The Tim Lincecum situation continues to look more and more interesting, at least if you find the business of baseball interesting.
(That's your cue to stop reading if you aren't interested in the dollars and cents behind the game)
This morning, a report surfaced that the Giants have made a 3-year offer to Tiny Tim, worth a total of $37 million. If the report is true, Lincecum would earn $9.5 million in 2010, $10 million in 2011, and then $12.5 in 2012. Interestingly, Lincecum would still have one more arbitration year remaining after the deal is over, if he were to sign it.
Teams routinely negotiate with players up to arbitration hearings, so I would be more shocked if the Giants and Lincecum were not talking. However, I think that San Francisco would want to buy out all of Tim's arbitration years. Also, I think that Lincecum would pursue deals similar in structure to the ones Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander signed. That makes a potential deal which would make sense for both sides (in my eyes at least) 4-5 years in length.
The report from this morning also says that Lincecum offered a counterproposal worth more than $40 million total. That shouldn't be surprising. Players just about automatically earn raises on arbitration, which is partly why this first hearing is so critical. Lincecum's hearing will slot him on a pay schedule that escalates from $8 million, or from $13 million. Over the duration of his arbitration years, that's likely a total of $20-25 million on the table. Therefore, if he wins his arbitration case (and as I wrote yesterday, I like his chances), he is just about guaranteed to earn around $45 million the next three years in arbitration. If Tim likes his chances of winning his arbitration case, he shouldn't settle for much less.
I have struggled to understand why the Giants seem so unwilling to give money to Tiny Tim. They have low-balled him from the start, and haven't budged that much.
Buster Olney might have finally supplied an answer in a few tweets this morning. He heard rumors that as few as one member from the Giants front office will attend the looming arbitration hearing. The "heavy lifting," as Olney put it, would come from Major League Baseball.
In other words, the owners don't want Tim Lincecum to get paid.
I don't get why they care so much. Let's say that Lincecum wins. He gets $13 million, and has set the precedent for what Super Twos with two Cy Young awards will get in arbitration. Sure, it's a ton of money, but how many back-to-back Cy Young award-winners are going to hit arbitration? Lincecum is the first ever, and this process has been around for about 30 years.
I'm not going to soften up on the Giants too much, but for different reasons now. If today's reports are true, it looks like they are pawns in a bigger game about limiting arbitration salaries. Who knows if the Giants really wanted to offer Lincecum $8 million. There is obviously pressure to keep the Lincecum deal rather moderate from the rest of the owners. I guess baseball's anti-trust exemption makes this kind of action legal.
Still, I think a team's obligations to its on-field product and fans comes before obligations to other owners, so I would like to see the Giants (or any team) negotiate in good faith with their players. It doesn't seem like that's going on right now.
I question even more why Major League Baseball cares so much about the Lincecum arbitration case though. Indeed, their are implications that come with such a massive amount of money at stake. However, this case is so exceptional. Are the Corey Harts of the world really going to compare themselves to Tim Lincecum in future arbitration hearings? Yes, a precedent will be set, but it might not even be a once-in-a-generation type of precedent. This sort of scenario is extremely rare.
On top of that, Major League baseball signed an odd agreement with the Florida Marlins a couple months ago, essentially forcing the franchise to spend more money. I wrote a post about it, and didn't care for the agreement all that much. Regardless of how I feel though, it's clear the intent was to make low-budget teams spend some more money on players. So, it seems a little odd that Major League Baseball would turn around a few months later and put a concerted effort into limiting a player's salary.
The timing is even more curious considering that the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in a couple years. That means negotiations are going to start up in earnest pretty soon, and you can bet the MLBPA will notice if the owners do all the arguing for the Giants in the Tim Lincecum arbitration case. Maybe that won't bother MLBPA head Michael Weiner all that much.
What if it does though?
I know it's all a "what if" game, but it all gets back to the point I made in my post yesterday. This is not a risk worth taking. Tim Lincecum, given his age and accomplishments, isn't asking for the world. He is being reasonable, especially by professional athlete standards.
If the Giants are getting pushed around by other owners, they should man up and get something done anyway.
On a bigger level though, the owners are taking a bad risk with this case. Is Lincecum's arbitration hearing worth risking bargaining relations over as CBA discussions start up? Doesn't it look a little bit like collusion when the owners argue why Tim Lincecum shouldn't get the money he wants, and doesn't the MLBPA have a long history of yelling about collusion? Really, stirring up those kind of long-standing ill feelings heading into CBA negotiations is worth limiting the precedent set in a once-in-a-lifetime kind of arbitration case?
Apparently it is worth it. I think the owners should hit Tiny Tim up for a joint, chill out for a few hours, and reassess what they are about to do.