Giants couldn’t afford to let Lincecum get away

Dustin Bradford/Getty ImagesTim Lincecum’s performance has dramatically fallen off the past two years

BART trains are running and Tim Lincecum is returning to the Giants. Everything is right in The City, at least for today.

Lincecum and the Giants agreed to a two-year, $35 million contract on Tuesday, pending a physical. It's a winner for both sides.

The 29-year-old right-hander is taking only a slight pay cut from his previous contract, a two-year, $40.5 million deal, despite posting a sub-.500 record over the past three seasons, while the Giants are bringing back The City's biggest sports hero without locking themselves into a long-term deal.

While $17.5 million a year might seem high for a pitcher who has produced a 4.76 ERA over the past two seasons, the contract is a bargain for the Giants.

If Lincecum pitches inconsistently for another two years, the Giants can part ways with him after the 2015 season knowing they've seen a sample size large enough to conclude that he isn't going to regain his 2008 form in his 30s. But if Lincecum continues to grow and evolve, a process that seemed to pick up steam after his no-hitter in July, he can re-up for more cash in a couple of years, a fair proposition for both parties.

With Barry Zito's departure and Ryan Vogelsong's future undecided, the Giants couldn't afford to let Lincecum test the waters and potentially be out three starting pitchers with few viable replacements on the market.

The price-tag is also a steal when you consider what Lincecum means to The City and the team's fan base. With a pair of NL Cy Young Awards and two World Series titles, Lincecum is already an icon in the mold of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Will Clark. Even with a losing record, he manages to stir the crowd at AT&T Park, walking off the mound to ovations that would trigger jealousy in most bands touring through the Bay Area.

His unwavering competitiveness and boyish enthusiasm for the game revitalized the franchise at a time when the Orange and Black was tainted by Barry Bonds and his ties to BALCO. In a lot of ways, Lincecum is the bizarro Bonds: he's approachable, accountable and easy for fans to connect with. It's hard to picture him wearing another team's colors.

Lincecum brings value to the mound, too. He's still one of the top strikeout pitchers in the National League, fanning 8.79 batters for every nine innings pitched in 2013, and he proved he's versatile, dazzling opposing batters out of the bullpen during the Giants' 2012 World Series run.

If Lincecum struggles next year or if a crisis sweeps through the bullpen, he can always be converted into a reliever and, potentially, reinvent himself as the next Dennis Eckersley.

Considering how thin the pitching market is going to be this winter, Lincecum could have easily snagged a four-year deal worth more than $60 million, especially if he pitted the Giants up against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Instead, Lincecum did what he always does, choosing class over ego, reminding us why he's so indispensable.

Paul Gackle is a contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at pgackle@sfexaminer.com and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.

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