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Tim Lincecum and the A’s rotation depth

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Why he makes so much sense for a team with a young rotation.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Los Angeles Angels Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the offseason, everyone including the A’s brass knew the starting rotation was in need of some help. Aside from a few long relievers who will help indirectly, the A’s haven’t actually done anything to help their starting staff.

It’s not indefensible, as per usual the available options are expensive or riddled with question marks, even if some of those options may well end up succeeding. The offseason isn’t over yet, and the A’s still have a chance to make a move. What’s left on the free agent marketplace is uninspiring, with the possible exception of one guy: Tim Lincecum.

Lincecum could be terrible and might actually be likely to be terrible, if his last stint in the bigs is any indicator. But there’s reason to believe he might be a different guy after spending time at Driveline Mechanics, a training facility that’s tangibly aided numerous pitchers who have trained there before.

Reports on Lincecum’s showcase were positive, with his velocity back in a range where he could actually be effective. Whether or not he can sustain that for actual big league innings remains to be seen, but his performance puts him firmly in the range of enticing. The only thing missing from the reports of his showcase is the A’s presence. It’s not stated explicitly that the A’s didn’t send a scout and it’d be baffling if they didn’t.

No matter. Lincecum is still interesting.

Tim Lincecum is a no brainer

I think of Tim Lincecum a lot like I think about Jonathan Lucroy or Rich Hill - essentially no risk.

The parallels between 2015 Hill and 2018 Lincecum are obvious. Both are up in age, both are comeback stories, and both have changed arsenals. Hill’s previous season success made him a safer bet with closer big league success, but both are far from a sure thing. Like Hill, Lincecum is essentially a guarantee to not to sink the team on his own.

The worst case scenario if the A’s do sign him is that Lincecum is bad, and the A’s end up giving a few starts that end up with a Raul Alcantara running out a game’s non-existent clock. Lincecum would be taking starts instead of a Daniel Gossett or a Paul Blackburn, starts that could very well end up being short and miserable anyway.

Lincecum wouldn’t really be taking starts away from Gossett or Blackburn, he’d just be changing their cadence. If Lincecum comes back guns blazing, his best case scenario is probably Rich Hill esque. Quality pitching in a condensed period. As a 33 year old coming off a year in which he didn’t pitch professionally, whoever employs Lincecum is best suited to give him some rest and not try and force the rigors of an entire season onto his shoulders. That best case scenario is 15-20ish #3 like starts, which is certainly more upside than the backend of the rotation has now. Gossett and Blackburn are still very much necessary with Lincecum, and their quality may be enhanced by him taking some of the load off of their arms.

The inning limitations is true for most of the staff. There’s not a single pitcher who has eclipsed 200 innings before and most haven’t come close. Almost everyone on the A’s starting staff was injured at one point or another last season and while a rotation starts with five guys, it’s an all hands on deck situation. The question is the timing of when each hand will actually be pressed into action. Signing Tim Lincecum, or any other starter of that nature wouldn’t displace Blackburn or Gossett or Triggs or whoever, it’d just push their arrival to a bit later in the year. Keep in mind that even in the A’s best years, they’ve given starts to guys like Brad Mills and Josh Lindblom. Lincecum is a much better bet than those guys, even if he has a chance at failure.

It’s not all roses of course. Bad starts are bad starts, and the A’s Wild Card hopes are on razor thin margins to start. But if the A’s sign Lincecum and he’s bad, they’d be able to cut him with little worry, even right away. His contract will no doubt be a low risk proposition with incentives attached, giving Lincecum a very fair shot at making bank while protecting any team that signs him from losing more than a few million bucks.

Bottom line is, the A’s will have starts to be taken. Many will be snagged by the A’s young backend guys who while potentially valuable, have low ceilings. Lincecum has higher upside than most of those guys, and the A’s ought to give him a look. They have the unique opportunity to give him the starting spot he so craves. It’s a good match.

How the A’s will shape their staff

With or without Lincecum, the A’s will have some decisions in their roster construction. The A’s starters are deep in number but unproven in terms of quality and durability. The latter is probably the most important issue.

The A’s are probably going to do a normal pitching staff. Mengden, Cotton, and Blackburn will round out the rotation with Bassitt and Triggs and Gossett et al. in AAA. But is that the best option? With all starters pitching at once, the A’s risk of losing multiple guys and needing more arms increases. With the A’s having such a young staff, it’s going to be a struggle for the A’s to hold up through September.

Starting staff innings

Pitcher 2017 total Highest career
Pitcher 2017 total Highest career
Sean Manaea 162.2 166.2
Kendall Graveman 115.1 186
Jharel Cotton 150.1 165
Daniel Gossett 167.2 167.2
Andrew Triggs 65.1 74.2
Paul Blackburn 139.1 143
Daniel Mengden 89 130.2

The A’s should consider staggering their staff or limiting innings on their AAA starters. They could follow the Dodgers method of babying their starters, at least at the beginning of the year so they can be fresh later on. They can use the DL in a somewhat questionable way like the Dodgers. The Dodgers’ method is maligned by some as unfair, as rule breaking, and even as unethical. A counterpoint: shouldn’t we encourage teams to protect their young arms? It’s better for a player to go on the DL to prevent injury rather than to deal with injury and it’s a little crazy the only way really cut a players innings is to shut him down altogether.

Anyway, the A’s need to get the most they can out of their starting staff. Sign Lincecum. Utilize the staff effectively. Baseball, start already.