Lincecum presents dilemma for Giants

Getty Images File PhotoTim Lincecum's contract is up after the 2013 season and his long-term future in San Francisco is a mystery.

Getty Images File PhotoTim Lincecum's contract is up after the 2013 season and his long-term future in San Francisco is a mystery.

Can you picture Tim Lincecum winding up on the mound at AT&T Park with his stringy hair pouring out of the back of another team’s hat?

The Giants are facing a tough decision with Lincecum’s contract set to expire in 2013. Brian Sabean recently committed a $112.5 million extension to Matt Cain and by the end of next season, he will be finished paying off the $126 million owed to Barry Zito. How eager is he to throw down another $100 million on a big-name arm?

If you thought the Timmy drama was over the top in 2012, you can only imagine what the anxiety will be like next season when each of his starts is dissected and computed into a dollar figure.

Lincecum presents a puzzling dilemma because he’s such a unique athlete. He isn’t your typical 28-year-old rocket arm heading into free agency for his first big payday. The wiry right-hander is already a Giants legend with his two NL Cy Young Awards and his clutch October performances.

Timmy is the face of the franchise in the post-Barry Bonds era. It’s hard to get through The City these days without seeing a “Let Timmy Smoke” or a “F*** Yeah!” T-shirt. His boyish charm and his fiery competitiveness are endearing whether he’s the stopper in the rotation or the bridge in the bullpen.

This decision would be a no-brainer if Lincecum’s season hadn’t been such a roller-coaster ride. Unfortunately, Zito’s image is the first thing that crosses the mind when you glance at Lincecum’s 10-15 record and his matching 5.18 ERA. And with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ lavish new spending habits, can the Giants waste another multiyear contract on a sub-.500 pitcher?

But Lincecum possesses so many attributes that can’t be measured with statistics. One, he’s a model teammate. When manager Bruce Bochy asked him to step into the bullpen for the postseason, he didn’t pout; he wasn’t flustered. Instead, he accepted the role with dignity, swallowed his pride and executed his new job to near-perfection. Once the Champagne was flowing in Detroit, it was obvious that Timmy was the X-factor that managers Jim Leyland, Mike Matheny and Dusty Baker lacked.

Lincecum is also highly accountable, which is indicative of a champion’s mindset. Throughout his struggles this season, Timmy answered every question reporters fired his way. He didn’t duck the blame or act like a victim. He fought through the adversity and it paid off in October as the pressure mounted. Look at how Miguel Cabrera snuck out of the clubhouse after Game 3 of the World Series. Is it that shocking that he couldn’t find the courage to wave his stick with the series on the line in Game 4?

But Timmy’s greatest attribute might be his infectious heart. When he pitches, his fire doesn’t just inspire his teammates, it lights up the entire ballpark, the bars, The City. Even my friend in Los Angeles says that he finds himself rooting for the Giants when Lincecum’s on the hill.

Of course, the cynics will say that baseball is a business and the Giants need to make the financially wise decision. But what price will the team pay if Timmy’s throwing off of the rubber in another team’s colors in October 2014?

Paul Gackle is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at paul.gackle@gmail.com and followed on Twitter @PGackle.

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