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Thursday, February 11, 2010
MLB has big stake in Lincecum Affair

According to a couple of Buster's tweets, Major League Baseball will take the lead role for the Giants in the Tim Lincecum arbitration hearing tomorrow. Craig Calcaterra's take:
As I understand it, the arbitration process was designed to accomplish two things: 1) for the owners, to delay free agency for as long as possible, and 2) for the young players, to avoid the hassle of spring-training holdouts, which at one time was fairly routine. I don't think arbitration was intended to avoid these sorts of political disputes, simply because I don't imagine anyone envisioned these sorts of political disputes. In the 1970s, I don't believe even Marvin Miller dreamed that a baby-faced hippie like Tim Lincecum would someday command $10 million for one season.

The news about MLB's involvement does help explain the Giants' lowball offer. Two years ago, Ryan Howard's case went to arbitration. The figures were $10 million and $7 million. Howard, coming off two excellent seasons, got his $10 million.

So that seems to me like the baseline: $10 million for a first-time arbitration-eligible player coming off two excellent seasons. Which describes Lincecum well enough, I suppose (leaving aside the fact that his seasons were more excellent than Howard's). So why would the Giants file at $8 million? Perhaps because MLB asked them to.

Giants: "How are we supposed to defend $8 million when Howard got $10 million two years ago?"

MLB: "Don't worry your pretty little heads. We'll defend it."

The Giants don't have a lot to lose. Sure, this will probably cost them between $1 million and $3 million: the difference between the $13 million Lincecum will probably win and what they otherwise would have paid him. But the enmity that these things generate is greatly exaggerated, and I suspect that's particularly true in this case, since it will mostly be Major League Baseball, rather than the Giants, explaining to an arbitrator why Lincecum's not really as good as those two Cy Young Awards.

By the way, good luck with that.