What the sides need to do now is to compromise, and to find the right multiyear deal to satisfy both sides. There is no sense going to arbitration. No sense for the Giants, who shouldn't want to beat up the game's best pitcher (if they can even figure out a way to do so, beyond the marijuana paraphernalia charge). And there's no sense risking a loss in arbitration if you're Lincecum.
Not that arbitration is out of the question for such a superstar player. The Phillies took Ryan Howard, winner of Rookie of the Year and MVP awards by then, to arbitration. The Dodgers took Eric Gagne to arbitration off his perfect 55-save season. The Yankees took Derek JeterandMariano Rivera to arbitration.
In the latter case, Jeter beat the Yankees, the Yankees beat Rivera, and the all lived happily ever after. But why take that chance? Not every player is as thick-skinned as Jeter and Rivera are.
The much better alternative in the case of star players is to compromise, to find middle ground on a longer deal. Mark Teixeira, Matt Holliday and Prince Fielder all did multiyear deals to take care of arbitration years. The Dodgers within the past week signed Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton to two-year deals to avoid arbitration. That's the smart way to go. Felix Hernandez wiped away his final two arbitration years just Tuesday with a $78-million, five-year deal. That's the wise way, as well.
Compromising on a reasonable multiyear deal brings security for the player and cost certainty for the team. It'd be good for Lincecum, and good for MLB, as well.
Baseball's powers love nothing more than to remove superstar players from arbitration because when these players win they carry the potential to blow the lid off the arbitration market. And MLB has done a superb job keeping the stars at reasonable rates early in the arbitration process.
For now, the record for a first-year arbitration-eligible pitcher is $6.25 million for Jonathan Papelbon, and the record for a first-year arbitration-eligible starter -- oddly enough -- is actually even lower at only $4.35 million for Dontrelle Willis and Cole Hamels. With the Giants figure at $8 million, Lincecum is going to easily set a new standard even if he loses. But MLB can't like the prospect of him tripling the record for starters to $13 million.
A two-year deal for Lincecum for $24 million -- $10 million for 2010 and $14 million for 2011 -- would serve everyone well.
Looking at these numbers, and this gap, it might be hard to find common ground on a one-year deal (though the midpoint seems reasonable to me, since his two Cy Young awards slightly trump Howard's Rookie of the Year and MVPs, and Howard got $10 million).
An arbitration case would be interesting indeed. Lincecum's lawyers could cite the two straight Cy Youngs, an accomplishment only done before by Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Jim Palmer, Denny McLain and Sandy Koufax. And never done before by someone's who's just 25. Nor anyone in his first three seasons.
The Giants could claim Lincecum's second Cy was a "fluke'' (a word I heard yesterday to describe it by a management type) in that it was basically a crapshoot between him, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter and aided by two stat guys thinking Javier Vazquez should be in the top three. That may be so. But there wasn't anything fluky about Lincecum's 2.48 ERA and 261 strikeouts. If anything, he can say winning only 15 games was fluky. He could sue the weak-hitting Giants for non-support. And if the Giants beat him in arbitration after costing him victories, he might start wondering whether his own team is with him or against him.
You never know what might come up in arbitration. Or who might get hit. If they go, the great Howard might even take some hits in the room. Lincecum's guys could point out that Howard isn't as complete a player as he is a pitcher. (Though there's a danger in beating up Howard, especially if any of the three arbitrators also ruled on the Howard case, and doesn't want to hear that Howard's flawed in any way.)
If it comes down to arbitration, Lincecum himself definitely will take unwanted hits. That's just life in the arbitration room. Sometimes players have diminished respect for their team after sitting through an arbitration case. Occasionally, they wind up hating their own team,
Going into that room for Lincecum is too big a risk for either side. If Lincecum wins at $13 million, that sets him up for $17 million or $18 million the next year, $21 million or more the year after that, and who knows how high after that.
If he loses, while he still gets a 1,000 percent raise, he'll be set up to be underpaid (at least by double-Cy standards) for the next three years.
And if thinks he is mistreated in the hearing room, then everyone loses.
• The $78-million, five-year agreement for King Felix is a great deal --- for both sides. The Mariners have locked up one of their two co-aces for five years at an acceptable rate. Some might suggest Hernandez should wait two years, and shoot for the $150-million deal. But if you're Hernandez, how can you turn this down? He made just $3.8 million last year, and this deal is worth 30 times that. Plus, being that he's 23, he'll still be a free agent at only 28.
• The Mets' hardball tactic worked out fine with Jason Bay, as they signed him to a fair $66-million, four-year deal (as it turned out, that was easily his best offer once the Red Sox lowered their bid to three years). But the toe-the-line stance did not work with Bengie Molina, who is back with the Giants. The Giants did not feel Buster Posey was quite ready to be a starting catcher for their excellent pitching staff and made a great deal to bring back Molina for $4.5 million. Meanwhile, the Mets, who are not enamored with Yorvit Torrealba (who recently saw them in a hearing room after filing a grievance against them for failing him on a physical after the sides agreed to a $14.4-million, three-year deal two years ago) or Rod Barajas. So the Mets could wind up with a rookie catcher, Josh Thole, catching the majority of their games. They also have Omir Santos, Henry Blanco and Chris Coste.
• The Rays, Marlins and Nationals have a policy that once figures are filed, there will be no compromising on a one-year deal and that they will go into a hearing room, barring a multiyear agreement. The policy puts pressure on players to settle so there's some logic behind it. But when you have a situation where Marlins outfielder Cody Ross files for $4.45 million and the Marlins file at $4.2 million, well, it would be a gross waste of time to arbitrate that. It costs each side $50,000 to $100,000 to prepare a case, making this hearing a colossal waste of time. But they can't go against policy now, right?
• B.J. Upton at $3.3 million (vs. the Rays' $3 million) is in practically the same situation.
• Andruw Jones is said to be in the best shape he's been in for a decade. This could wind up being the best $500,000 the White Sox ever spent.
• Joel Pineiro will be the one pitcher left to get a multiyear deal. The Dodgers were said to be working on something "creative'' to try to sign Pineiro, while a couple days ago, someone familiar with the situation said the Mets "better hustle'' to win his services (and after losing out on Molina, maybe they will). The Angels are the other team known to be in the bidding. Many seem to be looking at Jason Marquis ($15 mil for two years from the Nationals) as a possible comp. But Pineiro is the better pitcher at this point.
• Ben Sheets was extremely impressive in his workout for a majority of major-league teams. He threw 87-92 mph, and in the words of one scout to describe his performance, "He was Ben Sheets.'' He may have just won himself a very nice deal somewhere.
• Paul Cohen, the agent for Jim Edmonds, said it's "better than 50-50'' that Edmonds signs with someone by the end of next week. The Cardinals are one of the teams in the mix for the four-time All-Star, who didn't play in 2009 after splitting 2008 with the Padres and Cubs. Edmonds, who will be 40 on June 27, has been working out all winter with the goal of landing somewhere.