Records aren't often broken in the offseason, but Tim Lincecum(notes) of the San Francisco Giants is about to become an exception. The two-time Cy Young award winner's salary arbitration case is already one for the record books, and if the case goes to a hearing, Lincecum could generate more heat than one of his fastballs. A source said the hearing likely would take place Friday.
The Giants have submitted an $8 million figure for Lincecum's 2010 salary, the highest offering ever made to a first-time arbitration player. Lincecum countered with $13 million, the most a first-year arbitration player has requested.
The arbitration process normally has each side filing figures that mirror those of other players with similar major league service time. (see the Salary Arbitration Tracker for players that have exchanged figures). But in the case of Lincecum, no such player exists. He has less service time (2 years, 148 days) than the typical first-year arbitration player who has three full seasons. He's led the National League in strikeouts (265 in 2008 and 261 last season) and in strikeouts per nine innings (10.507 and 10.425) in each of his two full seasons. No one with less service time has ever won back-to-back Cy Young awards.
So to many (including this author), the $13 million figure filed by Lincecum may actually be lower than what he deserves. Lower, that is, if the plan was to compromise between the asking and offering figure. While it would still be a record for a first-time eligible player, negotiations around the $10.5 million mid-point between Lincecum’s asking and the Giants’ offering figure would seem to shortchange his worth.
Then again, maybe his plan all along was to go to an arbitration hearing.
The Giants reportedly offered Lincecum a three-year, $37 million deal, which would cover three of his four arbitration seasons. However, a source close to Lincecum told Yahoo! Sports that no such offer has been made. Regardless of the validity of the offer, don't be surprised if Lincecum wouldn't accept anything short of $45 million. Lincecum is in an incredible position to leverage the salary arbitration process to its fullest. At least for now, he stands to benefit more by turning down a multi-year overture.
INSIDE A POSSIBLE LINCECUM HEARING
If the Giants and Lincecum cannot come to a contract agreement, the sides will make their cases in Tampa before a panel of three arbitrators. The sides can negotiate right up until the hearing starts, but once underway, the panel must select one figure or the other. With a $5 million difference between the sides, there is much to lose.
When the hearing starts, the Giants and Lincecum – through his representatives from the Beverly Hills Sports Council – will exchange binders full of the information they will use to make their cases. This allows the sides to prepare rebuttals as the hearing progresses.
Since the panel is made up of members from the American Arbitration Association, and not baseball experts, cases are normally made with rudimentary statistics. Sabermetrics can be used, but the side that does runs the risk of having the numbers become indecipherable to the panel. As defined in the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the players, each side can also use “the existence of any physical or mental defects on the part of the Player, and the recent performance record of the Club including but not limited to its League standing and attendance as an indication of public acceptance.”
Lincecum’s side would go first, having an hour to make his case, and the Giants would then get an hour to make theirs. The initial arguments would be followed by 30-minute rebuttals (Lincecum first, then the Giants). With recesses, the hearing would last about three hours.
No one likes listening to negative things about themselves. A star athlete is no exception. From an early age, he has performed far above his peers, and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. So for Lincecum to listen to his employer point out the negative aspects of his performance and personal life could be disconcerting to him. But it would be the job of the Giants to make a solid case that their star pitcher deserves $8 million, not $13 million.
There’s not a whole lot the Giants could use against Lincecum, although they probably would focus on his health. On September 8, Lincecum suffered spasms and inflammation in the lower left side of his back. According to Ariball.com, from that point forward, his fastball velocity dropped from 92 to 90 mph and changeup from 83 to 82 mph, while his slider and curveball maintained the same velocity.
The Giants could also bring up Lincecum’s now infamous arrest for possession of a small amount of marijuana. This is the first known brush with pot for Lincecum, but MLB doesn’t report positive tests for marijuana; players are fined and the test results are not publicly disclosed.
For Linecum, he will have his glittering resume to fall back on. As I reported late last year, attendance was higher at AT&T Park on days Lincecum pitched, which meant more revenues for the Giants. He’s also starred in a This is SportsCenter commercial, was on the cover of EA Sports MLB2K9 video game, and promoted the product through his popular TV ad.
A lot of ink has been spilled about how ill will is created through the hearing process, that the employer badmouths the employee and injures the relationship. Yet the only difference between an arbitration hearing and standard contract negotiations is that the hearing is in a formal setting. In fact, players are not required to be present, although Lincecum has said he would attend. Given that he was paid $650,000 last year, he stands to see an exceptional raise even if he loses. But then, ask yourself how much he would get if he were a free agent. Odds seem exceptionally good that he’d easily land more than even his $13 million asking figure.
SIZING UP THE RULING
As mentioned, some saw Lincecum’s asking figure as being lower than expected. But if the strategy was to bypass negotiations for anything less than $13 million and proceed to the hearing, he has a very good chance of winning. A victory would pay him more than double the record for a first-time salary arbitration pitcher (Jonathan Papelbon(notes) was paid $6.2 million last year), and earn him $3 million more than the highest arbitration cases (Ryan Howard(notes) and Francisco Rodriguez(notes) in 2008, and Alfonso Soriano(notes) in 2006 each received $10 million).
Win or lose, Lincecum will add another record to his resume. Should a hearing take place, a ruling by the arbitrators normally is issued within two days. So by next week, the plum of the salary arbitration class will know if he’s winner … or, in ways if he loses, a different form of winner.
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Maury Brown is the founder and president of the Business of Sports Network, which includes BizofBaseball.com.