The news that Giants ace Tim Lincecum avoided arbitration and signed a two year, $23 million deal is fantastic for Giants fans everywhere. As the best pitcher in baseball - and as a two-time Cy Young winner in his first three seasons, one who has unprecedented success - this could have gotten very ugly, very fast.
But it didn't, mostly because Lincecum is a team player, doesn't seem to be unreasonably concerned with money and is smart enough to understand the limitations of the Giants in 2010.
Arbitration had been scheduled for today, with the Giants lowballing an $8MM offer that infuriated fans like me, while Lincecum's team asked for $13MM. Given that guys like Barry Zito, C.C. Sabathia and Roy Halladay make $20MM/year, it wasn't unrealistic to believe that Timmy would have won his case.
Instead, he took less. Here's what I think actually happened:
- The Giants knew that Lincecum won't be a free agent until 2014, regardless of any other factor. This gave them some leverage in negotiations.
- They also knew that Lincecum could easily have asked for $15-16MM for 2010, and probably hoped to pay him closer to $11MM. So, why didn't they enter that as their offer? Because if they did, there would be no reason for Lincecum to accept a multiple year offer averaging $11MM, when he could have had a situation where that was the WORST case scenario in 2010. Instead, the $8MM was a realistic number. In fact, his two-year contract pays him just that in 2010, with $13MM in 2011 and a $2MM signing bonus.
- Lincecum had to be painfully aware of the onus that Zito's contract puts upon the Giants purse strings. Sadly, that contract lasts through 2013 (thanks again, Sabean!) so it's not like this will change by the time his next contract is up for discussion - though his last arbitration year will be Zito-free, meaning there is a chance he could ink a long-term deal. But either way, it shows that he's not a me-first kind of guy.
- Tim Lincecum also cut three inches off his hair. This is not newsworthy except it makes old farts like Gary Radnich happy. But it also means he'll look less like Mitch Kramer from Dazed and Confused, which is a good thing.
- Without Lincecum making Zito money next year, the team can pretend it will actually spend that extra money wisely. History has proven otherwise but at least today, they made a very, very good move.
Update: Or ... what Rob Neyer said.