BY EDWARD GRUVER
Tim Lincecum. A certain magic still lingers in the name. It stirs memories of long hair and an even longer push off the pitching rubber, a signature stride that became one of the ornaments of modern baseball. Essayist Roger Angell once compared it to a January commuter arching over six feet of slush.
Lincecum, was a fresh face and a fresh ace, a 5-foot-11, 163-pound man-child who burst on the baseball scene and won back-to-back National League Cy Young awards in 2008-09. With his shoulder-length locks and lean, lithe frame, The Freak, as he was called, could have been the Skater Boy that Avril Lavigne sang of in 2010. Yet instead of rockin’ on MTV, Lincecum was rollin’ on MLB mounds with electric fastballs, power curves and elite changeups. From 2010-14 he hurled two no-hitters and helped the San Francisco Giants win three World Series. He was Big Time Timmy Jim and he transcended his sport.
And then all too abruptly, Lincecum left The Show, vanishing from the scene like a spent rocket.
The golden child of the golden west became the personification of Ray Bradbury’s dark novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes. Injuries and ill fortune dogged him. His freakish pitch delivery – with its violent torso twist and torque and an extreme, Koufax-like drop-down that brought his pitching hand to within inches of the mound dirt – stressed out his smallish frame. The enormous amount of innings pitched early in his career eventually caught up with him. A hip injury led to major surgery, and when last seen on a major league mound in August 2016, Big Time Timmy Jim was toting an unsightly 2-6 record and a weighty 9.16 earned run average in nine starts for the Anaheim Angels.
Fast-forward to Thursday, February 15 and Lincecum is attempting another career comeback, holding a showcase for 25-30 scouts from 20-plus MLB teams – the New York Yankees among them – at Driveline Baseball, an analytics-based training facility in Kent, Wash.
Scouts reported that Lincecum’s fastballs reached as high as 93 mph on radar gun readings, so the question is: Should the Yankees be interested in signing the former wunderkind? It says here they should. We know that the Bronx Bombers boast a modern Murderer’s Row. We know they own a solid bullpen and have what former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver liked to call “deep depth” on the bench.
The Yanks’ biggest question mark – outside of freshman skipper Aaron Boone – is their starting rotation. CC Sabathia injured his left ankle in a fielding drill, adding to the concerns already surrounding a 37-year old who suffers from a balky back and degenerative condition in his right knee. Luis Severino, the staff ace, is coming off a significant increase in innings pitched (71.0-193.1) and will see his workload closely monitored. Masahiro Tanaka, the third member of the Bombers’ Big Three, has, since 2014, been pitching with a partially torn ligament in his right elbow.
There are questions concerning the back of the rotation as well. Sonny Gray is no stranger to the disabled list and Jordan Montgomery, like Severino, is fresh off an increase in innings pitched. The options for a sixth starter – Luis Cessa, Domingo German and Chad Green – combined for just six starts last summer.
Thursday’s showcase indicates Lincecum may still have some magic left in his 33-year old right arm. Will he be the ace who earned four All-Star selections and four top-10 finishes in Cy Young voting? Certainly not.
Still, Lincecum’s 25 pitches – all out of the windup – in his 10-minute showcase and his bulked-up physique indicate he is worth a one-year minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. He could be, as SBNation.com suggests, duct tape for a rotation. It’s the kind of high-reward move the Giants pulled the trigger on in 2006 when they drafted Lincecum despite dire warnings from scouts who sweated his skinny body and dangerous delivery.
When the Angels cut Lincecum loose in 2016, it looked to be the end of the line. His 88 mph fastballs were a far cry from the mid-90s heaters that served as set-up pitches for his sharp-breaking curves and changeups. Scouts at the showcase, however, found The Freak to be better than expected. He threw hard – every pitch at maximum effort – and baseball people can imagine the former ace feeding off the adrenaline of an actual game and amping up his velocity.
Will we see Big Time Timmy Jim in the Big Apple? He has made just one mound appearance in Yankee Stadium, and though the Yankees reportedly feel that Lincecum looked fine in his showcase, it’s likely a long shot he’ll join Aaron Judge, Aroldis Chapman, Stanton, Sabathia and Co. in the Bronx.
Still, Lincecum’s presence in pinstripes would surely add to the rock star aura already surrounding these Yankees. And The Freak’s return following a one-year absence – the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes – would certainly be baseball’s feel-good story this spring.