Tim Lincecum’s showcase for major-league scouts went well—or well enough, anyway—and he looked pretty healthy. So now he has a contract with the chance to mount his comeback.
But you’ve read that sentence before.
When Lincecum hosted his showcase for interested teams back in 2016, the pitcher was clearly far enough from who he once was that he could be viewed only as an unknown quantity—not just a diminished version of his old award-winning self, but something else entirely. He was surgically repaired and rehabbed, but he wasn’t fixed. From the Los Angeles Times in May 2016, after news broke that Lincecum would try to make his comeback by signing a one-year deal with the Angels:
Lincecum is no longer a brand name, the guy with the two Cy Youngs, three parades and signature hair. He is one month from his 32nd birthday, five years removed from his last good season.
“You try to find lightning in a bottle,” Angels coach Gary DiSarcina said.
Everything there remains true; it just needs to be tweaked to reflect that he’s now 33 years old and seven years removed from his last good season. DiSarcina was maybe right about using lightning to describe Lincecum, but there was no bottle there—the appropriate lightning metaphors would’ve been ones about fire and destruction and chaos. That comeback attempt ended badly, after nine starts and a 9.16 ERA; specifically, it ended on a Friday night in early August, when he allowed a fourth-inning single to Seth Smith after getting the Seattle outfielder in an 0-2 count. But the last few frames of that final outing felt pretty empty, anyway, seeing as how he’d given up six runs in the first. He didn’t pitch at all last season, in any league.
Lincecum’s reported deal is with the Texas Rangers this time, and he’s aiming for the bullpen rather than the rotation. There’s some reason for optimism here—his stuff can play up working out of the pen, and given the uncertainty around Texas’s relief corps, there’s a decent chance for him to get some real time there. One of his biggest problems in his last comeback was diminished velocity, and he’s reportedly showed some slight improvement on that front. (Again, slight, but in his 2016 showcase, he sat at 89-92 mph; in his 2018 one, he was at 90-93 mph.) He’s now two full years removed from hip surgery, rather than just a few months, and, hey, he’s ripped. And remember who he was: The back-to-back Cy Young Awards, and the incredible strikeout rate, and that heat?
It’s not who he is. But remember when it was?