SAN FRANCISCO -- Tim Lincecum threw one of his best changeups Tuesday.
Known for the pitch that upsets a hitter's timing, Lincecum caught the baseball world off-balance by agreeing to a two-year contract with the Giants reportedly worth $35 million.
That Lincecum maintained his ties to the Giants, his employers since they selected him in the first round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, was not too surprising. What stunned observers was the early settlement. Though Lincecum never ruled out staying with the Giants, he was fully expected to enter free agency after the World Series and evaluate offers from other teams.
Lincecum was not talking Tuesday because the deal was not official until the right-hander passed the requisite physical examination. Lincecum's agent, Rick Thurman of Beverly Hills Sports Council, could not be reached for comment. But determining why Lincecum accepted the Giants' offer was simple. The contract's average annual value of $17.5 million far exceeded the one-year qualifying offer, worth an anticipated $14 million, the Giants would have made to receive Draft-choice compensation had Lincecum signed elsewhere.
Speaking on 95.7-FM The Game, Giants vice president and assistant general manager Bobby Evans noted that preliminary talks with Thurman began during the club's negotiations with right fielder Hunter Pence. Thurman also represents Pence, who agreed to a five-year, $90 million deal one day before the regular season ended.
"It was convenient to be able to shift gears," Evans said.
Lincecum was ranked the fourth-best starting pitcher among potential free agents behind Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez. Whether Lincecum could have commanded as much as $17.5 million annually on the open market is subject to debate, given his recent performance.
He fashioned a 69-41 record with a 2.98 ERA from 2007-11, a period in which he won two National League Cy Young Awards and was elected the 2010 postseason's Most Valuable Player by the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. But in the last two seasons, Lincecum finished 20-29 with a 4.76 ERA. He led the National League with 15 losses in 2012 and recorded the league's highest ERA, 5.18, among pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Opponents hit .252 with 44 home runs off him in the last two seasons, compared with .223 through 2011.
Yet Lincecum sustained his flair for the spectacular. He excelled as a reliever in the 2012 World Series, recording a 0.69 ERA in five appearances.
"Obviously it's been an up-and-down last couple of years for him, but I think he showed how important he was to us," Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford said. Lincecum no-hit the Padres on July 13 of this year, striking out 13 while throwing a staggering total of 148 pitches.
Lincecum is also one of 10 Major Leaguers to have won at least 10 games in each of the last six seasons.
"I think some of his numbers were a little skewed," left-hander Jeremy Affeldt said. "I think the bullpen didn't help him out. We coughed up quite a bit of his runs instead of getting him out of jams."
To skeptics saying Lincecum was overpaid, Evans said Lincecum's body of work should be considered.
"This is a player that's had tremendous success as a Giant," Evans said. "We know what we're getting in Tim Lincecum and how important he is to our rotation."
Coping with diminished fastball velocity, Lincecum showed the Giants enough adaptability this year to convince them he can continue his progress. General manager Brian Sabean said before the All-Star break and reiterated after the season that retaining Lincecum was a priority. Sabean viewed the four-time All-Star as someone who could contribute to the resurgence of the Giants' pitching, which ranked 13th in the NL this year with ERAs of 4.00 overall and 4.37 for the starters.
The Giants are said to be pursuing another starting pitcher and would like to add another proven hitter to the projected lineup. Retaining left-handed reliever Javier Lopez is another of Sabean's objectives.
"I'm definitely looking forward to seeing our front office continue to do their thing in making our team the best they can; that's what's up," right-hander Sergio Romo said in a text message.
Lincecum's teammates appeared thrilled to keep him in their midst.
"He's a familiar face for us; he's a familiar face for the fans; he's a familiar face for the front office, and he was raised as a Giant," Affeldt said. "I don't think [management] really wanted to let him go."
Ideally for the Giants, Lincecum will assume an integral role as the team strives to rebound from this year's 76-86 finish.
"I think we'll come back with a little more fire than we had," Affeldt said. "I don't know why we didn't or why it seemed like we didn't [in 2013], but I think there'll be something that we want to prove a little more next year. You want to have that core group back, and so to have Timmy back is a big deal."
Said Pence in a text message: "I'm thrilled he's coming back. Tim is a pivotal part of this club and our success. He's a guy you want on the mound, and it's a privilege to play behind him."
Catcher Buster Posey echoed Pence.
"I'm excited to hear that Timmy will be back in a Giants uniform next year," Posey said in a text message. "He is a great teammate and has been a big part of what we have accomplished the past few years. More importantly, he has the ability to help us get back to where we want to be next year."
Romo indicated that Lincecum, who is as popular in the clubhouse as he is among fans, would have left a noticeable void had he left San Francisco.
"He's an awesome teammate and a big part of the camaraderie and makeup of our team," Romo said. "He's a big piece of the puzzle."