Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Did Lincecum camp bait Giants?

There were some rumors swirling around the internet that some baseball experts fathomed Tim Lincecum might request around $20 mil via arbitration. Mlbtraderumors reported that MLB.coim’s Doug Miller said that whispers of a $20 mil arbitration award “echoed loudly throughout baseball.” This is completely and utterly ludicrous. No one with any common sense or knowledge of the business of baseball in their right mind would have truly believed that Lincecum would request such a large sum in his first year of arbitration. To do so would have ensured that the teams (the Giants’) figure would have been selected during the hearing.

They did exchange figures today and Lincecum is requesting the more reasonable sum of $13 mil and the Giants have requested that $8 mil be their Ace’s 2010 salary. The wide belief among FanGraph’s voters yesterday was that Lincecum would submit a $14-15 mil salary. And just yesterday, I surmised that both Lincecum and the Giants would both submit numbers between $12 mil and $16 mil. I was right about Tim and wrong about the Giants. My first thoughts were: “The Giants lowballed Tim and he’s going to win easily.” This was my gut reaction.

After a while I began to believe that neither the figure Lincecum requested nor that of the Giants is that outlandish. You can make an argument for both. I must admit that I was somewhat armed with the knowledge that 1st year arbitration players usually receive about 40% of their free agent market value having read Jack Moore's post on FanGraphs. So, you could probably hypothesize Lincecum would make at least $18 mil were he a free agent. I’d argue he would command a salary more like that of C.C. Sabbathia who is getting $23 mil a year from the Bronx Bombers. If that were the case, 40% of his market value would be $9.2 mil. If his value were $18 mil, we get $7.2. So, if the 40% estimate holds true the Giants have a decent case and may well win during the arbitration hearing. Then again, they may not.

Why? Before the 2008 season Ryan Howard filed for a record $10 mil while the Phillies countered with $7 mil. Howard had a Rookie of the Year and MVP trophy under his belt and won his arbitration case. One has to ask the question. Which is more valuable? A RoY and MVP or back to back Cy Young’s? I have to believe the Cy Young’s are because one Cy Young is certainly more valuable than one RoY and Lincecum proved to be the most dominant pitcher in the NL (and arguably in all of baseball) in back to back years. Furthermore, Lincecum has performed so incredibly on a quite poor 2008 team and a decent while not dominant 2009 team whereas Howard’s teammates afford him a clearer way to pad his stats. For example, were it not for the Chase Utley constantly being on base in front of Howard he most certainly would not be racking up those extraordinary RBI numbers. The RBI, of course, being one of the main stats baseball traditionalists have sunk their claws into and are hanging on for dear life. Lastly, while there are a handful of slugging first baseman (not even counting the rest of the position players) in Pujols, Fielder, Gonzalez and Howard, it certainly seems to me there are fewer Tim Lincecum’s to go around and you’d probably have to pull them from both the AL and NL to come up with a list longer than one you can count on one hand. Lincecum is one of a kind in many cases, and performance wise, much more so than Howard.

I’ve developed somewhat of a theory (albeit probably a completely unverifiable one) on the psychology behind each of their (Tim’s and the Giants’) picks. First of all, I wondered why right off the bat the Giants would choose such a seemingly low number. $8 mil? Really? Had they not learned from the Howard case that such a lower number would certainly lose them their case? I then had this idea. Because there had been chatter that Lincecum might file a number as high as $23 mil, perhaps the Giants truly believed he would. And if he had the $8 mil would seem so much more reasonable than $20 mil. I assure you that the arbiter would choose $8 mil over $20 mil and it wouldn’t take him more than a moment to make a decision. I think it’s possible that the Lincecum camp baited the Giants into low balling their Ace so that they could file a record salary and win. Afterall, $13 mil would be the record setting salary for a 1st year eligible player in arbitration by 30% and I am sure Tim would be more than happy with it. And this is exactly what I believe will happen unless one of two things happen. 1) The Giants and Lincecum settle at a middle figure before the hearing or 2) now that they’ve exchanged figures they hammer out a long-term deal. What’s crazy in all this and worth noting, however, is that had the Giants waited just 2 weeks longer to promote Lincecum in 2007 they could have postponed his arbitration until next year. Which makes me wonder, who holds the record salary for a 1st year eligible super two? If anyone knows, give me the goods.

Check here for a list of all the figures players and teams exchanged today, including Brian Wilson ($4.85 mil vs. $4 mil)

I guess Keith Law agress that Lincecum will win this case.  In fact, he believes they underfiled and probably finds the Giants' request of $8 mil ludicrous.

Keith Law

Lincecum's camp is making a mistake
"I'd like to see the arbitration brief that argues that Lincecum, a first-time-eligible, super-two free agent with two Cy Young Awards, should be paid less than Ryan Howard was as a first-time-eligible free agent with one MVP award. Not just less -- $2 million less. If anything, Lincecum's agents underfiled; his case was unprecedented and a number of $15-18 million would have been defensible." ESPN.com

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