The probability of Tim Lincecum staying in San Francisco for the next 10 years is very high.
He is smart enough to understand that his quirky personality and liking for green substances is a perfect fit for the Bay Area, and seemed to have a good outlook on his relationship with the team’s front office before his scheduled arbitration hearing last Friday.
The fact that he and the Giants were able to come to an agreement on a two-year, $23 million contract (consisting of $8 million this year, $13 million in 2011, a $2 million signing bonus and some performance incentives to go along with it) before the hearing is an even better sign.
It indicates that he was not overly insulted by the Giants initially offering him an $8 million salary for this season that was $5 million below the number he wanted.
Of course, $13 million would have been the largest amount of money a player experiencing his first arbitration had ever been given.
But then again, Lincecum’s two Cy Young awards by the age of 25 make him worth $23 million a year (the amount C.C. Sabathia will make for each of the last six years of his contract with the Yankees).
Derek Jeter (who actually went through an arbitration hearing in 1999 and won his case) once wrote of how miserable his experience with arbitration was due to Yankees representatives criticizing his lack of power at the time, and he is as happy as any player could be 11 years later.
That is a great sign for Giants general manager Brian Sabean.
But of course, Jeter has won five World Series titles with the Yankees, whereas Lincecum has only sniffed the playoffs from the outside.
So it is obvious that the Giants need to start making the playoffs (preferably sooner rather than later) if they are going to give themselves the best chance of signing Lincecum to a long-term contract before or after he hits free agency in 2013 (he’ll be eligible for arbitration again following the 2011 and 2012 seasons, assuming he doesn’t sign a new contract by then).
It looks like they have a good (though not great) chance of doing that this year if they can get significant production from two other hitters outside of Pablo Sandoval.
And Sabean has had a decent showing this off-season, as so far he has stayed away from overpaying for an outfielder and picked up a solid utility player in Mark DeRosa to go along with a nice wildcard in Aubrey Huff.
Cries for him to sign a big-name power hitter may subside if Buster Posey can fill that void by next season, and go away altogether if Thomas Neal (who hit 22 home runs last season for Class A-San Jose) is ready to play by then, too.
Plus, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sabean (whose two-year contract will be up in 2011 if the team doesn’t pick up his option) is more aggressive next winter if this season ends up being a disaster, though obviously that's not a sure thing, judging from Sabean’s past conservatism.
But if the Giants offense doesn’t continue to get better and Lincecum has seen no playoff games in a black-and-orange cap by 2013, then Giants fans should be very worried, as Lincecum (assuming that he hasn’t signed a contract by then and is healthy) may feel that other teams may provide him with a better shot at winning a World Series.
And at least a few teams should have enough money and interest to offer Lincecum a big deal if he ever becomes a free agent, whether it be through Sabean’s (or owner Bill Neukom’s) incompetence or Lincecum’s desire to play somewhere else. Obviously, 2013 is a long way away.
Heck, the Giants may even win a World Series by then. But Giants fans know all too well that taking time and magnificent players for granted can only result in sorrow.
Hopefully, Lincecum will never pitch for another club other than the Giants, as he has essentially become the new Barry Bonds of the Bay Area in terms of how captivating he is to watch.
The probability of that bearing true can only increase if the team can take another step forward this year and make the playoffs.