Hometown product Tim Lincecum could have added depth to the bullpen and championship experience to Seattle's roster while providing the Mariners with a possible starter if someone falters. Too bad it didn't work out.
My modern-day sports heroes are few, but Tim Lincecum still remains one of them.
Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Hope Solo are on my list. Marshawn Lynch, undeniably. Lincecum is a champion, a craftsman of the pitching mound, plus we were both Washington Huskies at the same time.
Individual awards? No problem. Team awards. Even better.
They said he was a flame thrower, throwing in the high-90s with his freakish motion, twisting and turning with his long floppy hair and a champion’s mix of intensity and focus beneath a boyish grin. GQ named him one of the 25 sexiest and coolest athletes of all time.
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And Lincecum was also a free agent looking for a place to land. How about the Seattle Mariners?
The Mariners have a dreadful history. In watching the Mariners over the past 23 years, I can tell you that they are close, but still lack the championship caliber to be put them over the top. They have talent and potential. They have the King, Felix Hernandez. The remainder of their rotation is also of championship caliber — the Japanese craftsman, Hisashi Iwakuma; and the blossoming talent, Tajuan Walker. James Paxton waits in the minors, and two journeyman pitchers jostle for the fourth and fifth spot in the rotation.
But everybody knows pitching for championships is built in the bullpen, and by building your team with champions. Adding Lincecum could have helped fill both needs. And as we learned last weekend, when the Mariners were swept by a Los Angeles Angels team crippled by injuries, the Mariners may need help in both areas. Instead, the Angels reportedly are about to sign Lincecum to fill out their weakened starting rotation.
The Mariners reportedly had interest in Lincecum and were one of the teams that scouted him during a workout in March in Scottsdale, Ariz. But Lincecum and his agent wanted an opportunity to start, and the Mariners’ needs were in the bullpen.
It’s too bad it didn’t work out. Championship pedigree is something Lincecum could have added to the Mariners. It’s why teams continued to look at the right-hander even after he took three months longer than expected to return from what could have been a career-ending hip injury after three subpar seasons. It’s why the Angels came calling.
Lincecum took his time coming back, knowing that he had nothing left to prove. Three World Series rings, two National League Cy Young Awards, two no-hitters. What else is left?
Just ask Tim Lincecum. It’s hard to win a championship, but even harder to break a curse. To do it in the windy stage he was on, before he was 30 was remarkable. He wasn’t just the Freak. He was the Freak of Fall.
He could have had a chance to not only win another championship, but break another curse. With the Mariners, a team that has never won a World Series and last made the playoffs in 2001.
Sure, Lincecum wanted to start, but wouldn’t a long relief position that could turn into a spot in the starting rotation suit his physical and emotional needs right now? His fastball returning to over 90 mph was an amazing accomplishment. Mixed with his knowledge of winning, filling this role for the Mariners might be exactly the piece they need. Returning to his hometown and breaking another curse would be a challenge that no other team (except maybe the Chicago Cubs) could have given him.
Lincecum is a philosopher, a goofy kid, a cool cat and a winner. He got hurt and they put him in the bullpen, and he was still a winner.
And even better, his pricetag made him an affordable, low-risk signing for any team making a legitimate run at the World Series.
Lincecum, 31, doesn’t strike me as a man who plays the game for the money. He’s not in it just for the paycheck. Never was, never will be. He plays the game to challenge his immense talent, talent that has lifted him to heights that few starting pitchers have ever known. Could he become a championship quality starting pitcher again? I hope so.
The possibility of him reprising his role in middle relief and regaining his winning form — a fastball in the low 90s with championship command — left me sad he didn’t land in Seattle.
Bringing him to Seattle would have righted one of the biggest mistakes in franchise history — drafting pitcher Brandon Morrow instead of Lincecum in the 2006 MLB draft. In a season the Mariners have begun correcting course by changing manager, general manager and CEO, adding The Freak would have made it clean sweep.
Imagine him bolstering the bullpen. Or starting behind a rotation of King Felix, Kuma and Walker. It would have been a Seattle story like no other.
Ramesh Narasimhan, 40, has been a Mariners baseball fan since he cheered for them at the Kingdome in 1995. He has lived in Seattle off and on for about 10 years, but keeps bringing World Championships to other cities when he moves away. The University of Washington graduate (and UW classmate of Tim Lincecum’s from 2004 to 2006) moved to the Bay Area and watched Lincecum win two of his three World Series with the San Francisco Giants. After returning to Seattle, he recently moved to Kansas City and watched the Royals win a title.
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