Knowing they have a once-in-a-lifetime talent in Tim Lincecum, the San Francisco Giants became smart and signed the right-handed pitcher to a two-year contract worth $23 million last Friday.
And at that, they got a bargain, given his age, the fact he’s won 33 games with 12 losses over the last two seasons, and that he made a paltry $650,000 in 2009.
With less than three years of big-league service, the 25-year-old Lincecum was eligible for arbitration. He asked for $13 million, while the Giants offered $8 million.
Had the arbitrator ruled in Lincecum’s favor, it would have been the biggest payday ever, topping Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies, who was awarded $10 million.
“Going to arbitration, everybody knows what can happen and the feelings that can hurt,’’ said Lincecum, who owns a fastball in the high-90s, last week. “I’m just trying to keep an open mind. If anybody knows my flaws, I do. If they’re going to point them out and that has to happen, then whatever. I know I’ve got to get better. I don’t feel like my feelings are hurt.”
Lincecum will make $8 million with a $2 million signing bonus this season, and $13 million in 2011, along with multiple bonuses if he reaches certain goals.
Lincecum posted seasons of 15-7 and 18-5, respectively, and came away with two Cy Young awards. There is little doubt but that the Bellevue, Washington, native is the finest starting pitcher in the National League, and one of the top three in baseball.
So dominating despite his slight (5-foot-11 and 165-pound) frame, Lincecum has been winning at a 70 percent clip (40-17), and is backed by a veritable pop-gun offense that doesn’t strike fear into even the worst teams in the league.
Like other great hurlers before him with putrid offenses such as the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax and the Angels’ Nolan Ryan, the question that begs to be asked is: How good would Lincecum’s record be if he had the Phillies, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, or the defending champion New York Yankees, lineup behind him?
It’s hard to imagine what his numbers would be, but Lincecum still paced the NL with four complete games and two shutouts, and reached double figures in strikeouts eight times, with a high of 15 in a 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in July.
Rather than having to limit clubs to a few runs, and hope for a win, Lincecum, who has earned-run averages of 2.48 in 2009 and 2.62 in 2008, which was second best in the NL, could get away allowing more runs because his offense would score more runs.
Right now, the Dodgers are the class of the NL West, and should once again be the favorite this season. But with Lincecum, who fanned a league-best 261 batters in 2009 and 265 the previous season, along with hard-throwing right-hander Matt Cain on the hill, San Francisco is going to be much improved, and could even contend for a playoff spot.
For now, the Giants know they have Lincecum, a two-time All-Star with long black hair and a ridiculous stride locked up for two seasons. Again, if they’re thinking ahead, they should sign him to a long-term deal before he becomes a free agent after the 2013 campaign. Let’s give the Giants some credit.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.