Inbox: Where does Lincecum fit in Giants' future?

Beat reporter Chris Haft answers fans' questions

Inbox: Where does Lincecum fit in Giants' future?

Is there even the slightest chance that Tim Lincecum gets a bare-bones contract with the chance to compete for a bullpen role? I could see him being a great setup option, even with his declining velocity. If he's healthy, that is.
-- Michael C., Mesa, Ariz.

Will the Giants sign Lincecum to an incentive-laden contract and use him as the new Yusmeiro Petit -- as a replacement when a starter in the rotation gets injured or underperforms and as a long or middle reliever otherwise?
-- Rich S., San Diego

Until the ink's dry on Lincecum's signature affixed to a contract with one of the other 29 teams, chances of his returning to the Giants remain alive. That said, he must first address priorities more urgent than team affiliation or his potential role on a staff. I'm obviously not a doctor; nor have I witnessed any of Lincecum's throwing sessions, assuming he has progressed to that point. But the nature of his hip surgery may prolong his readjustment to being on a mound.

That's my roundabout way of saying -- it's only my opinion -- that he'll almost certainly need a stint in extended Spring Training, the Minor Leagues or both before he performs in the Majors again. He's trying to overcome not only surgery, but also inactivity. He hasn't pitched since last June 27.

Lincecum hit by liner, exits

Even if Lincecum looks impressive at his pitching "showcase," which is tentatively scheduled for later this month or early February, he'll need time. Time to build endurance, regain consistency and revise his approach to facing hitters. And the passage of time favors the Giants. With Jake Peavy's contract expiring after this season, they could need another starter in 2017.

Covering Lincecum's Major League career has been a privilege, and I will believe in his ability until he declares that he has thrown his final pitch. I'm not alone in my faith. One source told me that Lincecum's agent has received inquiries from every team at one point or another. If that's true, that can be expected when the subject is a free agent with two Cy Young Awards, four All-Star selections, two no-hitters and an impressive postseason resume. But as Michael mentioned above, everything hinges on Lincecum's health.

With the addition of Denard Span to an outfield with Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence, and with Gregor Blanco as the likely fourth outfielder, is there any room for Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker to get any solid at-bats? And is there any chance either of them can get at-bats at a position like first base?
-- Steve E., Sacramento, Calif.

Barring injuries, I doubt that either Williamson or Parker will receive much regular-season activity with the Giants. Heck, Blanco may struggle to accumulate a representative number of at-bats. If Pence is healthy, he'll play all 162 games or close to that total. Entering the final year of his contract, Pagan has much to prove as he attempts to position himself for free agency. He, too, will strive to be in the lineup as much as possible. I can envision manager Bruce Bochy resting Span occasionally to prevent him from fatigue, which leads to injury. However, if he's nearly the offensive dynamo that he was with Washington, he'll play at least 140 games.

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That scenario leaves extremely little playing time for Blanco (who somehow always exceeds 400 plate appearances) and virtually none for the rookies. Moreover, Williamson never has played first base professionally. Parker experienced an 18-game stint at first with Class A advanced San Jose in 2011, his initial professional season. But he hasn't played there since.

And contrary to popular belief, first base is not a spot where you shove somebody thoughtlessly just to get his bat in the lineup. It's a vital defensive position (aren't they all?) requiring mastery of various subtleties. We'll see plenty of Williamson and Parker in the Cactus League as they compete to improve their status on the club's pecking order. After that, their plate appearances will come intermittently with the Giants or regularly at Triple-A.

What does the bullpen look like with all these changes? We lost Jeremy Affeldt. I'm not sure who takes over for him. Nice to see Hunter Strickland take over the ninth inning?
-- Rahn C., Gilroy, Calif.

Strickland might indeed inherit the closer's role, but it won't occur until 2017, unless Santiago Casilla slumps. Casilla, who seems to receive underwhelming fan support despite saving 38 games last season, is back for what could be his final year as a Giant. He's entering the last year of his contract.

Replacing Affeldt, who was capable of handling multiple roles and subduing left- and right-handed batters, will require a group effort. Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez will continue to bear heavy responsibility, but Strickland and Josh Osich will be asked to grow up fast and secure key outs. Moreover, the starters must ease the bullpen's burden by pitching deeper into games. That fueled the Giants' desire to add potential innings-eaters such as Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto to the rotation.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.