Of all the different times of the baseball year, arbitration season has to be my least favorite. It's not even close, really. There's way too much sound and way too little fury as players, teams and agents do a dance that will most likely end with an inevitable and snooze-inducing "so-and-so avoids arbitration" headline. I know a lot of people like to get all hot and bothered over the numbers, but it does little to tide me over until actual on-field action begins.
Especially when all the implied drama is almost guaranteed to never happen. Only three eligible players actually went to arbitration last offseason and none of them ended in particularly compelling stories. The same will likely happen this season with none of the big names looking like they're headed to a mudfight at the bargaining table.
Case in point: Tim Lincecum's reps and the San Francisco Giants were required to submit their suggested salaries for the pitcher's services in 2012 on Tuesday afternoon. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that Tiny Tim's guys said they felt the two-time Cy Young Award winner should be paid $21.5 million to throw a baseball next season. The Giants said they felt that $17 million was more of a fair figure. Either one would count as a very nice raise, of course: Lincecum made $13 million in 2011.
Now, don't get me wrong here. The above details do make for a worthwhile headline because they set a record for the amount requested by a player with less than six years of service time. Both amounts shatter the figures that were requested by Derek Jeter ($18.5 million) and the New York Yankees ($14.25 million) in 2001.
But just like the Captain and the Yanks — who settled on a 10-year, $189 million extension 11 years ago — it looks like Lincecum and the Giants will settle long before an arbitrator is ever forced to pick one number or the other. Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Giants are comfortable with both numbers and confident that they can find a resolution before an arbitration hearing in February. Both sides were able to avoid arbitration the first time Lincecum was eligible, settling on a two-year, $21 million deal in 2010, just minutes before the arbitrator showed up to hear their cases.
Now it looks like history is repeating itself with the Giants already open to hammering out a one- or two-year deal in the coming weeks. Lincecum will hit the free-agent market after the 2013 season.
From the San Francisco Chronicle:
We just got off the phone with (Giants) vice president of baseball operations Bobby Evans, who said, "I'm overall optimistic we can find common ground without a hearing room." And given the numbers that they exchanged, there is reason for optimism. That spread is even smaller than in 2010, when Lincecum and the Giants were $5 million apart.
When I asked about the enormousness of the numbers we're talking about, and how he feels when he jots those numbers down, Evans said, "I usually leave off the final three zeroes because it's easier to calculate on an Excel spreadsheet."
Indeed, as Evan notes, they're all just figures. Framing figures much bigger than most of us will ever make in a lifetime, but figures all the same. At some point, Lincecum and the Giants will agree to something and all the headlines and speculation of the past few weeks will immediately fade into various Internet caches. Other than bullpen catchers, the arbitration stories might be the most expendable commodity in baseball.
But whether Lincecum's eventual deal is short-term band-aid (likely) or a long-term extension (not), the important part is that we'll be one step closer to the actual reason we watch baseball: Seeing The Freak pitching himself in a position where a $21 million salary request doesn't seem that outlandish. It's why I like to get this time of year over and done with as quickly as possible.
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