It was the winter of 2007.  Tim Lincecum had just finished his shortened rookie season with a 4.00 ERA, 150 strikeouts in 146.1 innings, but the Giants had finished in the basement of the NL West at 71-91.  Barry Bonds wasn’t coming back.  Alex Rios was three years away from being a free agent.  The 26-year old Toronto Blue Jays outfielder had just had a career-high 24 home runs with a .297 batting average, a 5.6 WAR, and his second All-Star season.

Toronto offered him to the Giants for Lincecum, straight up.  Thus started an amazing “What if” offseason, with no one knowing the right answer.

The Giants said no, and that appeared to be the right answer.  Rios had a solid 2008.  His home runs dropped to 15, but he actually had a higher WAR (5.9).  Lincecum, though, had a 7.9 WAR as he won the first of two Cy Youngs.  Rios dropped off significantly in 2009, batting just .247 (especially after batting just .199 in 41 games after being traded to the Chicago White Sox).  The Giants went on to win a World Series with Lincecum as a leader.  Pretty clear that it was a good no-trade.

In 2013, would you do it now?

First of all, this is an academic exercise.  If the Giants were going to trade for Rios, it’d be for a package of prospects.  Probably a fair number of prospects.  The White Sox are rebuilding, in the basement of the A.L. Central.  The Giants are damn close to the basement, but kinda close to first as well.

But, let’s just think about it.  5+ years later, what’s the answer?

Rios is now 32.  He’s coming off one of his best seasons since that 2007-2008 stretch, where he hit 25 homers with a career-high .304 average.  This year, he’s batting .272 but does have 11 home runs halfway through the season.  He’s still a solid baserunning threat.  He’s signed through 2014 at $12.5M, with a club option for 2015 at $13.5M.

Lincecum, at 29, is no longer a Cy Young candidate.  He has marginally improved from a career-worst 2012 season where he wasn’t truly a playoff starter for the team.  He has a 4.64 ERA, a career-low 8.8 K/9IP.  He’s shown signs of getting his mechanics back down, but he’s not a dominating starter.  He’s a free agent at the end of the year, and could be a bargain for a team on a short-term deal to give him time to prove he can get back to where he was.

The thing is, Rios has had spikes in his career.  Then he drops off the face of the planet.    His 2013 could go either way.  He hasn’t been convincing.  Lincecum, on the other hand, is just two years removed from a strong 2011, where he had a 4.2 WAR.  Not as strong as his Cy Young years, but pretty damn strong.  And he did it without the strikeouts, and with increased walks.

Forget the placement of the teams, and whether it makes sense.  Would you do it?

It’s a tough decision for me to say.  There’s something to be said for a change of scenery helping a player, and maybe in the end, that’s what Lincecum needs.  I have no doubt he could be great again…but could it be in San Francisco?  After all that’s happened?

What I remember of Rios is the 2007 Home Run Derby.  He came to San Francisco, and hit home runs that rivaled the majesty of Bonds.  His swing was nice, even if it didn’t translate to games always.  And he nearly hit the coke bottle.

However, he is wildly inconsistent at times.  He’s not a superstar hitter, and he’s only rarely a star anymore.  The Giants need some offensive help, but…more than their pitching right now?  And what will the Giants do when Pagan comes back, or Gary Brown or Roger Kieschnick need to come up?  Or Rios doesn’t want to shift to left?

But there’s something about Lincecum.  Maybe I’m sentimental, but I’m a little attached to him.  He’s a bit uniquely San Franciscan, in that he’s a little different, a little frowned upon, and very misunderstood.  He’s got a hero’s journey to complete…probably.

And the Giants need him, too.  As I’ve often mentioned, the Giants have three free agent rotation pitchers at the end of this season: Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong and (potentially) Barry Zito.  At this point, Vogelsong is nothing but questions.  Zito would be expensive, but at least the Giants have a crazy option of keeping him.

But Lincecum…his best fit might be with San Francisco.  Anywhere else, and the media will be even more focused on him, as a newcomer who really needs to perform, both for his new team and himself.  In San Francisco, Giants fans know him, and while there’ll be pressure, it won’t be the same kind.  We know not to expect too much.  And as Lincecum tries to find out if he can ever make $15M+ on a free agent market on a short deal, the Giants would be a good place for him to try, in terms of environment.

So, maybe just for sentimental reasons.  Maybe a bit for baseball reasons.  But I still wouldn’t do it.