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Breaking Down Tim Lincecum's Landmark Arbitration Hearing

Feb 11, 2010 – 1:17 PM
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Jeff Fletcher

Jeff Fletcher %BloggerTitle%

Tim LincecumThe Big Showdown is coming. Or maybe not.

Just when the baseball world had braced itself for what seemed to be an inevitable arbitration hearing between Tim Lincecum and the Giants, there is news that negotiations may not have been as quiet as we'd thought. The Giants offered Lincecum a three-year, $37 million deal, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and Lincecum's agent countered with something above $40 million.

That certainly seems like an indication that there is still hope for the two sides to hammer out an agreement before they sit across the table from each other in front of an arbitration panel on Friday. And even if they do get that far, they could still reach a deal. Last year the Dodgers and Andre Ethier went to a hearing, but in the middle of the proceedings, GM Ned Colletti and Ethier's agent went into the hall and reached an agreement.

If the case goes all the way, the two sides will take turns defending their number -- the Giants at $8 million and Lincecum at $13 million -- over a three-hour proceeding. The panel of three arbitrators will then deliberate and pick one or the other. Rulings usually come down the next day.

As we all wait to see what will happen, let's answer a few questions.

Aren't the Giants crazy to pick this fight with Lincecum?

The Giants are doing what they are supposed to do, which is try to get the most for their money. It's a business, and teams have always and will always try to sign players for the minimum amount possible. GM Brian Sabean gets a lot of heat for overpaying for free agents like Edgar Renteria, but then he's supposed to just fork over an extra $5 million to Lincecum because he's a great pitcher and a really nice guy? How come no one was calling the Giants cheapskates last year when they paid Lincecum a mere $650,000 after he won his first Cy Young?

The Giants offered $8 million, which is a pretty big chunk of change. There are no comparables for Lincecum, but here's a look at the closest ones out there over recent years, and what they made as first-year arbitration-eligibles. Lincecum is 40-17 with a 2.90 ERA, by the way.

Pitcher Record ERA Salary
Roy Oswalt 43-17 2.92 $3.25 million
Dontrelle Willis 46-27 3.27 $4.35 million
Justin Verlander 46-34 4.11 $3.675 million
Felix Hernandez 39-36 3.80 $3.8 million
Cole Hamels 38-23 3.43 $4.35 million

Now, none of those guys won the Cy Young Award, let alone two of them, but all were established as No. 1 pitchers. Willis finished second in Cy voting prior to becoming arbitration eligible. Remember, a Cy Young Award is something that writers decide, and most folks out there seem to think that writers don't know how to do it properly anyway. If Lincecum had finished second in the Cy Young voting each of his two years -- and a case could have been made for Johan Santana in 2008 and Chris Carpenter or Wainwright in 2009 -- the Giants and Lincecum would be haggling over half as much money.

So what's Lincecum's case?

Easy. The rules say that because of Lincecum's "special accomplishments," they don't have to stick to service-time comparables. They can use anyone. Here are the pitchers over the past five years who have had back-to-back seasons with a combined 30 wins and a sub-3.00 ERA, along with their salaries the following year. Lincecum is 33-12 with a 2.55 ERA over the past two years.

Pitcher (Years) Record ERA Salary
Roy Halladay ('08-09) 37-21 2.78 $15.75 million
Cliff Lee ('08-'09) 36-16 2.89 $8 million
Adam Wainwright ('08-'09) 30-11 2.84 $4.65 million
CC Sabathia ('07-'08) 36-17 2.95 $14 million
Johan Santana ('07-'08) 31-20 2.92 $20 million
Chris Carpenter ('05-'06) 36-13 2.95 $7 million
Roy Oswalt ('05-'06) 35-20 2.96 $13 million
Johan Santana ('05-'06) 35-13 2.82 $12 million

That gives you an idea of where the $13 million came from. However, these pitchers aren't quite comparable to Lincecum because most of them were pitching in that third year under multi-year deals signed earlier. Oswalt signed his extension late in the second year. Sabathia, who was a free agent, was the only one who took that completed second year in the negotiations.

Lincecum's side will also certainly bring up Ryan Howard, who got $10 million as a first-year arbitration-eligible player after winning just one MVP. The Giants would argue that an everyday player and a starting pitcher are two different things.

Aren't the Giants taking a chance of ticking off Lincecum if they go to a hearing?

Possibly, but not likely. First of all, they aren't likely to say anything bad about the guy in the hearing. They are simply going to argue that their figure doesn't fit with the precedent. Period.

Lincecum is a pretty smart kid -- his marijuana bust notwithstanding -- and he seems to understand that this is business, and has nothing to do with what happens on the field. He said as much last week.

Also, the Giants still have Lincecum under control through the 2013 season, so it's a long time before Lincecum has to make any decisions that would affect whether he's wearing a Giants uniform or not. No matter how ticked off he may be in February 2010 by settling for only $8 million, there are three more years and many more millions of dollars to go for him to get over it.

There's another interesting idea, thrown out by ESPN's Buster Olney, that the Giants are actually letting MLB argue the management side of the case in the hearing. They could be doing that to keep their own hands clean in the messy process.

What about that marijuana bust? Could the Giants bring that up?

Absolutely. As one executive told me, these arbitration hearings are not a court of law, so there are no rules about what is admissible and what isn't. The Braves case against John Rocker provided an example that anything goes once you get into that room.

Now, would the Giants bring it up? Doubtful. They are going to bend over backward to make their case in as sterile a way as possible, without using specifics about Lincecum as a person, or even a pitcher. A good goal would be to present the case in such legal and technical form that Lincecum falls asleep and doesn't even hear what they are saying about him.
Filed under: Sports
Tagged: Tim Lincecum