If you can find someone to take a bet on who the most popular man in baseball is right now, lay your money on
A really surprising number of Sabean's peers are probably calling to congratulate him on now being the longest-tenured general manager in baseball and asking ever so nonchalantly what's going on with Lincecum.
The problem is, of course, money. Lincecum wants a $13 million contract for next year, which would be the richest ever for a player in his first year of arbitration eligibility, nearly 30% more than
No one in baseball management has any interest in allowing this to get before a panel, because, to oversimplify, the process works by precedent, which creates a ratchet effect. Howard was able to successfully argue that he deserved a record award because he had won Rookie of the Year and MVP honors and hit a lot of home runs. Lincecum will be able to argue that having won two Cy Young awards and starred in
Lincecum has a reasonable case, especially as he doesn't have to convince the arbitrators that he should be paid $13 million, but just that he should be paid more than $10.5 million, the midpoint between his number and the team's. This has to irritate anyone who makes a living figuring ways to pay players as little as possible. Sadly for them (and Giants fans), not only isn't it clear that Lincecum wants to sign a long-term deal, it's not clear that the club should want to sign him to one.
First, however reasonable the pitcher's claims, it's no certainty that he'll win, and not just because players have historically lost about 60 percent of these cases. (There's
As a rule of thumb, players make about 40 percent of their market value in their first year of arbitration. Judging Lincecum's market value is tough, but the best paid pitcher in baseball is
The sounder argument against locking Lincecum down, though, may be precedent. Last year he had a
These pitchers were terrific through age 25, with a cumulative 3.08 ERA, and terrific after, with a 3.39. There are a lot of burnouts among them, though, and if you except Clemens, Seaver and Carlton, they pitched about as many innings after age 25 as through it. Given his health, Lincecum is on pace for the Hall of Fame. But you could have said the same of Appier, Prior and Saberhagen at his age. Pitchers will just kill you.
Whatever the outcome of all this, the most lasting lesson may be that teams should be real careful about when they bring up top farmhands. The Giants promoted Lincecum on May 6, 2007, when they were 16-14 on the way to a 91-loss season. If they had
The 3.49 ERA in 214 innings was the least of it. Pineiro walked 1.14 men per 9, becoming just the 19th pitcher since integration to show such fine control. More impressively, he threw the heaviest ball in the game, leading the majors with a 2.54 ground ball:fly ball ratio. (
Pineiro can't be quite as good as he showed last year. (When you walk a man per game and get two grounders for every fly ball, people call you
Quite so, surely, but let's think about this. Take the contenders, and would-be or sort-of contenders, who had the
Four teams makes a market, especially when
Dale has traveled the world as a scout for the Braves over the last two decades and has no doubt what does most to inspire players on the obscure fringes of baseball. "It's the opportunity that major league baseball represents, to play in the major leagues," he says. "I'm a firm believer in that. It's that dream."
As far from the majors as they now seem, that dream has done some work on players like
If you want one reason to be really optimistic about baseball's future, it's the game's increasing international reach. Baseball may never be as strong in Italy and South Africa as it is in the Dominican Republic and Japan, but it doesn't have to be for such places to make immense contributions to the sport. Consider Dutch brilliance in
• This was a week of real pitching bargains, and one of the
• If you thought that
• Were you wondering what
As I wrote in this space last week, I have no problem at all with McGwire, but I'll admit to wondering if Busch doesn't have a bit of a point with that last sentence there.
• You don't often get to say this, but I think