By Ann Killion
January 19, 2010

Clark County District Court Judge Darvin Zimmerman either has a highly tuned sense of irony or an obliviousness that borders on cosmic.

Last month Zimmerman rescheduled Tim Lincecum's court date in Washington State -- to finalize an agreement to turn his possession of a marijuana pipe into a civil infraction -- for today.

The same day that Lincecum and the San Francisco Giants exchange arbitration numbers.

The two events have nothing to do with each other except that they are both major events in young Lincecum's life. And the former transaction may be an indication of Lincecum's youth, which makes what happens in the latter transaction all the more remarkable.

Because Lincecum, 25, is expected to break the salary record for a player in his first year of eligibility. That record is currently held by Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, who increased his yearly salary from $900,000 to $10 million, one year after being named the National League MVP.

Lincecum's case is even stronger. One of the great bargains in a sport with precious few to be had, Lincecum made $650,000 last year, while winning his second consecutive National League Cy Young Award.

Lincecum's starting point will likely be higher than Howard's $10 million. There's some speculation that his agent Rick Thurman could ask for the moon, leaping up into the CC Sabathia stratosphere of $23 million, though that seems unlikely.

But Lincecum will end up a very rich young man, in any case. After the sides exchange numbers Tuesday, an arbitration date will be set for next month. The Giants will likely work hard to avoid arbitration and pound out a deal.

If the two sides go to arbitration it could get sticky. The Giants don't want to damage their relationship with their biggest star. And they don't want to poke holes in his salary case by bringing up anything negative -- including and especially the circumstances behind Lincecum's court date in Washington.

If the Giants don't handle this negotiation right, they not only run the risk of alienating Lincecum but also incurring the wrath of their entire fan base. Though in these tough economic times you might imagine that a baseball player on the brink of an eight-figure salary would get little sympathy, the fans in San Francisco would likely make an exception for Lincecum.

He is by far the most popular player on the team -- in fact he's the biggest star in any sport in the star-starved Bay Area. And the Giants fan base have watched their team squander money for years, throwing millions away on players like Aaron Rowand ($9.6 million last season) and most notably Barry Zito, who signed a seven-year, $126 million contract three years ago.

Lincecum, in contrast, has been a homegrown bargain who has justified a gigantic raise. His marijuana possession did nothing to damage his popularity; when he made his first public comments after winning the Cy Young he was contrite and believable.

Lincecum, known as "The Franchise" or "The Freak" doesn't become a free agent for four more years. The reason he is arbitration eligible is that he is among the players in the top 17 percent of service time between two and three years. If the Giants had waited nine days to bring up Lincecum in May 2007, they wouldn't be in this high-priced predicament.

But back in 2007, they were eager to bring up the rookie, less than one year after he was drafted. Eager to give their floundering franchise -- a team milking one final year out of Barry Bonds -- a fresh jolt of energy.

Lincecum immediately provided that. He debuted against the Phillies and was solid. But he gave up a two-run home run to his arbitration soul mate Howard.

"I'll remember how far that ball went," Lincecum said at the time.

That was the year Howard was the MVP and set the arbitration bar so high. Lincecum is about to clear it.

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