Feb 12, 2010, 6:14 PM EDT
The talk earlier this winter was that Tim Lincecum might try to set a very expensive precedent. Few players have ever gone to arbitration with anything resembling his kind of track record, and none of them have had just two-plus years of service time. The closest comparable was Ryan Howard, who won an MVP award in his first full season in 2006 and then finished fifth in 2007. Eligible for arbitration for the first time as a super-two player, he asked for $10 million for the 2008 season and won his case.
Howard, though, even with his very impressive collection of hardware, wasn’t the NL’s best first baseman at the time. That was Albert Pujols, and Prince Fielder also had a superior season in 2007. Lance Berkman wasn’t far behind.
Lincecum, on the other hand, is the NL’s best pitcher. He was the obvious choice for Cy Young honors in 2008, and while it wasn’t so cut and dry last season, he won again in 2009. I can’t imagine even the strongest supporters of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright would consider either a better bet than Lincecum for 2010.
So, it was pretty disappointing Friday to see Lincecum take a two-year, $23 million deal just prior to an arbitration hearing. Lincecum had asked for $13 million in his first of four years of arbitration eligibility, while the Giants submitted an $8 million figure.
Lincecum will receive $9 million this year and $14 million in 2011. Incredibly, he’s taking less than the $25 million that Howard received between his super-two year and the first season of a three-year, $54 million contract he received a year ago. Before agreeing to that deal, Howard asked for $18 million and was offered $14 million in his second arbitration year.
It really is hard to believe Lincecum would settle for such a modest pact. Sure, he’s set for life now, but just the $8 million that he was assured in 2010 would have set him up pretty well on its own. Plus, he could have invested some of it in an extravagant insurance policy that would have protected him against a catastrophic arm injury.
But that wasn’t his choice, and the Giants should consider themselves extremely fortunate. If Lincecum is willing to give up money now, it has to buoy their hopes that he’ll eventually be amenable to a deal that will buy out some free agent seasons.
The MLBPA has to be considerably less pleased. Very few marquee players are actually stepping up and challenging the arbitration system. If Lincecum had won his argument today and received $13 million, it was perfectly conceivable to see a situation in which he could have earned $22 million-$25 million in a season before even becoming a free agent. Lincecum’s award might have been the difference between Jair Jurrjens asking for $9 million or $7 million when he’s up for arbitration for the first time next year. If could have set a precedent for when Clayton Kershaw and Rick Porcello become eligible for the first time in two years.
There won’t be any domino effect now, though. Lincecum is just the latest in a long line of big talents to play it safe.
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