Tim Lincecum has one man to thank for his recent contract dispute with the San Francisco Giants: Barry Zito.
Prior to the 2007 season, the Giants were able to lure Zito away from cross-town rival Oakland by offering him the richest contract for a pitcher in baseball history, a seven-year deal worth a staggering $126 million, plus an $18 million option for 2014.
At the time, there were few who scoffed at the acquisition. Zito, a dominating force for the Athletics who made a name for himself with one of the most devastating curveballs anyone had ever seen, had won the 2002 AL Cy Young Award and had been the backbone of an Athletics team that had made the playoffs in four of the previous six seasons.
Not realizing the freak of nature that lay lurking in the depths of their roster, and needing an ace to lead their rotation, the Giants seemed rational with the offer they made to Zito. After all, the bigger budgeted teams were proving that you needed to spend money in order to win. Fans applauded the team’s willingness to spend, eager to bask in the glory of a World Series Championship.
Flash forward three years, and those same fans that were cheering the Zito signing are now cursing the baseball gods. If only they had known the Freak that is Tim Lincecum and what he would accomplish, there’s a very good chance that Zito would be in pinstripes, swindling the dollars from the pockets of the Steinbrenners.
Instead, he might just end up costing the Giants not just the $126 million, but he might blow their chance at reaching an agreement with Lincecum as well.
The Giant’s faith in Zito has resulted in less than stellar results. Over the past three seasons, Zito has compiled a 31-47 record (he was 102-59 with the A’s), a 4.57 ERA (after having never topped that mark in his seven seasons with the Athletics), and he’s yet to top 200 innings with the Giants (after having topped the mark in all of his years with the A’s, save his rookie season).
These are hardly numbers worthy of a record contract, and yet, there is nothing the Giants can do except pay Zito.
At the same time, you’ve got Lincecum putting up unfathomable numbers. He’s been arguably the best pitcher in baseball over the last two years, earning the NL Cy Young Award in both 2008 and 2009. He’s compiled a 40-17 record (which some say should be even better provided he had more run support), he’s led the league in strikeouts over the last two seasons, and just last year he ranked third in the MLB with a 2.48 ERA.
All the while, he’s barely earned over $1 million.
Sure, his signing bonus as a rookie was a pretty $2 million, but his pay over the last two seasons has been $405,000 and $650,000. Quite the bargain considering he’s become one of the most dominating, and popular, figures in baseball, let alone the Giants organization.
So enter 2010, the year Lincecum becomes eligible for arbitration. Now if there is one guy on that team that should be able to dictate the numbers of his contract, it’s Lincecum.
He’s earned the right to ask for whatever he wants, and the Giants should simply hand him a blank check considering all he’s done for the organization and all the potential that he still has to grow and evolve, becoming an even better pitcher, if that’s even possible.
But the Giants can’t do that. And why not? Because of Zito and his monstrosity of a contract.
The Giants learned the hard way about offering mega-million contracts to pitchers, guys who have an impact on just one in every five games. Zito basically self-destructed after signing on the dotted line, but the Giants have no choice but to continue paying him for the next four years.
Which is why they haven’t jumped the gun to sign Lincecum, even though every Giants fan is pulling their hair out as the two sides edge closer to an arbitration court date, something that could soil the good-will between the two, making Lincecum’s presence within the organization on a long-term basis seem unlikely.
For someone who’s been nicknamed “The Franchise”, not being a big part of the franchise’s future sure seems like a problem.
But the Giants aren’t eager to get coaxed into securing another $100 million into a pitcher, even one as good as Lincecum. Reports are suggesting that the Giants are offering somewhere in the three-year/$37 million range, while Lincecum’s party has countered with upwards of $40 million.
Considering the mammoth contracts that are given to players who, let’s be honest, don’t justify them, either of these numbers are an absolute steal for the Giants.
Considering what Lincecum means to that team, the fans, and the future of the organization, he could throw out any number that he wanted and it’s probably safe to say he would have earned it. The only thing keeping him from a mountain of cash, and the fans from a decade of security, is Barry Zito.
Unfortunately, the damage has already been done.