SAN FRANCISCO – The Giants might be out of contention, but there’s still a very good reason for their fans to scoreboard watch -- especially if they’re keen on Tim Lincecum re-signing after this season.
They’ll want the Seattle Mariners to go on a nice winning streak.
Believe it or not, the more games the Mariners win down the stretch, the better the chances that Lincecum won’t get wooed by his hometown club this winter.
The explanation on that in a moment. But first:
A greater concentration of scouts than normal attended Lincecum’s start on Monday, aware that he’ll be a free agent in a few weeks. They're taking notes on Hunter Pence and other Giants and Rockies free agents, too. They’ll write their reports and make their recommendations on whom they should target, and how strong their interest should be.
And yes, the Mariners have a scout in attendance.
Lincecum is a Seattle-area native and has made no secret that he loves being at home. He was disappointed in 2006 when the Mariners passed on him with the fifth overall pick, taking right-hander Brandon Morrow instead. (The Giants took Lincecum 10th overall out of the University of Washington.)
Here’s why the Mariners’ record down the stretch will matter: Giants GM Brian Sabean has said the club will make a qualifying offer to Lincecum after the season, which the right-hander probably would turn down. (It’s a one-year guarantee worth roughly $14 million.) But it’s a strategic decision to extend the offer, even if the Giants know Lincecum would turn it down. It means that if another team signs Lincecum, that club would forfeit its first-round draft pick.
Here’s the catch: The top 10 picks in the draft are protected. And right now, the Mariners are 65-79 – tied with the Giants for the eighth worst record in the major leagues. The Rockies are just a game better in the win column. The Padres and Phillies are just two games better in the loss column.
So in the span of a couple days, the Mariners could “improve” their standing – and end up picking 11th or later, which would make their pick unprotected.
We saw it with Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse this past offseason. When draft pick compensation is tied to a free agent, it acts as a millstone around their neck. And any team that signs Lincecum won’t view him as a No. 1 or No. 2 starter. More like a No. 4 who could be a contributor in the bullpen down the road.
So as warm a homecoming as it might be, the Mariners are in rebuild mode. They’d have a hard time parting with their top pick to sign Lincecum, or anyone else for that matter.
The takeaway: If you want to increase the chances Lincecum remains Giant, you’ll want to root, root root for the Mariners down the stretch.
One more thing: In a twisted way, you might prefer for the Giants to finish with one of the 10 worst records. That way, if they want to pursue a free agent who gets a qualifying offer, such as perhaps Bronson Arroyo if the Reds extend him one, the Giants’ draft pick would be protected. They’d have to sacrifice a second-rounder instead, and that’s obviously a much easier bridge to cross.