An arbitration-eligible player's salary is largely determined by comparisons to other Major Leaguers at the same position with similar service time. It's safe to say that Lincecum's virtually incomparable performance during slightly less than five Major League seasons makes the size of his request unsurprising.
Lincecum, 27, is the only pitcher in history to win Cy Young Awards in his first two seasons. Following that accomplishment in 2008-09, he paced the Giants to the 2010 World Series title by finishing 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA in six postseason appearances. He has topped 200 strikeouts and made the All-Star team in each of his four full seasons. Lincecum owns a career 69-41 record with a 2.98 ERA, including 13-14 with a 2.74 ERA last year when he received the Majors' lowest run support.
If Lincecum and the Giants cannot agree on a contract and proceed to an arbitration hearing, he would be attempting to receive the largest arbitration award ever, since Clemens and Houston ultimately compromised at slightly more than $18 million.
The $21.5 million figure is exceeded in average annual value by just three active pitchers: the Yankees' CC Sabathia ($24.4 million), Philadelphia's Cliff Lee ($24 million) and the New York Mets' Johan Santana ($22.9 million).
The financial gulf separating the Giants' offer and Lincecum's bid actually is smaller than what the sides faced in 2010, Lincecum's first foray into arbitration. That year, the Giants offered $8 million while Lincecum asked for $13 million. That resulted in a two-year, $23.2 million deal that included a $13.1 million salary last year. He and the Giants forged that deal minutes before a scheduled arbitration hearing, which the club again hopes to avoid.
"I'm overall optimistic that we'll find common ground without a hearing room," Giants vice president of baseball operations Bobby Evans said. "But it's a process that begins long before today, in terms of conversations about possible deals that work for both sides. That process has continued in a mutual fashion, but at this point we haven't reached a conclusion."
Rick Thurman, Lincecum's agent, politely declined to comment on talks with the Giants, which have ceased in recent weeks. The sides are expected to resume negotiations Wednesday.
Evans reminded reporters on a conference call that most arbitration-driven negotiations are "really about the midpoint" -- hence the plethora of compromises in which teams and players agree to split the difference. Lincecum's midpoint of $19.25 million would make him San Francisco's highest-paid player. Left-hander Barry Zito is slated to earn $19 million this year.
The Giants have proposed various frameworks for multiyear deals during this offseason to Thurman and Lincecum, who will become eligible for free agency after this season.
Asked whether the Giants would again suggest multiyear options, Evans said, "You always explore, simultaneously, different scenarios. ... I can't really predict where it will end up."