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Lincecum may hit arbitration jackpot

Lincecum could hit jackpot in arbitration

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Baseball's different flavors of arbitration are starting to emerge into the winter air, and they figure to spice up the Hot Stove season once again -- actually, perhaps a little more than usual.

The free-agency version, which sets Draft compensation for teams losing free agents, will take center stage for the next week leading up to the Winter Meetings, which begin Dec. 7 in Indianapolis. Teams can offer free agents arbitration by 11:59 p.m. ET on Tuesday, and players may accept -- though almost all won't -- by 11:59 p.m. Dec. 7, the first day of the Winter Meetings.

But, while important, that version of arbitration never has been the key arbitration ingredient to Hot Stove stew.

The pre-free-agency version, which provides mitigation for salary negotiations involving players with between three years (plus some with close to three) and six years of Major League experience, almost always provides some spice. And some interesting scenarios already are setting up -- both with those who might be offered it and those who might not be tendered contracts by the Dec. 12 deadline to do so.

After that, the eligible players can file for arbitration between Jan. 5-15 if they haven't come to terms for a 2010 contract by then, with hearings scheduled for February.

The first salvo of the arbitration season came from San Francisco, where Tim Lincecum's meteoric and historic rise as a back-to-back National League Cy Young Award winner has put the Giants in an interesting spot as the right-hander enters his first arbitration-eligible season. Lincecum, who made $650,000 in 2009, actually is a "Super Two" with two years, 148 days of experience, his service time ranking among the top 17 percent of players with less than three years' experience.

Reports this week raised the realistic possibility that Lincecum could earn well beyond the record of $10 million for a player in his first year of arbitration eligibility, set by Ryan Howard in 2006. Having become the first player to win a Cy Young Award in two of his first three seasons, this is new territory.

"This is one I have not been through, nor one many in baseball have been through," Giants general manager Brian Sabean told the San Francisco Chronicle. "The union on their side will be very interested in how it turns out, and Major League Baseball will be very interested."

As Yahoo Sports first reported earlier in the week, the Lincecum camp could use a "special accomplishments" clause in the Basic Agreement that could supersede the normal process of comparing players to others with similar service time. Instead, Lincecum could be compared to the highest-paid starters in the game, such as CC Sabathia ($23 million) and Barry Zito ($18 million). That clause came into play in Howard negotiations in his first year of eligibility, which came after Howard won the NL MVP Award in his second season.

Often, a team will try to get ahead of the arbitration curve by signing top players to long-term contracts that cover their years of eligibility, and sometimes beyond their sixth year into free agency. Good examples of that can be found in the rest of the top award-winning players in 2009: AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke of the Royals (four years, $38 million through 2012, one year into his free agency); NL MVP Albert Pujols of the Cardinals (seven years, $100 million through 2010, with a $16 million club option for 2010); and AL MVP Joe Mauer of the Twins (four years, $33 million through 2010, when he'd become a free agent).

That, apparently, will not be the case with Lincecum.

"As of today, we'll pursue a one-year deal," agent Rick Thurman told the Chronicle.

While the Lincecum saga plays out, others across baseball will as well, with an impressive list of eligible players, including: Cy Young contenders Justin Verlander of the Tigers and Felix Hernandez of the Mariners, Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, the Dodgers' core four of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney and Russell Martin, the Phillies' Shane Victorino, Angels rotation mates Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders, Marlins starter Josh Johnson, and White Sox closer Bobby Jenks.

As for the other flavor of arbitration, this week marks decision time for teams whose players declared free agency in the first 15 days after the end of the World Series.

The 171 declared free agents include 25 rated Type A and another 51 rated Type B -- 44 percent of the total pool -- whose potential compensation price would be choices in next June's First-Year Player Draft. And that shouldn't be taken lightly -- players such as Torii Hunter, David Wright, Jacoby Ellsbury and Joba Chamberlain have been compensation picks. Type A free agents bring the first-round pick in the First-Year Player Draft of the team that signs the free agent, and Type Bs bring a pick between the first and second rounds.

That pool of free agents could swell -- and many have reported in large numbers -- on Dec. 12, the deadline for clubs to make contract offers to unsigned players in their control. Players not tendered contracts also become free agents.

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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