SAN FRANCISCO -- When Tim Lincecum appears Saturday at the Giants' annual FanFest at AT&T Park, he'll prompt the wild adulation usually reserved for rock stars, presidential nominees at their party's convention or Kim Kardashian shopping on Rodeo Drive. Somewhere in the hordes of enthusiastic fans will lurk another group that has long followed Lincecum: The skeptics, whose disbelief was recently renewed when the right-hander received his two-year, $40.5 million contract. Having doubted Lincecum's ability to remain physically whole or even reach the Major Leagues, much less succeed, his detractors embraced this fresh opportunity to scoff at him. Two years? He'll be eligible for free agency once the contract expires, and then he'll sign with another team. All that money? He's greedy, and if he weren't, he would have accepted the Giants' record $17 million offer for a one-year contract, which the team submitted via the salary-arbitration process.
Speaking publicly Friday for the first time since he and the Giants agreed to their deal on Jan. 24, Lincecum calmly rebutted the assumptions as if they were so many helpless hitters. "I just try to keep my ears closed to it and not have it sway me one way or the other, or question myself," Lincecum said of the negativity he inadvertently aroused. Lincecum stated that the contract's length wasn't meant to provide a lucrative launching pad to free agency. "The reason this deal got done when it did was timing," he said. "The Giants and my agent [Rick Thurman] found common ground on a two-year deal." Lincecum pointedly added, "It doesn't eliminate any chance for future extension talks." Giants general manager Brian Sabean confirmed this. "I think both parties are open-minded," Sabean said, adding that he didn't know when or whether actual discussions might begin. Lincecum noted that the two-year accord fuels his natural tendency to goad himself each spring toward higher performance. "You don't sit back and say, 'It's fine, I have that security, so I don't have to worry about getting better next year,' " said Lincecum, the only pitcher to win Cy Young Awards in his first two full seasons. "I don't ever want to do that. I've never been that way." As for the value of Lincecum's contract, he cited the obvious fact that he signed for market value. "That just kind of goes with being a professional athlete," Lincecum said. "Obviously the contracts that are [given] us because somebody else paved the way, yeah, I have to admit they can be semi-ridiculous. But that's why we have agents and why they negotiate those things. ... I'm not the person who set that line." According to a popular theory, Lincecum intends to use free agency to leave San Francisco and join a more robust-hitting club. His 13-14 record a year ago can be attributed to receiving the worst run support in the Majors. But, Lincecum pointed out, he has never criticized the Giants for being offensively challenged. "Losing a game is frustrating in itself, so you try not to add anything to it that will hurt you personally," he said. "Especially when team chemistry is so important. Hitters can't point fingers at us when they score nine runs and say, 'Well, where was the pitching today?' ... We're always that team that scores three or four runs, and you kind of make do. With our pitchers, as good as they are, that's fine. We want to pitch in those tight games." Lincecum believes he'll be more physically able to thrive under such circumstances. He weighs a leaner, meaner 175 pounds. Having joked during Spring Training last year about endlessly swallowing In-N-Out burgers, Lincecum finished the 2011 season at 187 and actually ballooned to 196 early this offseason. A regimen of swimming helped him lose weight. Lincecum sounded as if he's already primed for his likely Opening Day start at Arizona on April 6. He finished last season with a distressing outing against the Diamondbacks, beaning Justin Upton in the first inning and working only five innings in a 5-2 defeat. "I remember how scared I was after I came out of that game, because I hit Upton in the head," Lincecum said. "I was kind of [angry] at myself, too. You can't end the season like that. It was pathetic."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.