Lincecum leads list of 128 arbitration filings

Lincecum leads list of 128 arbitration filings

Baseball's salary arbitration season began in earnest Friday, with 128 players filing. And as is often the case during the regular season in San Francisco and around the ballparks of the National League, all eyes will now be fixed squarely on Tim Lincecum.

The young Giants right-hander, who has won the last two NL Cy Young Awards, headed a talent-packed roster of filers that includes Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon, Seattle ace Felix Hernandez and Tigers righty Justin Verlander, plus the Rays core of B.J. Upton, Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and J.P. Howell, Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton and breakout 2009 ace Scott Feldman, and Rockies closer Huston Street.

Also up for arbitration is a trio of young Dodgers in Andre Ethier, Jonathan Broxton and Russell Martin, a terrific trio of White Sox in John Danks, Bobby Jenks and Carlos Quentin, the Phillies' playoff-tested All-Star center fielder Shane Victorino, Astros outfielders Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, and a seven-player core of Angels -- Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Howard Kendrick, Maicer Izturis, Mike Napoli, Jeff Mathis and Erick Aybar -- pivotal to the reigning American League West champion's success.

These players and their clubs will exchange figures Tuesday, and hearings begin on Feb. 1 for those cases not settled before then. Naturally, the players and clubs can agree to contracts before their cases come to arbitration hearings. The figure-exchanging process often accelerates the negotiating.

Already there have been significant signings of arbitration-eligible players.

Florida ace Josh Johnson inked a four-year, $39 million contract, All-Star closer Heath Bell signed a one-year, $4 million deal with San Diego, and the Dodgers locked up starter Chad Billingsley (one year, $3.85 million) and outfielder Matt Kemp (two years, $10.95 million), according to MLB.com's Ken Gurnick.

Lincecum, however, has not signed, and he figures to enter somewhat uncharted territory.

Currently, clubs control the contracts of almost all players with zero to three years of Major League experience, save for a small group of "Super Two" players who are eligible for arbitration early if they played in the Majors at least 86 days in the previous season and were among the top 17 percent in cumulative playing time in that group with at least two to three years of experience.

Lincecum qualifies in this regard and could command even more money than Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, a Super Two in 2008 who won $10 million before hammering out a three-year, $54 million payday to avoid a hearing in early '09.

The whispers of $20 million for Lincecum have echoed loudly throughout baseball this winter, although if the right-handed phenom does go to a hearing with the Giants, it will be something of a baseball rarity.

Since 1974, when the arbitration system was collectively bargained, a hint more than 10 percent of the filings have gone to a full hearing, including only three of them last year, two of which were won by the players. Shawn Hill beat the Washington Nationals, Dan Uggla bested the Marlins, getting a raise from $417,000 to $5.35 million, and the Tampa Bay Rays won their case with Dioner Navarro.

Last year, in fact, 111 players filed for arbitration and 65 had already signed contracts before they exchanged figures with their teams.

Aside from Lincecum, expect a significant raise for Hernandez, who made $3.8 million in 2009 at the age of 23 and then went out and had his best Major League season by far, going 19-5 with a 2.49 ERA and finishing second to Zack Greinke in AL Cy Young voting.

Hernandez figures to ask for something close to if not over $10 million, making a possible long-term contract to avoid free agency one of Seattle's offseason priorities and potentially shaping the way the Mariners operate their franchise beyond 2010.

And Hernandez, like Howard was after his first score in 2008, should walk away smiling, courtroom or not.

"My reaction is mostly relief now that the whole process is over," Howard said then.

Doug Miller is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.