Amid the flurry of discussion about all the available top-flight starting pitching, one of the biggest names has slinked under the radar, where he's likely to stay until sometime in January. Tim Lincecum, the only free agent with two Cy Young Awards, is expected to bide his time as he recovers from September hip surgery, according to league sources.
While a team could tempt Lincecum with a strong contract offer, the likelier possibility and current plan is for him to hold a showcase event sometime in January, by which time his doctors expect him to be throwing. And the possibility of blowing away scouts and executives with a fully healed body excites the 31-year-old, according to people familiar with his recovery.
Lincecum has spent the offseason funding his own rehabilitation in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he's receiving daily guidance from a hip-rehab specialist who worked at the Colorado clinic where he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip and fix an impingement. While hip surgery isn't a career killer, proper rehabilitation is paramount, and Lincecum wanted no shortcuts on his path to regaining his past glory.
With hip pain gone, Lincecum believes he can regain at least some of the missing 6 mph in fastball velocity from his peak. Though he managed to record outs with an 88-mph fastball last season, Lincecum understands how velocity combined with deception and great know-how to turn him into, for a period of time, the world's finest pitcher.
Now, for the first time, Lincecum is a free agent, potentially gone from San Francisco, where he has spent nine seasons after the Giants drafted him in 2006. Multiple executives told Yahoo Sports they have interest in Lincecum, though it comes with a caveat: The level of that interest depends on how he heals.
So far, Lincecum's doctors have called him the "poster boy" for recovery from his hip surgery. He is ahead of the five-month schedule, and in December, he will return to Vail, Colo., to visit his surgeon, who could continue the rehab for a short period or give Lincecum the go-ahead to throw a baseball.
Lincecum's doctor in September told CBS Sports the hip issue is not degenerative – one source familiar with the procedure said Lincecum was pedaling a stationary bicycle soon after the surgery – allaying concerns that any contract would amount to buying damaged goods. On the contrary, a healthy Lincecum could prove to be a potential bargain of the winter, especially with the likelihood he seeks a one-year deal that would allow him to hit free agency after a healthy season.
For him to cash in, it needs to be more effective than his most recent ones. Lincecum's 4.13 ERA in 2015 was his best mark since 2011. His strikeout rates have mirrored his velocity in descent, and last season's foray into working backward – he threw his changeup more than any other single pitch – had mixed results.
While some executives dream of seeing that changeup in a relief role – paired with the extra juice added to a fastball by a move to the bullpen – Lincecum still wants to be a starter, a role he held as so many doubted his 5-foot-11, 170-pound frame could hold up to the rigors of the rotation. Winning the NL Cy Young in his first and second full seasons more than validated Lincecum and makes his conviction about starting that much more understandable.
For now, Lincecum plans on going home to the Seattle area for Thanksgiving before returning to the rehab grind and trying to position himself to make an impact again in 2016. At one point, his name was up there with David Price's and Zack Greinke's and Johnny Cueto's and Jordan Zimmermann's as the jewels of the current free-agent class.
All of them may be signed by the time of the planned showcase, allowing baseball's eyes once again to focus on something that not long ago they wouldn't have missed for the world: Tim Lincecum throwing a baseball.