Lincecum-Rios quandary could linger
Sabean still debating merits of trading pitching for power
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Deciding whether they need Tim Lincecum more than they do Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Alex Rios is an issue the Giants could ponder for days after the Winter Meetings end on Thursday.Trading Lincecum, their promising right-hander, remains a possibility for the Giants, who sorely need a hitter of Rios' skill.
"It's still alive," Sabean said on Wednesday of the potential deal.But without naming Lincecum, Sabean acknowledged that the Giants are still examining the merits of trading a 23-year-old with Cy Young Award-winning talent for a 26-year-old who's already a two-time All-Star. The Giants would love to maintain their starting rotation as is, but after finishing last in the National League West and ranking close to or at the bottom of most major offensive categories, they realize that they might have to take drastic measures to upgrade their offense. "It's unique because of the principals involved," Sabean said. "That's what's compelling about it." Another compelling thought is the notion that Lincecum's tantalizing 24-game stint in 2007, which featured 150 strikeouts in 146 1/3 innings, could represent his only activity with the Giants. "It all has to be weighed because of the pain, when you're talking about the type of player you have to give up," Sabean said. "That's a loss that, in my mind, you won't be able to cover yourself. You can make adjustments internally in the rotation, but talent-wise, you're really taking a step back, present and future." Having talked with J.P. Ricciardi on Wednesday, Sabean said that he probably won't negotiate further with his Blue Jays counterpart before the Winter Meetings conclude. This leaves the Giants free to continue their debate, which Sabean said will be made in concert with his baseball operations staff. "One person, whether it's myself or one strong voice, isn't going to make this decision," he said. "... I think everybody sees the merits of both sides of the argument. That's what makes it a difficult decision. And most good things are usually difficult decisions. In this case, whether you make the trade or don't, there's relative upside and relative cost." Sabean said that the Giants faced no deadline for a decision. Asked if this issue could linger for weeks, he replied, "I really can't say."
He insisted that the Lincecum-Rios quandary hasn't hampered the Giants' other player acquisition efforts, although they've made no significant offseason moves other than re-signing 40-year-old shortstop Omar Vizquel.
"The good thing about [having] no timetable is that it allows us to do other business," he said.Asked if the ball rested in the Giants' court, Ricciardi told Toronto reporters, "I don't know. ... I just think we don't have much dialogue left. We're just waiting to see what their thoughts are on some things. We'd be willing to do some [different] things. I think they're weighing a lot of things on their end for other options." Ricciardi could understand the Giants' reluctance to part with Lincecum, widely regarded as a potential co-staff ace with fellow 23-year-old right-hander Matt Cain -- whom the Blue Jays also coveted. "I think when you look at the game the way it is, the hardest thing to get is pitching," Ricciardi said, implying that trading a talent such as Rios is also difficult. "I would rather not do that, but pitching is such a prime commodity that that's probably the price you have to pay. Any time you can pitch, you've got the advantage." The Giants sensed that they owned an advantage whenever Lincecum, 7-5 with a 4.00 ERA in his rookie season, took the mound. Asked if he liked the Giants' rotation even if it were missing "one component," Sabean replied, "Not necessarily, because you would have to see what you'd do to fill that spot."
Left-hander Jonathan Sanchez, the 25-year-old who has struck out 95 batters in 92 Major League innings, would be Lincecum's likely replacement.
"Not that that's a bad option, but he'd have some big shoes to fill," Sabean said.Economics could be another factor the Giants are considering. Rios, who earned $2.35 million last season, is likely to receive hefty raises through salary arbitration until he becomes eligible for free agency following the 2010 season. By contrast, Lincecum won't be eligible for salary arbitration until after the 2009 season. But if the Giants don't obtain Rios, and should they fall short in their lukewarm pursuit of free-agent center fielder Andruw Jones, they could enter the 2008 season with essentially the same offensive underachievers from 2007. Sabean indicated that engineering two trades that would bring San Francisco hitting in return would be challenging. And, he noted, "There aren't many free-agent options that are significant acquisitions."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.