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8.30.2006

From Deep Inside the Tears I'm Forced to Cry 

During last night's disaster, in which the Giants fielded and Jason Schmidt pitched like it was the last day of spring training and the bus to the airport was idling just outside the stadium gates, I realized right about the fifth inning that deep funk was not the appropriate response to a crappy loss. It is one thing to be Malo, it is another to be Feo.

So for every game that reminds me of small electrified needles under my fingernails, I will find a counterbalance. With the Giant ace Schmidt pitching his worst game of the year -- and his second straight terrible effort -- I think we need two items of sunshine. Cue Kevin Goldstein in Monday's Baseball Prospectus:

"Last night while looking at boxscores from the day's games, an IM window popped up from somebody who sees as much California League action as anyone, who was watching San Jose take on Visalia. Four simple words: 'Tim Lincecum is sick.' Sitting at 95-96 mph and touching 98 on numerous occasions, Lincecum allowed one hit over 5.2 shutout innings, walking two and striking out 11. At 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds, Lincecum's ability to do what he does is often referred to as 'freakish.' One of my few hobbies outside of baseball is...sideshows of the early 20th century, in particular, human oddities. In that world, there were two types of performers--the real deal, and "grifts," or fakes--and part of the interest was the debate over which attractions were the genuine article. Those who thought Lincecum was a grift dropped him to the 10th overall pick... and they were wrong."

In case we didn't get the point, Goldstein returned with this yesterday:

"...you don't give nearly three million dollars to sub-six-foot pitchers unless they have stuff like Tim Lincecum. This brings us of course to the guy known by the scouting community as 'Seabiscuit.' I don't think anyone is surprised to see Lincecum pitching well, but he's struck out 49 of the 103 batters he's faced, and I don't think anyone expected that level of domination."

By the way, I think it's pronounced Lin-SAY-cum, sort of like Can-SAY-co. I hope that's not a jinx.

Lincecum has dominated high-A. It's still a long way from the majors, but we may nonetheless see him for a September cup of coffee. If he keeps striking out two batters an inning, he could have an outside shot at the 2007 rotation. Even if his major-league ETA is closer to mid- or late-2007, his progress could factor into the Giants' decision on Jason Schmidt -- more so if Schmidt continues to spit the bit down the stretch.

I don't think he will, and I certainly don't wish for it, but let me explain. For his next contract, Schmidt will want $10 M+ for several years; maybe not this much, but expect Roy Oswalt's new extension to be a conversation starter when Schmidt's agent starts talking to teams this winter. He will not give the Giants a discount.

He also turns 34 in January; if he falters this September, is it a harbinger of pennant races to come? With a young core of Cain, Lowry, perhaps Hennessey; $9 M allotted to Matt Morris each of the next two years; and a chance that Sanchez and Lincecum will be viable contributors in '07, do the Giants want to spend mega-bucks on an aging pitcher with a lot of mileage on his arm? Remember, it's not just the money in '07; it's the money in '09 or '10, when he's in his late 30s.

It's akin to the Mulder-Haren decision Billy Beane made in the winter of '04/'05, though the circumstances aren't exactly the same. Mulder is younger than Schmidt, and he left via trade, not free agency. But it boiled down to the same decision: pay a lot for the veteran, or pay nearly nothing for the promising, relatively unproven kid and hope he makes a big leap forward. Look at Haren vs. Mulder the past two years. Game, set, match to Billy Beane.

Would I re-sign Jason Schmidt if I were Brian Sabean? This may sound like a typical Sabeanesque non-answer, but I think it's necessary to let the rest of the season play itself out. Does Schmidt finish strong? Does Lincecum run into trouble in the high minors or in a September call-up? Does Sanchez continue to dominate in triple A? Sort that out, then gauge Schmidt's interest in a two- or three-year contract with incentives built in. If Seattle wants to pay him $50 million over four years, well, as we used to say on the Left Banke: Just walk away, Renee.

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