him as a starter this year because they have no hot pitching prospects in their farm system.
Next year? I think Lincecum’s gone.
Sandoval presents a different problem: his lack of dietary control. He’s 26 now — 27 in August — but already quite overweight. Sandoval is an extraordinary athlete and so far, the weight hasn’t really slowed him. He made a couple of remarkable defensive plays in the Giants’ home opener last Friday, the second of which had him ranging far down the left-field line in foul territory to catch a pop fly. But the question is, how long can he remain an effective defender if he can’t control his weight?
The Giants have him signed through the 2014 season, after which he’ll be eligible for free agency. He’ll certainly be able to command a lucrative contract at that point, but I doubt that it will be with the Giants. I think he’ll sign with an American League club which can slide him over to a DH role if he can’t do the job in the field. As a hitter ... well, I think Sandoval will be able to get out of bed at 50 and hit .300.
There are only two scenarios that would keep Sandoval in a Giants uniform as a free agent. One would be if he voluntarily changes to a sensible eating routine. I think we can rule that one out. The other would be if Brandon Belt fails to hit at first base and the Giants decide to play Sandoval there.
I’d prefer to see both Lincecum and Sandoval stay with the Giants, but club management has gone the long-term contract route only with two players who are well-grounded in their personal lives and consistent performers on the field. They’d be gambling on both Lincecum and Sandoval. I don’t see that happening.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at email@example.com.