The Next Zito: Tim Lincecum?
On Tuesday, Tim Lincecum asked for $21.5 million from the San Francisco Giants in arbitration. The Giants asked for a far more reasonable $17 million. That’s still more than any other non-free agent player in arbitration. Heck, it’s more than Pablo Sandoval will make in three years.
Boy, remember when a player’s arbitration years were supposed to be the cheap years?
But that’s not what this is about.
On Monday, before the arbitration numbers came up, Hank Schulman tweeted this:
Lincecum issue is complex. He wants 2 years for FA flexibility or 8 years for lifetime security. Makes more sense for Gs to go 4-5 yrs if…
It should be noted that Hank quickly said that he doesn’t think there’s actually been an eight-year proposal by Tim’s agent. But still.
Now, it’s easy to think “Lock him up!” And Cain, and Wilson. And MadBum, in a few years. That’s a pitching core. That’s a dominating (and somehow still underrated) pitching staff. That’s the heart of a team, the draw for free agent hitters who want to know they’ll be on a World Series contender. Pay ‘em. For as long as they want.
But then…two words.
If you don’t know what I mean, you haven’t been a fan of baseball for very long. Zito’s 7-year+option contract is the albatross of albatrosses. 7 year, $126 million, with an eighth year that will pay him a $7 million buyout to not play in 2014.
And as Zito approaches make the most money per year in said contract, the realization starts to sink in: Tim Lincecum could make more money in arbitration than Zito in his albatross of a contract.
But, you say, Lincecum is not Zito.
After all, it’s not like Lincecum has had a serious drop in velocity even before he’s become a free agent. Oh, except for a couple of times in 2010. Or that, after having an average 94 MPH fastball in 2008, he was at 92 in 2011, and even lower in 2010. (Zito, as a comparison, dropped from about 88 in 2002 to 85.7 in 2010.*)
But, you say, Lincecum won Cy Young awards ridiculously early in his career. It’s not like Zito won two Cy Young awards in his first two full seasons in the majors. No, Zito only did it in his second full season.
Okay, what I can’t argue myself out of is that Lincecum at 80% is a better pitcher than Zito at 80%. And when Zito got his ridiculous contract, he was already sliding badly. Lincecum’s slide, if you can call it that, is still giving him sub-3.00 ERAs and votes for Cy Young awards.
But at some point, Lincecum will slide. Maybe it will be injury. Maybe it will be ego. Maybe it will be too many speeding tickets while high (which, frankly, makes me worry more about non-pitching injuries). But a slide is likely to happen before the end of a deal that lasts until 2020.
And how much will Lincecum be costing at that point? Seriously, if he’s making Zito money now, where will he be at the end of a back-loaded contract? And how will that affect other signings, be it Cain, Wilson, Posey, or stealing away some Dodger star prospect via free agency.
Eight years for a pitcher is insane. For any pitcher. Even a once-in-a-lifetime talent like Lincecum.
Eight years will be overpaying for past accomplishments. Part of it will be for over Cy Young awards like Barry Zito. Part will be for a World Series win, like with Aubrey Huff.
And I’d do it. If we’re going to overpay for someone, it might as well be one of our own. And it might as well be for one of the bonafide superstars of the team.
There are days where I know I’ll eventually regret eating a certain meal. But that meal just tastes so damn good going down. I know what’ll happen, I know I’ll feel terrible later. But I go in with eyes wide open. And it’s still worth it.
Get ‘er Done, Sabes. Negotiate it down as best as you can. Play hardball like Lincecum’s 2008 velocity. But Get ‘er Done.
* – I’m not comparing to 2011 because Zito had all sorts of injury issues that obvious had an impact in his velocity to a career low.