Tim Lincecum has taken the baseball world by storm over the past two-and-a-half seasons. Depending on who you ask, he is at or near the top when asked to name the best pitchers in the game.
Lincecum won the Cy Young Award in 2008, and he put himself in a position to win another in 2009 with an even better year. Regardless of the outcome of this year's ballot, he will face a landscape in 2010 that he has never before dealt with in his life.
Two weeks ago, he was pulled over for speeding. During the traffic stop, the police officer smelled marijuana. Lincecum complied with the officer's request to hand over the pot and a pipe.
He reached an agreement with prosecutors to drop the possession charges, but he will still pay a fine for speeding and possessing a marijuana pipe. The matter must still be approved by a judge but there should be no further legal issues involving Lincecum for this case.
This is also the winter that Lincecum becomes arbitration-eligible. To say he will be in line for a huge raise is a bit of an understatement. Winning back-to-back Cy Young Awards would only raise the already astronomical figure he's about to make.
With a substantial pay raise, Lincecum will go from being one of the most under-paid players in the game to a likely record first-year arbitration figure for a pitcher. Along with a hike in salary, expectations will now be entirely different for the 25-year-old ace of the Giants' staff.
Even with a lesser drug charge, Lincecum will still face a barrage of drug-related questions when he comes to Spring Training. Along with those questions will come even more questions about his new contract and the pressure that comes from signing such a deal.
Given that so much is happening to him this offseason, it is quite reasonable to wonder how Lincecum will handle all the attention and stress recently added to his life. Can Lincecum handle everything that he now faces, and will he be the same pitcher in 2010 that he has been since being called up by the Giants in 2007?
It's reasonable to think he can overcome this and remain the dominant pitcher he's become. He faced high expectations as the 10th overall pick in the 2006 amateur and sky-rocketed through the Giants' system. He also proved in 2009 that his Cy Young season in 2008 was no fluke.
Even with his past triumphs over adversity, there is still a big difference from the pressures of trying to get to the Majors and having to answer ongoing questions about drug use and living up to a new contract.
Lincecum would be wise to mimic the actions of another superstar that faced similar circumstances last year: Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez was able to block out all distractions from a new contract and a steroid scandal to have a great season despite missing the beginning of the season.
For all of his short-comings, Rodriguez was able to maintain a singular focus on the games he played and the result was becoming a World Champion for the first time.
Lincecum already ranks ahead of Rodriguez in any popularity contest, so the public should be very forgiving of his offseason transgressions. They will be less forgiving about any struggles he may encounter due to the new contract however.
Lincecum would be best served to have a press conference to address all his issues early on in spring training. He can then put the issues behind him and focus on winning a possible third Cy Young award.
Regardless of what you're feelings may be on Lincecum and his recent run in with the law, it was a stupid and unfortunate incident. However, it doesn't resonate on the same scale as the Alex Rodriguez steroid scandal.
Tim Lincecum is as good of a pitcher as there is in baseball. He has proven time and again in his career that nothing can stop him once on the diamond. He'll need to focus like never before in order to remain at the top of his game. Giant fans should anticipate nothing different out of him than what they've seen in his first three years.
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